Sekai Nzenza On Wednesday —
“Every man gotta right to decide his own destiny
And in this judgment there is no partiality
So arm in arms, with arms, we’ll fight this little struggle
Cause that’s the only way we can overcome our little trouble
Brother, you’re right, you’re right
. . . We gonna fight (we gon’ fight), fight for our rights!
Natty Dread it in-a (Zimbabwe)
Set it up in (Zimbabwe)
Mash it up-a in-a Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe)
Africans a-liberate (Zimbabwe), yeah
No more internal power struggle
We come together to overcome the little trouble . . . “
These are Bob Marley’s lyrics in the song called “Zimbabwe”.
Instead of celebrating Jesus’ resurrection from the dead last Sunday, my cousin Reuben and a group of friends were already in Independence Day mood. We found ourselves in a competition on who could recite the best lyrics of Bob Marley’s songs.
Among the braai guests were, Skinner who lives in Toronto, Chipo from the UK and a few others that I had not met before. I was there with my cousin Piri for the braai.
Skinner is just a nickname. His real name is Shelton Muza, born and brought up in Mbare. I first met him many years ago when he lived at Charles Briggs Court, a block of flats for the upwardly mobile black professionals built by the Rhodesian government before independence. Skinner was a close friend of my late brother Charles.
He used to drive a red Mustang while Charles had a green Ford Escort. These two guys knew the places for fun around Salisbury during the liberation war.
At that time, Skinner was a marketing director for a big company. Soon after Independence, Charles and Skinner were among some of the first black people who moved from the flats and bought houses in the former Europeans only suburbs.
I recall that Skinner often played “coloured” meaning that he claimed to have a mixed race parentage. He capitalised on his light skin and got a job using the name Skinner Brown. This way, he was able to get some privileges that were meant for people of mixed race only.
Years later, we lost contact of Skinner. But Reuben recently found him on Facebook.
Skinner is probably 60 or more years now and lives in Toronto, Canada with his second wife, a Jamaican woman. He was back home for the unveiling of his mother’s tombstone. Reuben invited him to the barbecue for the long Easter and Independence Day holidays. Reuben’s verandah was noisy with music coming from what seemed to be several speakers. There was braai meat, beer, whisky and wine drinking among the guests.
“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none by ourselves can free our minds . . .”
These were some of the words from Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” that was being played over and over again. Skinner hummed along, a bottle of Zambezi beer in one hand. Someone commended on Skinner’s ability to know all the lyrics on “Redemption Song”. Skinner said there was a time when he could recite a song by Bob Marley called “Zimbabwe, “ the song composed by Bob Marley when he came to Zimbabwe to perform.
“Ah, Bhudhi, mazonyepa manje! Bob Marley, muRasta, ainge asingabvi Jamaica? Akauya kuno riini?” Piri shouted so she could be heard above the music sound. By this, she was saying Skinner has somehow got the facts wrong. Bob Marley, a Rastaman from Jamaica, could not have possibly come to Zimbabwe a long time ago.
Because some of us know Piri and how she often says just what she thinks, even if it’s a bit embarrassing, we simply smiled and allowed Skinner to explain. Skinner told us the background story to Bob Marley’s visit to Zimbabwe for the Independence Day celebrations in 1980.
He said he first heard about Bob Marley’s plans to come to Zimbabwe from Job Kandengu, who used to operate Job’s Nite Spot. Another guy called Gordon Muchanyuka was also involved in the preparations for Bob Marley’s coming to Zimbabwe.
Bob hired a PA system from London and paid for the whole trip on his own, without asking for a penny from anyone. He did this for the love of freedom. During the liberation war, a number of guerrilla forces had listened to Marley’s songs and were inspired by the messages in his lyrics.
Bob Marley and his band arrived in Harare in the early evening of Sunday, April 16, 1980. He was welcomed by many senior Government people, including honourable Joshua Nkomo, who was Minister of Home Affairs in the new Zimbabwe Government. Among international people invited for the Independence celebrations was Britain’s Prince Charles, India’s Indira Gandhi and many African presidents. Bob Marley played to thousands of people at Rufaro Stadium in Mbare.
“We identified with his liberation message. At that time, many of us needed an awakening. We were so mentally colonized, “ said Skinner.
“Ah, ah, Mukoma, you say, at that time ‘we were mentally colonise’ as if we have changed. We remain as mentally colonised at ever,” said Reuben. The other guests nodded and then everyone started talking at the same time.
Chipo stood up and said, “ Excuse me guys. After living in the UK for many years, I come back home and see women wearing blonde wigs or weaves. Other people’s hair. Then I say to myself, what has happened to us? Why are we not proud of our hair? Why are we not proud of who we are?” asked Chipo, showing some exasperation that you often see on the faces of people who have discovered their African identity by virtue of living among mostly Europeans. You discover more of who you are by looking back to that past and reclaiming the values of your own culture.
But I was not going to be drawn into this sensitive business of hair and identity. Not today. Piri said people should be allowed to make choices of what they want to look like or who they want to be. “If someone wants to look like Beyoncé, so what?” Piri said.
Skinner said the hair issue is most likely linked to our mental colonisation. Then he openly started laughing about the days when he was called Skinner Brown, because he wanted to be identified as a “coloured” man. He did not want to be a black African.
But today, he can stand up and speak of that colonial Rhodesia era, when he was not mentally and physically free. It has taken him many years to return once again to the songs of Bob Marley and to fully understand the meaning. “The man was a legend,” said Skinner. “Take time to listen to him.” Skinner said.
Reuben offered more meat and beer to everyone. Then he said his favourite Bob Marley song was “Ambush in the Night.” He put the song on and sang as if he was doing a Kari Oke, mimicking or lip singing the songs:
(Ooh-wee, ooh-wee, ooh-wa!)
See them fighting for power (ooh-wee, ooh-wee, ooh-wa!),
But they know not the hour (ooh-wee, ooh-wee, ooh-wa!),
so they bribing with their guns, spare-parts and money,
Trying to belittle our
They say what we know
Is just what they teach us;
And we’re so ignorant
‘Cause every time they can reach us (shoobe, doo-wa)
Through political strategy (shoo-be, doo-wa);
Everyone clapped hands. More Bob Marley songs were played. At one stage, Skinner got up and asked to dance with me to “No Woman no Cry.” I recalled hearing this song for the first time during Independence Day celebrations in 1980. I saw couples dancing really close, at Glen Norah B flats.
Independence Day celebrations, April 18, 2017, we recall, listen and dance once again to Bob Marley. The meaning of his “Zimbabwe” song and many other songs, remain relevant today. We celebrate the memory of Bob Marley’s coming to Zimbabwe. He became part of our history, 37 years ago.
Dr Sekai Nzenza is a writer and cultural critic.