Encounter with MC Emmanuel Manyika

Francis Mupazviriho Correspondent
Obituaries are generally heartfelt commentaries in memory of departed souls. It could be a brother, sister, husband, wife, friend, uncle or a friend. Often, we give glowing tributes on graveside speeches which hail the departed. If only these tributes were written for posterity, they would no doubt make great readings.

This rule of praising the dead even applies to hardcore criminals and other deviants of society, who get adulated “for the good they did”.
“Wafa wanaka” we say, loosely translated to “we do not speak ill of the dead”.
But Manyika was not a bad guy at all.

Generally, those close to the him through friendship or bloodline trace the life of the departed in chronological fashion – from the date of birth, schools attended, their personality, marriage and family, professional life and, finally, the date of death which brings finality to our mortal lives.

Epitaphs immortalise all these details, serving as a permanent reminder to those formerly with us.
Then there are cases when the subject was a prominent person and journalists often utilise the proximity they had with them and harvest a story recounting the important details of a personality who could have been beyond the reach of ordinary citizens.

These could be politicians, business people, sports personalities, philanthropists, renowned preachers, musicians and so on.
But Manyika remained a prolific MC despite the tag of stardom.

Which is why I write this obituary of sorts basing on an engagement with a figure who became public to us.
Despite having become a permanent feature at State events, corporate and private junkets which he steered with decorum and precision and resultantly became the most wanted in the country, Manyika was nonetheless a reachable and humble man.

On the day Manyika departed and with subsequent viral messages on social media, I got several messages from workmates seeking my confirmation, oblivious to the fact that I had one main encounter with the man.

Admittedly, I know nothing about Manyika’s biography and yet making this submission largely based on one impressionable encounter.

Following the actual confirmation of his death on official media, I scurried for the pen to write about the encounter I had with him.

In the process, I temporarily broke the three months sabbatical from writing, which was due to other assignments at work.
So, this is the story of the encounter.

Earlier in March, we were preparing for the belated national commemorations to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

The event, which is on the United Nations calendar, has been commemorated since 1992. Mashonaland East Province were the hosts for the year and Caledonia on the eastern outskirts of Harare, became the perfect host, having a housing cooperative for Persons with Disabilities.

Initially a small fixture, the occasion had morphed to a big excursion.
This is how I met Manyika in the context of this event, in my prior role as the media liaison officer at the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare.

We needed a man of abilities, which we found in Manyika – the “ISO certified” emcee, who had to steer and stabilise the event while ensuring adherence to elaborate protocol considerations, which had to be followed religiously.
One morning, we were at the giant boardroom at Kaguvi Building for a routine meeting in preparation for the commemorations.

Our principal director, Mr Simon Masanga, who was co-chairing the meeting, asked whether we had secured an MC, and upon an attendant honest “No” from this writer, he immediately tasked me to get hold of Manyika whom he described as “the best in the country”- an evident validation of his resume.

The problem was whether we were able to secure his services at the eleventh hour.
Having found his contacts from media circles and reaching him through text, as he was emceeing at another event in Bindura, he quickly assured of his presence on the day.

Despite this huge sigh of relief, I, however, called him late into the night on the same day, seeking for a final confirmation which was to be routinely updated to the main committee and its appendage in Mashonaland East Province.
At events he dressed in right fitting cuts of suits in dark colours and this gave him the stature of officialdom, while his clean-shaven face like that of a constable exuded not only cleanliness but the “youthful” look predominantly imperative for the emceeing job, largely fronted by young men in jeans.

His spectacles gave seriousness to the job and gave that professorial acumen which he matched with his polished deliveries.
With the microphone in his hand and a juggernaut of a voice which he constantly twisted to impersonate prominent figures, notably presidents and ministers, he surely kept the audience alive with his wit.

It became his trademark to impersonate former president Robert Mugabe, Nelson Mandela and many other personalities.
Now, following his confirmation, I then organised for a meeting, to show him the programme and brief him about the event which needed the deployment of appropriate terms, or rather politically correct language to refer to Persons with Disabilities.

Also present was the acting director for disability affairs, Sneddon Soko; Secretary Ngoni Masoka and the host Provincial Minister for Mashonaland East, David Musabayana, who was coincidentally around and naturally came to the fold after having notified him about Manyika’s impending arrival for the meeting scheduled at 9am sharp.
The meeting proved academic.

Courtesy of his invaluable guidance, we later reached consensus to lace a few adjustments to the programme, as he undoubtably embodied the legendary actor given a script but deviating from it instantaneously, to the chagrin of directors on a set.

As preparations entered the home stretch, our communication intensified.
The day of the event came, with Vice President Kembo Mohadi, who was the Acting President, gracing the occasion which was highly subscribed.

Disabled persons organisations and their constituents were there.
Several Government ministers, senior Government officials, senators and members of the National Assembly, church and traditional leaders, business, representatives from the academic divide, civil servants, media, heads of international organisations and diplomats were there.

Not forgetting happiness ambassadors Mai Chisamba and the eccentric Cde Chinoz.
On the morning of the event we had met at the prescribed time at Compensation House and off we went to Caledonia using his vehicle, which we used again on our return.
Accompanying us was journalist Ray Chizengeni.

On our way to the venue, we beautifully scripted conversations from the hip and in typical Zimbabwean fashion, talked about politics, that ubiquitous subject we all love.

He recounted the several events he had covered, including private fixtures of the who-is-who in the country and those of us commoners.
He was humane.

Though this became the chief encounter, our communication continued on a personal level, where I had sought his services for a personal engagement slated for next year.
But such is our mortal life, which is in the hands of God.

With Manyika in another world, we stand in a dilemma, to moan or celebrate a life well lived well.
Of course, he had other lives beyond the public glare which we associate him with.
Husband, father, uncle and so on.
The tasks became art.

But the biggest lesson from him was about passion in all our undertakings (read Colossians 3; 23).
This passion and industriousness could be likened to the legendary teacher whom students never forget even in their old age, as they passionately recount the formative scholarly years at the hands of a veteran.

Judging by the outpouring of condolences messages, there is no doubt that Manyika inspired many professionals especially those relating to the arts fraternity.

He read the audience well. He had the oomph for the stage. He affably utilised contemporary issues into his skits without offending anyone.
To the family, may the Lord comfort you.
May His Dear Soul Rest in Peace.

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