Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

The Lion of Zimbabwe: Thomas Mapfumo celebrates 75th birthday

By Nyashadzashe Ndoro

It all started in 1945 in the backyards of Marondera in the then Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. The musical legend that is Thomas Mapfumo was born.

Thomas Mapfumo, holding a copy of a July 1984 edition of a magazine featuring his cover story. (Picture by Jekesai Njikizana/AFP/Getty Images)
Thomas Mapfumo, holding a copy of a July 1984 edition of a magazine featuring his cover story. (Picture by Jekesai Njikizana/AFP/Getty Images)

Today his fans in the UK surprised him with a gift of US$2081.94 in cash.

Superfan Chris Gondoza came up with the idea and several key people including veteran band manager Sam Mataure were roped in to start the collection via whatsapp.

The Zimbabwean musician and composer propelled Zimbabwe towards independence in the 1970s through his cultivation of chimurenga songs, a genre of politically motivated lyrics.

Mapfumo’s life is a summary of resistance.

With the escalation of guerrilla warfare in the late 1977, Ian Smith’s security forces attempted to silence Mapfumo by imprisoning him for 90 days.

Upon his release he returned to writing his chimurenga songs, which had come to be identified with the fight against white oppression.

Soon after Independence he added a real mbira to his band and continued to nurture and promote the traditional music of Zimbabwe while maintaining a sociopolitical edge.

Few years after independence, he felt betrayed by late former president Robert Mugabe’s administration, he accused it of failing to institute democratic values they had fought for during the liberation war.

In 2000 he moved into exile in the United States, settling in Oregon due to the friction between him and Zanu PF. This did not diminish the potency of his recordings in his homeland and abroad.

His 2005 album “Rise Up” like many of his earlier works, was banned from the state radio stations of Zimbabwe. He released songs, Exile (2010) and Danger Zone (2015) and they were equally politically pointed.

He returned from exile after the November 2017 military coup. For the first time since 2004 he performed in concert in Harare, on April 28, 2018, before an audience of thousands.

The king of Chimurenga music, Dr Thomas “Mukanya” Mapfumo said the late former President Robert Mugabe was behind his persecution, adding that he would not have returned to Zimbabwe if his administration was still in power.

Mapfumo said he had greatly missed home, especially his friends and relatives.

“I missed my relatives and friends greatly. I missed them a lot. As you know it’s been long since I was last here. I spent many years away. We couldn’t come back because of the previous administration. It was difficult for us,” he said.

He released another hit in April 2018 when the country was going towards elections, “Chauya Chauya” and the emphasis of its lyrics were, Zimbabweans were supposed to use the election as a launchpad to change the political system that had haunted the country for decades.

Chimurenga music, Mapfumo said, will live forever. 

Thomas Mapfumo and Emmerson Mnangagwa
Thomas Mapfumo and Emmerson Mnangagwa

Earlier this year, in an interview with Nehanda TV, Mapfumo had invaluable advice for President Emmerson Mnangagwa imploring him to step down, while also describing his continued stay in power as disastrous.

Mapfumo accused Mnangagwa of bringing starvation to the country, further mocking his intention to seek presidential terms which would take him to 2030 as President.

“Do not stay in power when you are not able to lead.

“What are you doing?

“You say 2030 you will be there; doing what, when people are dying of hunger?” Mapfumo queried.

The Chimurenga music maestro – currently domiciled in the United States – castigated Mnangagwa for monopolising power without any show of quality leadership.

Today, 03 July 2020, Mapfumo turns 75 years old. His courage in speaking truth to power and speaking out for the common person has endeared him to millions of fans. Nehanda Radio