Zimbabwean music legend Thomas Mapfumo was in Botswana a fortnight ago and put up a memorable show.
Regarded as the father of his homeland’s Chimurenga (struggle for independence) music, 66- year- old Mapfumo spoke to Dubani-wa-Dubani about his music, his contribution to the fight for democracy and what he thinks African leaders should do to make the continent a better place for all.
Q. Welcome back to Botswana. By the way when was the last time you were here and what is your impression about the country now?
I was in Botswana in 1986 for Independence celebrations. The infrastructure has changed drastically since then which is of course a sign of progress. Back then there was no proper airport and today there is one, which I believe will be even better when the construction work is finished.
The roads are also much better. The buildings in the city are bigger and better.
To me these are signs of growth and proper management of resources. Botswana is unlike Zimbabwe, which has been going down since we got our independence in 1980.
At that time Zimbabwe had some of the best infrastructure in Africa and was able to feed its people and export food and other agricultural products. We were the food basket of
Southern Africa but that is all gone because of leaders who serve their own interests and see anybody who does not agree with them as an enemy.
However there is one disturbing thing that I noticed in young people. They seem to be blindly adopting the western culture especially the hip-hop and gangster rap culture.
Q. What bothers you about that, we are supposed to be living in a global village, aren’t we?
I live in the US and I can tell you that the majority of the citizens in that country including most blacks find the effects of the hip hop and gangster rap distasteful. Most of it glorifies violence, drug use and undermines women. Young people in Africa should learn the values, language and culture before they take on harmful foreign traits.
Q. But I understand you started off your musical career listening and playing Western music.
That is true. I listened to all the big bands but deep down in my heart I wanted to sing and play for my people in their own language. Those days it was fashionable to sing
in English but I broke the norm. I have never regretted the idea.
Q. And your music played an important part in the Liberation of Zimbabwe
As an artist there was no way I could stand aside and just be a spectator because the liberation struggle was for the freedom of all Zimbabweans. I supported the struggle through my music and I am happy that my humble contribution helped win the war against Ian Smith and his racist government.
Q. You were on the same side with Robert Mugabe during the liberation war but less than a decade you fell out with him. Why?
The war against Smith was for justice and prosperity for Zimbabweans but after independence I realized that the ZANU PF government’s policy was working against those aspirations.
I could not stand aside and watch what I had helped fight for go to waste. I spoke out against the corruption that was ripping our country apart and the government did not like it.
Devious plans were hatched including one that implicated me in a car smuggling ring. I was finally forced to leave the country for the US where I now live in exile with my family and band.
Q. Were you ever a member of Mugabe’s ZANU PF?
Never. In fact I have never belonged to any political party because I do not want to be owned by anybody. I have always wanted to be in a position to make decisions without worrying about anything. My allegiance is not to any person or party but my country, Zimbabwe.
Q. Most Africans want change and aspire for a more democratic political set up in their countries and economic prosperity. What do you think should be done to achieve this?
Africans should vote for honest politicians who realize that Africa can be a better place for her peoples if she becomes self-reliant. We need to develop political and economic policies that are people oriented.
At the moment there is this illusion that we must look to the west for solutions to our problems. That is not the way.
We have the resources, skills and knowledgeable people who when given the chance can make Africa the envy of the world.
If we look at things properly, we will realize that they need us more than we need them.
And to achieve this we need to have strong leaders who can make sure that African Union pursues the African Agenda without fear or favour.
It’s time we stopped relying on western controlled organizations like the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations to shape the destiny of the African continent. They have no African interests at heart.
Q. What’s wrong with the UN?
To me the UN is a useless organization. The situation in Zimbabwe is a clear example of the organizations’ failure. There are other countless examples of the UN’s failure to act world over. I think the UN has been overtaken by events. They seem not to be as democratic as they want us to believe. In this regard they are like the Americans.
Q. Are the Americans not supposed to be the torchbearers of democracy?
They claim to be but their democracy smacks of racism and class.
Q. Can you explain that?
I pity Obama because the white people in control of the US political establishment want Obama to fail. He has inherited a heavily indebted economy and two wars. When many debate Obama’s presidency they conveniently forget that it was George Bush who started the wars and whose policies harmed the economy. They want Obama to look like a failure so that they may perpetuate the myth that the black man is inferior. To me democracy should also provide basic necessities for everybody but in the US there are a lot of homeless and jobless people.
Such people cannot go around telling other people how to run their own affairs. I must however say they have helped get rid of dictators in many countries. They must however learn to leave as soon as they have done their job and let the natives run their own affairs.
Q. Talking of dictators. You are now living in exile because of an intolerant government but some people say you moved to the US because you are a coward and could not face Mugabe
That is nonsense. I am a family man and I moved to the US so that my children could get a decent education without interference from those who think they are always right. I am not afraid to die because every living being is going to die. I have to however be cautious and protect my family. I would urge anybody fighting against an unjust system to cast the fear of death aside and always make sure they are with friends who can protect them. I survived the Smith regime because I was witty.
Q. I guess like most people you have your most memorable moments.
I will never forget the day Zimbabwe attained her independence. It was a great moment for all and we were all looking forward to a new a prosperous nation. That remains the greatest day in my life.
Q. And the lowest?
Surely it is situation in Zimbabwe at the moment. I pray everyday that it changes for the better soon. I also believe that it is we, the Zimbabweans who can change things. Our destiny is in own hands.
Q. Thank you again sir for speaking to us. We wish you all the best as you work to spread your music and fight for a better Zimbabwe.
Thank you . For me the struggle against injustice anywhere in the world will stop the day I die
Full names: Thomas Mapfumo
Marital status: Married with two children
Place of birth: Marondera, Zimbabwe
Favourite food: African cuisine
Favourite colours: Black and white