By Rumbidzai Dube and Tinotenda Hondo
Born on 24 August 1983, Rutendo Tapiwa Chigudu was a bubbly, beautiful and ageless daughter, mother, sister and friend. She left this world suddenly on 6 May 2021 while in Johannesburg, South Africa and was laid to rest on 16 May 2021 in Rusape, Zimbabwe her birthplace.
Rutendo was larger than life, gutsy and an incurable optimist who went through life’s most gruelling experiences with unfailing hope. She had a mischievous twinkle in her eyes and a loud, boisterous laugh that would light up her beautiful face, bringing bursts of sunshine into her eyes. If the smiling emoji was a person, then Rutendo would have been the muse.
She lived a colourful life, dared greatly and taught those around her so many things. To love, with courage. To give the very best of themselves. To strive for better, without despair. To live, without fear. The abiding love for God that she had, her child-like wonder at life and the positive energy that she embodied were truly amazing and made her a friend to many. She touched many lives and somehow belonged to all.
Rutendo’s generosity of heart and of actions was limitless. She gave of herself selflessly, dishing out her love and expecting very little in return. And when those whom she loved reciprocated, she blossomed like a flower in morning dew, letting them further into the inner radiance of her gentle soul. When she turned the hose of her affection on anyone, they were guaranteed a lifetime’s supply. She was intentional and consistent in her loving, up until the end.
She taught her loved ones the meaning of courage in the ways she forged on despite losing so much and enduring endless disappointments and let-downs in her life. She continually and boldly carved new paths for herself.
Her studies for the Master of Arts degree in Applied Drama at the University of Witwatersrand’s Drama for Life School, the last of these steps, was one of her most inspiring journeys. She had an insatiable hunger for knowledge, translating this passion and enthusiasm into her work. One her highlights on this journey was being selected for a life changing three-month exchange visit to Norway as one of three students from the inaugural Drama for Life class. Through all the struggles she continued to learn and grow intellectually and spiritually, never giving up when things got hard.
Motherhood inspired Rutendo. Her every drive for self-improvement and excellence were anchored in her desire to be her children’s role model. Not only was she their mother, but also their best friend and biggest cheerleader. As her daughter Anesu so aptly said in her eulogy, Rutendo’s affable and multifaceted persona was her greatest asset, aidiwa nemunhu wese ende aikwana-kwana pese.
She loved herself, her body, her freedom of choice and was truly comfortable in her own skin. She transitioned between short hair, long hair and doeks, mini dresses and maxi-dresses, shorts and pants, bare face and make up effortlessly and rocked it all, as and when she felt like it! And with each transformation, she remained Tendo, sassy and proud!
Rutendo was an unapologetic feminist and used her blog Feminine Allegiance to share her thoughts and ideas. Her commentary on social and political issues often stirred controversy, an outcome she expected and relished. In her own words, her writings were RatedLoose, and she was the LooseCanon, putting words on paper that many did not dare imagine.
Words were one of her special gifts and she was a true wordsmith, as one of her friends – Delta Ndou – would say it. Rutendo also loved books; reading them, collecting them and writing them. She treasured native languages and understood their value as part of her African heritage. In her efforts to preserve her mother tongue, she co-authored two publications in Shona; Totanga Patsva, a short story collection in 2005 (edited by Memory Chirere which won a NAMA Award in 2006) and Dzinonyandura – Svinga ReNduri – a Poetry Anthology in 2014 (edited by Tinashe Muchuri).
Theatre was her crown! Rutendo was most in her element on stage, embodying the essence of every character she played, morphing her petite frame into larger-than-life characters. In 2007, she won a National Arts Merit Award for Outstanding Theatre Actress in the production The Frog Queen. Rituals, written by David Chifunyise and directed by Daves Guzha (2010) was one of Rutendo’s most exciting projects, taking her on numerous national, regional and international tours including the acclaimed Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Grahamstown National Arts Festival.
One of her fondest memories on the Rituals set was meeting the pan-African icon and former Zambian president, Kenneth Kaunda. The play was a great fit for her as it infused her love for theatre with her activism, touching on the difficult subject of transitional justice in the aftermath of devastating political violence.
In her role as Sabrina, the wily bride in the play Wedding Day(2010) directed by Elizabeth ‘Zaza’ Muchemwa, Rutendo seamlessly critiqued, through her performance, the very essence of the patriarchy that she continuously resisted and challenged in her own life.
She went on to feature in Eclipsed a production by Zane E Lucas (2012), In The Continuum a production by Danai Gurira and Patience Tawengwa which was also featured at the Harare International Arts Festival (2012), For Coloured Girls, directed by David Bvumbe (2014) and Anowa a stage production by Sandra Chidawanyika-Goliath (2016). Her achievements in theatre are too many to list, suffice to say that Rutendo loved the stage and it loved her right back.
Rutendo would often say that the arts chose her. She was a natural creative and an all-rounder, a multi-dimensional artist who worked in a wide range of roles within the media and arts sector. These included a stint with Pamberi Trust/The Book Café, where she hosted the Sister’s Open Mic sessions under the Female Literary Arts and Music Enterprise (F.L.A.M.E) Project between 2009 and 2015.
Her favourite poet, Batsirai Chigama, never disappointed in delivering hard hitting proses and verses. Rutendo also worked with Nehanda Radio as a freelance journalist, Her Zimbabwe as Public Relations and Social Media Coordinator, Star FM as a Producer/ Presenter, Maendeleo Media as a Business Development Manager, Kwaguqa Arts Initiative as a Scriptwriter and Zimbabwe Women Writers among others.
Her love for the arts and live music gave her a regular routine and a space for creating beautiful memories. The Book Café, where she worked for several years, became a connecting hub where Rutendo met and brought together fellow creatives, time and time again to salve a shared hunger for the arts. She leaves the space she occupied hollow, save for the echoes of the memories she weaved.
Rest in peace Rutendo, Tendo, RTendo, TendoTapiwaC, SassyR, LooseCanon, ShhhTendo. You are loved and will be sorely missed.
*This dedication was co-authored by Rumbidzai Dube and Tinotenda Hondo on behalf of Rutendo’s friends*