Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ruzvidzo Stanley Mupfudza (an Obituary by Memory Chirere)

Ruzvidzo.You cannot go just like that. I only learnt about it a day after when I phoned the guys at BWAZ over an otherwise happy matter. I didn’t know you had been ill in hospital. For over six months you were unreachable. You had suddenly disappeared from the social scene. This was not the first time that you disappeared from the scene.

You took a very quick and solitary exit.

A week before your death, I bumped into Ignatius Mabasa at an Avondale ice cream shop and he said he had seen you! He said you had talked. And as the kids ran around, licking their ice cream and bantering amongst themselves, Ignatius said you said that you felt that most of what you had written in the past was rather bleak and you were reworking some of your unpublished stories and poems (and novels too) because you now realized that, after all, life was a positive thing. We were impressed and were almost certain that one full volume of your work would eventually come out.

And now-this!

Is this the end of the end? Always the more courageous, I hope you faced your end with courage.

We first met in 1991 at the University of Zimbabwe. We went to English, History and Economic History classes together. One afternoon you came to my room NCI F105. Being a day scholar, you wanted somewhere quiet to sit and do some work. I went down to the foyer to pick the 4 pm tea. (To think they served free teas then!) When I came back with two cups, (yours and mine) you said you didn’t take tea!

We were strangers then. As I slowly went through the two cups, you said you had heard from people that I sometimes scribbled some poems and stories. You also wondered why I was reluctant to be referred to as a writer. I am not published yet, I said. You laughed loud and long and I thought you were a proud little fellow.

A writer does not need to publish to be called a writer, you argued. A writer writes, you added. Later, I got to see your point.

Then I asked about your totem and your roots and you argued that totems tended to take us backward. Totems were old things. You said that you were a cosmopolitan man, something like that. I quietly sympathized with you! This is in contrast to recent times when you became a fierce Pan Africanist and an avid follower of African traditions.

It is about this time that you began to say you wanted to be free. You said it regularly and pompously too and it began to overflow into your seminar presentations in class. We laughed at it: Dudziro Nhengu, Nhamu Tamari, Khumbulani Phiri and I. Can anyone in this world be free, we wondered. You even talked about being a ‘free spirit’ and that became your nickname.

You quarreled bitterly with those who taught us ‘Literature and Socialism’ and ‘Theories of Literature’ and we asked you to be careful because that was a sure way of failing. But, strangely, they let you off the hook for things all of us could have been punished. To demonstrate your desire for freedom, you started attending a certain meditative oriental art form somewhere on Pendennis Road. You said your lady instructor taught you self defence, and soul searching. You said you were being taught to see the world ‘from inside one’s soul’. You developed a distant look in your eyes that never left you. The way a bird looks into space after taking a sip of water from the trough.

Then a few months later you suddenly changed and joined the Shorin Ryu Karate club on campus.

We began to take writing more seriously. We joined the writing class conducted by Chenjerai Hove the writer- in- residence then. There were many of us in there: Nhamo Mhiripiri, Ignatius Mabasa, Joyce Mutiti, Emmanuel Sigauke, Zvisinei Sandi, Thabisani Ndlovu, Eresina Hwede and others. Our mentor had just won the Noma Award but behaved like he had just simply sold a goat. Hove listened as we read out our stories. Then he would close his eyes, hold his chest and say: ‘Vapfanha, writing comes from here’. We laughed at that but up until your death; we slowly awakened to the message behind that riddle. You will remember my story in which a writer’s book causes a revolution! I had set the story in South America. Why did I hope to succeed with a story set in unfamiliar lands? Naivety.

Then there was the trip that the three of us; Ignatius Mabasa, you and I made to Bulawayo on the invitation of author Chiedza Musengezi. She was working on a script for a children’s book and she wanted us ‘to tear it apart’. What a weekend! It was our first time in Bulawayo.

For a couple of days we chatted deep into the night, reading out loud and critiquing one another’s works. Then on a Sunday morning Chiedza asked us to ‘just go out and see Bulawayo for yourselves.’ That was good. But as soon as we got to a bar in a semi industrial area near Malindela, you and I (because Ignatius does not drink) had one, two and maybe three each and Ignatius reminded us that we needed to move on.

You refused flatly. You said you wanted to see the soul of Bulawayo because there was much of it in this bar and we should hang around longer. We quarreled bitterly and this is the closest that you and I ever came close to blows.

We dragged you out as you held an unfinished pint. I said nasty things about you and you retaliated. Finally Ignatius intervened when in fact, he had caused the altercation himself by suggesting we move on. He and I went out to explore Bulwayao and you stubbornly walked back into the bar. Later, you said you had walked out too and explored Bulawayo all by yourself. We met again in the evening at Chiedza’s place. Strangely, we were all cheerful and I think to this day, Chiedza has not learnt about this.

After UZ, I went to teach at Chipindura High in Bindura and you went to Oriel Boys High. During one of my visits, I noticed that your students 'worshipped' you. Their teacher was a celebrity. You had written a very powerful article in the Moto magazine about the sticking point of race relations in Zimbabwe. There was uproar in academic circles. You were in the papers and on tv. Judith Todd herself paid you a visit at home to congratulate you.

You allowed your pupils some liberties which other teachers did not. You asked them to think freely. No wonder that some of your former students like Mabasa Sasa later became your workmates. I began to look forward to a novel because I think you had many such scripts.

You were a self confessed admirer of Dambudzo Marechera. In an article in The Herald of 2 May 2001, page 7, you admit that you had ‘once walked in the shadow of Marechera’ before finally finding your own voice. You proceed: ‘Now, I am grown, I have not stopped questing for and exploring new horizons… the roads and the journeys I take are mine and not Marechera’s. Whereas he would balk at the thought of being leveled ‘an African writer', I have become a fierce Pan Africanist.'

From Marechera, you adopted a hypnotic and intense writing style. But as evident in your stories like ‘The eyes of a walk’ and ‘Mermaid out of the rain’, you adopted a fusion of Marechera with the charmed realism of Allende and Marquez. There is a suggestion that you felt that while Marechera was brilliant, he needed to dig deeper and benefit more from African folk, myth and wisdom.

I think your days at the Ibbo Mandaza's Mirror Group of papers will always stand out. You were the Acting Editor of the Sunday Mirror for a long time. You wrote lengthy articles under the title 'Muhera Wekwa Pfumojena'.You wrote about the return to Guruuswa, the return to Gomba rekwaNyashanu. This was no simple mythical quest.

You wanted to say, I think, that we need to return to the source. Not to go back to matehwe and nhembe, but to go back and reconnect with our upward thrust in history. To go back and pick again those values and qualities which are enduring and timeless, in order to face the present.

For me this was the most dramatic stretch in your life. The Sunday Mirror was something to look forward to. With a crop writers like Mabasa Sasa, Laura Chiweshe, Phillip Chidavaenzi, Trust Khosa and others, you were destined for great heights. Yes, there was also the Scrutator! You gave more space to the Arts and features in a way that has no comparison to this day in Zimbabwe.

I remember that you bought various sets of mbiras and placed them along your guitar in your study and learnt to play both at the same time. You started to draw too, having felt that maybe the written word was inadequate on its own.

You bought an expensive walking stick and appeared with it in public. One day at the Throgmorton internet café (Coner Julius Nyerere and Samora Machel), you cut a sharp figure; dreadlocked, brandishing the walking stick, clad in a three piece suit and a long snuff horn protruding from your pocket. After the usual greetings you went across the intersections and walked straight to the Mirror. I really felt that you had arrived.

You were against one super way of viewing the spiritual. You also liked the bible, particularly the Old Testament. I remember finding you reading it in your office, explaining to a charmed colleague that God is manifest in all cultures and that the devil of the Christians is not necessarily the devil of all the non christians.

You wrote about biras that you had attended in Mhondoro, Nyashanu and Guruve and even Mbare itself! In one BWAZ workshop that you conducted, it is said you knelt down and prayed to the ancestors for guidance with the workshop. All were stunned. Now people called you by your totem, ‘Mhofu’. Your new found quest opened you up and gone was my ‘antitotem’ boy of the early 1990’s. You apologized for what you had said about totems way back in 1991. I forgave you.

Then we went to Bindura to attend a Marechera commemoration one August day in 2004. It was arranged by one Ngoma of Shimmer, a policeman and a member of the BWAZ. There were a lot of readings. There was a lot of sunshine and inspiration.

But when we decided to return to Harare that evening, a curse fell on us. It took us over seven hours to travel the 88kms between Harare and Bindura. For over four hours, we did not get a lift to Harare. We decided to hitch hike to Glandale. We hoped to get better chances because Glendale connects Harare and Bindura and Harare and Chiweshe. We got a few beers from the nearby shopping centre and came back to the main road. For hours on end there was not lift for Harare! We decided to light a fire. We even went back to buy more beers and came back and rekindled our fire.

Past midnight and all the songs we had sung were exhausted. From nowhere, a spooky truck carrying cattle came along and we jumped in among the calves and the cows.

As we drove away, you looked back at our lone midnight fire and said, ‘I am sure he is now alone by the fire, poor man.” Without asking, I knew you were referring to Marechera. Most Marechera events have a tendency to be accompanied by some mishaps, you said. I remember that when I got down at Second street shops, you continued to the city centre. You phoned an hour later saying you had got a kombi to Southerton but picked a quarrel with somebody inside there and ended up getting down and walking all the way to Southerton and now you were not in bed but perched on a bar stool, drinking in good familiar company. I laughed and switched off.

Ruzvidzo, Free Spirit, you know too well that I have lots of respect for you.


  1. Rufu ndimadzongonyedze zveshuwa Memo. I feel so numbed by the loss. That we made our presentations together, Ruzvidzo and I at the reviving Zimbabwe International Book Fair last year, and he looked pretty well, makes it hard to believe he was ill even then. He surely took his bad health with grace and dignity. I will always cherish the memories of Stan, yes he was Stanley! I remember taunting him for using a European name when he so much wanted to be seen as an African back then when we used to while away over drinks at the Student's Union. That's about the time when he started signing off his writings as Ruzvidzo. I had dropped my middle name which most friends and classmates from my early youth knew me as - Anthony. I have since developed a way of using both names without feeling surges of discomfort. After all, what's in a name? Everything and nothing, come to think of it.
    Our paths continued to meet and part over the years, and I always wanted him to finish his Masters and come to University lecturing where I believed he belonged. There is also a measure of security in varsity employment. He seemed to buy the idea and I understand you, Memo, brought him back to the old corridors of the English department. Yes, I understand when Stan writes about missed opportunities. At least when he first tried to dump his MA studies I talked him into continuing - and you know with us it would take long bouts of booze in town then at my other home in Glen Norah B, where we would sit with Patu Machakata. Patu is also sadly gone. I wonder whether I have survived this long because I married and Patu and Stan stayed single, and there could be something fatalistic about being a single male. I should thank you Memo for writing such a sensitive obituary to Stan. I think one of us should compile Stan's works and find a publisher. He often expressed to me the frustration of having his works scattered in various anthologies without a single comprehensive collection to his name. I hope even posthumously such a project is possible, and his spirit and dream will be sated MuNyikadzimu. Can you do it Memo? I know you have such a touch and way with people, and you can make this work.

    Wako sahwira

    Nhamo Mhiripiri

  2. As someone who came years after Mupfudza and yet became proud to call him a friend and colleague, I think a collection of his works is most appropriate. Ndzizvozvo Mukoma Nhamo (Anthony). Ruzvidzo's intellectual range ranks up there with those other abikus and ogbanjes gone all too soon before him - Chris Okgibo, Dambudzo Marechera, Paswane Mpe, Yvonne Vera. For close to 2 years he was my colleague and when I was told who he was, I was surprised because legendary people sometimes appear ordinary, too ordinary. I quickly informed him we shared the Mhofu totem and that I was also trying my hand at short fiction, among other things. And so we worked and shared stories when we had the time. Then I bumped into him aboard an asthmatic Munhenzva bus going to Mhondoro, my rural home. "Ndiri kuenda kubira, Mhofu," he said, much to my surprise. With him were two other men carrying mbira nehosho. I watched in amazement as the three argued happily over whose snuff tasted best for all three were sniffing the journey away. Deep in Mhondoro, the three got off the bus and to this day I still have that image of three youngish men carrying mbira, hosho and one or two bags walking in the direction of Chirasavana Business Center. "Fambai mushe Mhofu," he had shouted above the din before jumping off with his two friends. One day I gathered my things and left and years later we became friends again on Facebook where we exchanged words of encouragement again. He made a lot about the fact that he was ALIVE and told me the story of his son who had decided to quit his mother's warm belly early. It was the boy's refusal to give up life that made the father realize how precious each lived day is, he told me in one Facebook private message. RIP Mupfudza, friend, fellow writer, colleague, mukoma.

  3. Thanks for this insightful piece, Memory. I felt Mhofu's presence all over again as I read it. There a number of points on which I didn't agree with Mhofu, especially the stuff about midzimu and all. But that did not in any way diminish my respect for him.

  4. Stanley was my literature teacher at oriel boys and true we really worshipped him RIP sir

  5. Thank you Mukoma Chirere. Re-reading this 13 years later (thanks to Chofamba Sithole) and I realise once again how much I owe Mupfudza - a debt that can never be paid. That said, has there been any success in putting his works in a single Tome?