HomeStandard PeopleMapfumo: The lion songs that shook Zim

Mapfumo: The lion songs that shook Zim

The Chimurenga music legend, Thomas Hurricane Hugo Mukanya Mapfumo, is one Zimbabwean artiste who has made a significant contribution to the Zimbabwean music landscape. He also had a vision about the socio-cultural and political changes that were bound to affect the future of Zimbabwe, and he was right.

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In 1990, 10 years after independence, Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited released the song Corruption as he began to observe the corrupt tendencies that were taking shape in Zimbabwe. He got into trouble for it as Cabinet ministers were not happy about having their secret financial dealings being exposed to the public by a “mere” musician.

Mapfumo wrote:

Corruption, corruption in the society
In the streets, there’s corruption
Everywhere there’s corruption
Some of us are corrupt
Something for something
Nothing for nothing
You can’t run away from justice

This tune, which became an instant hit, incensed the government of the time to the extent that it was banned from airplay by the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC).

According to Mapfumo, “Corruption is like a disease that plagues the whole world. There are many leaders and others with power who are misleading the people. The big and small should be reminded that corruption is everywhere, but no one can run away from justice.”

Indeed in 2018, we have witnessed a series of corruption charges being levelled against former high-powered people as justice begins to prevail.

Corruption has been defined variously by scholars. But the simple meaning of it is that corruption implies perversion of morality, integrity, character or duty out of mercenary motives such as bribery, without any regard to honour, right and justice. In other words, undue favour for anyone for some monetary or other gains is corruption. Simultaneously, depriving the genuinely deserving from their right or privilege is also a corrupt practice. Shrinking from one’s duty or dereliction of duty are also forms of corruption. Besides, thefts, wastage of public property constitute varieties of corruption.

Dishonesty, exploitation, malpractices, scams and scandals are various manifestations of corruption.

Although Mapfumo spoke out against it, corruption is not a uniquely Zimbabwean phenomenon. It is witnessed all over the world in developing as well as developed countries. It has spread its tentacles in every sphere of life, namely business administration, politics, officialdom, and services. In fact, there is hardly any sector which can be characterised for not being infected with the vices of corruption. Corruption is rampant in every segment and every section of society, barring the social status attached to it. Nobody can be considered free from corruption from a high-ranking officer to the lowest.

Mapfumo saw through all of this and predicted what was to become a rampant vice in Zimbabwe’s future society.

Up until recently, corruption among police officers was heavily pronounced especially at roadblocks . The police officers demanded payment from motorists, so that they can avoid arrest and/ or prosecution. Additionally, the police officers solicited bribes to deter the law enforcement process. Corruption among the police officers is detrimental to the performance of their roles in the nation. For instance, corruption by the police reduces the public trust in the system. This leads to loss of trust by the public especially with reference to crime prevention capacity.

In addition to this, police corruption may also tarnish the image of the entire public service, making it difficult for people to trust the service. Corruption by police officers also encourages the thriving of criminal activities. Crimes such as drug selling, money laundering, robberies and prostitution thrive well where there is protection especially by the law enforcement authorities. The involvement of the police in corruption results in reduced capacity to enforce laws since the police themselves are the criminals and accomplices in crime.

One sociology student tells me that there are two major theories used to explain the origin of corruption among the police.

The rotten apple theory asserts that a few corrupt officials in the police force taint the image of the entire force. Another theory postulates that criminal activities that are unabated form the basis for encouraging police corruption. Activities such as drug selling, whose proceeds are used to bribe the police are the driving factors for police corruption. To curb the ice, it is essential to carry out procedures that lead to the prosecution of corrupt police officials. This can be achieved successfully by beginning with the decriminalisation of the police force.

Below are a few examples on the forms of corruption that may take place:

  • A business individual pays a bribe to a government official in order to be given a government contract or license
  • The use of government-owned resources, such as motor vehicles, for private purposes
  • A government official takes advantage of his or her position to favour a family member or business associate for a job or tender contract. This is commonly called nepotism
  • A police officer solicits a bribe or a member of the public offers one in order to escape lawful punishment.

Corruption is not the only Mapfumo tune that shook the authorities. The release of Chimurenga Explosion album in 2000 with two songs, Mamvemve and the reggae-tinged Disaster upended Mapfumo’s life in Zimbabwe as they were released when the political climate was more charged after the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change.

In Mamvemve (which means ‘tatters’), he sang:
Musha wenyu wamaichemera
Hona waita mamvemve
Chipo, Chipo iwe
John, John iwe
Bereka mwana tiende, and
In Disaster, he also sang:

Mai vemwana muno mune disaster
Mumba menyu mune disaster
Vakomana muno mune disaster
Munyika medu muno mune disaster.

When these songs hit the market, a local newspaper warned that these songs were not meant for the faint-hearted. According to American musician and author, Banning Eyre, “Thomas was a lone hungry lion which was brazenly condemning conditions in Zimbabwe while leaving the public to look for answers. It was the blunt, simple lyrics which hit a raw nerve with the public.”

Thomas went on to sing Nhamo Zvakare (Trouble Again) which accused the politicians of making liberation war promises that were never fulfilled.

With all these controversial songs, where he sang, Our Country Is Full of Corruption and The Crooks Are Going To Finish Us, police arrived at his Mabelreign House and impounded three BMWs which they claimed has been linked to a carjacking ring in South Africa. He was accused of receiving stolen property, charges which Mukanya denied and branded the investigation a charade “organised” to discredit him. Members of his Blacks Unlimited were not spared either. They had their houses searched.

Joshua Dube, the guitarist in the band, was told by one officer by way of apology as they rummaged through his house in Chitungwiza, “This instruction came from the top”.

With this harassment, Mapfumo began to feel unsafe within his own country and decided to settle in Eugene, Oregon in the United States.

With a new dispensation in the country, he comes back to Zimbabwe after a long spell to the Big Bira Concert scheduled for April 28.


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