Stories from Dangamvura | Samanyika’s encounters with Harare – Part 2

In which Chris Kabwato regales us with more tales of moving from Mutare to the University of Zimbabwe, and all the Harare mischief that came with it. Missed his first instalment in this ‘Samanyika’ series? Read it here.


In 1988, I and a bunch of other boys who had finished A-levels in Manicaland headed for Harare. It was a time of anxiety and excitement. But it was also a time of sadness for those who had not made it to college or university.

In Upper 6, the pressure in the study rooms in boarding school had been palpable. One perennial joker, Kaay Musimwa, would walk into the study, stand by the door wearing a wicked grin, survey the room and ask calmly: “Who amongst you will be with me kuVar?”

We forced a laugh but deep down it was a chilling question. In one corner was a colleague who consumed so much of the energy drink Bioplus that, instead of staying awake, he ended up sleeping for much of the time. We would laugh with him and chant: “Bioplus yakashata!”

In another corner, quiet as a mouse, was another colleague who wrapped a huge wet white towel around his head like a turban and hunched over his Chemistry and Biology textbooks.

After this two-year terror of memorising the causes of the French Revolution and shouting incessantly “Hamlet! Hamlet, I am thy father”, we could now throw away our notebooks and conveniently forget to hand back that David Thomson tome Europe Since Napoleon. School was over – FOREVER.

Jumping into life without a parachute

But there was one little challenge. In our time in high school, there was next to nothing approximating career guidance. All you had was the pressure from the family about how much your schooling had cost, which sibling you needed to pick up, and how you needed to choose a prestigious career. Medicine, Law, Accounting. Why would you want to do a BA (Bachelor of Anything)? Teacher? Maticha haana mari (teachers are poor).

But the choice of this or that degree was parked away as we simply celebrated freedom from the tyranny of school. For me, there was also a very personal reason. There had been a streak of sadism in the new Mutare Boys High School principal who had replaced the beloved Mr Moyana. The new headmaster seemed to have never been hugged in his life. He came in and within weeks our dining menu changed – out with the dessert (custard, malva pudding, jelly) and in with some mealie nonsense.

The punishment for any indiscretion was heavier – dig up a tree trunk over a weekend when you had a date at the neighbouring Girls High. He had brought with him an equally backward deputy principal. I am sure our parents approved of this duet of Neanderthals. They represented military discipline.

Performance: an initiation ceremony of sorts

We were now here in Ha-ha-ha-ra-re by ourselves without any chaperones. Completely free from the chains of our parents and the unapproving eye of the teachers and principals.

It was no wonder that in the first term of the first year at UZ we sang with the gusto of birds released from some cage:

Harare ndeyangu

Harare ndeyangu

At that point, inebriated with the exuberance of youthful enthusiasm and certain beverages from Delta, we conveniently forgot the warnings in a famous poem we had read in the anthology Gwenyambira in Form 4 called Havana Kudzokera, with its warnings on those who were swallowed by the big city. Instead, like the characters in the poem, we thought we had bought Harare with some silver coin.

The initiation into the glorious student culture did not take long. At the University of Zimbabwe, there was something called “performance” – a deliberate outrageous act fuelled by Dutch courage, courtesy of Mr Castle and his cousins, Lion and Zambezi. Performance could be jumping out of a Datsun 120Y Rixi Taxi without paying.

There were serious bragging rights to gatecrashing a party and enjoying the event more than the host and the guests. In all the places we went to, the joints knew that they had to budget for ‘breakage’ – we were experts in helping ourselves to beer glasses. The most treasured item to take away was an ashtray that had an engraving that made it even more valuable: STOLEN FROM TERRESKANE HOTEL.

“Performance” could also be just fun – we sang songs in front the of women’s residences that would have given the priest a heart convulsion.  The leader in song at the Students Union was a quiet and highly intelligent mechanical engineering student called Patterson. His famous song that would come alive after a few brown bottles started off as Ndi-ndi-ani wafumire kudhibhi. The rest is censored.

But, at times, performance came with consequences. One time there was a wedding at the UZ’s Senior Common Room (this was a space strictly reserved for academic staff). As my three buddies and I walked into the wedding all dressed up, someone came up to me, held me by the arm, and said: “Tanga takakumirirayi. Huyai kuno munyore pasi zvipo.” (We’ve been waiting for you. Come over here and record the wedding gifts).

I could not protest. I was dragged to a table where for the next three hours or so I jotted down all the wedding gifts. At some point, I asked if I could wet my throat but was told that my job could not be performed under malign influences. However, my co-conspirators could indulge as much as they wanted.

Not wanting to be left out, I asked my mates to hide some beers by the hedge where they were seated. After my ordeal, we stepped out to collect our contraband from the hedge only to find that a couple of fellow students were chilling on the other side drinking ‘our’ alcohol. How do you deal with the appropriation of goods you had conned someone out of? 

Learning a new language

Typical of young people, we quickly learned new slang words as well as contributing to the vocabulary. Our Chief Linguist was a law student named Jotham ‘Jojo’ Nengomasha. Jotham had given most of us in the Samanyika/Tsambe circle new names and they stuck: Walabo, Roget; Mandjou, Di Soldier, Bra Ked, Donadoni, Wasosa, and Deanova. He was following a rich tradition which we found on campus where there were characters such as Beef, Mr Munoz, Mr T and Nyimboz. Off-campus we also interacted with colourful characters, of whom the most outstanding was an Eddie Murphy look-alike (afro, moustache and all) that we all called Daddy. The moniker had stuck on him because he never addressed anyone by name; he would simply say: ‘Ko maDaddy muribho? Oh, this one is the zvarist of the mwana?’ (the bearer of children) His usual haunt was the Jameson Hotel and the Beer Engine just around the hotel. The colourfulness of Daddy’s language was matched by a good friend of mine called Clifford ‘Kidza’ Mabaso who seemed to coin new words daily. Money was roso and everyone else who messed him was ‘ana baboon ava’. He made censored words innocent and colourful. Otherwise, we adopted the slang we found doing the rounds on campus: “Jack D jiggla shiggles yangu” (give me back my money).

Dancing the night away

The generosity of the state translated into a grant and loan facility.  That very payout, as we called the student stipend, went into changing our wardrobe, among other things. Out with the Grasshopper shoes from MBHS (Mutare Boys High School) – in with Adidas and moccasin shoes. Feel like cross-belts? No problem, get the formal grey longs downtown kumaIndia and why not a Fedora whilst at it? Wow, you look so Italian. Real Mafioso.

The Harare club scene is one that had fascinated me for some time from a distance. In the early 1980s, I used to religiously read the entertainment pages of The Herald. On Fridays, there would be a double spread with adverts of the movies showing at Kine 1, Kine 2, Kine 300 and Kine 400. We knew all the Harare cinemas without ever having set foot in one. We knew what was showing: Flash Gordon in a tussle with Ming the Merciless. On TV you would see the trailer with that booming Queen chant: “Flash! Aaah. Kind of the Blue!” For some time, I signed my letters to girls as Flash Gordon…

Then there were the nightclubs – Scamps, Archipelago, Bretts, Circus, Harpers and Turtles. The names sounded beautiful on the tongue like…marshmallows? We knew some of the dee-jays from Radio Three. Josh Makawa was our favourite, and we shared all sorts of legendary stories about him. Do you know that he owns a fashion store called Josh & Kathy? Do you know that he and James Makamba were the first to bring in colour TVs into Zimbabwe? Fact and fiction mingled effortlessly. What was fact was that we admired Josh Makawa’s permed hair, which was up there with the DeBarge Family. The other DJs were equally legendary and included Peter Johns the Radio Driver and Stan £ Sterling.

Into this milieu the young men’s map of Harare was predictable. And I emphasize men – the women in our year were already mature and focused. If it was payout week, then on Friday afternoon you all jumped into the 404 station wagon ETs (Emergency Taxis). The destination was clear: Ambassador Hotel or, as we called it, The Embassy. Here it was not fashionable to sit at the tables – we sat on the stairs with a round of lagers. From the Embassy plans could begin to vary according to the bourgeois pretension scale:

Poor: Hotel Elizabeth (Liz)

Less Poor: Queens Hotel

Pretentious: Wine Barrel, Monos (Crowne Plaza Monomotapa Hotel)

Loaded & Twanging: Circus Nite Club

Lucky: Gatecrash a party in the company of Mr T or Mr Munoz or such esteemed gentleman.

Wise & Boring: Stay in Residence, go for prayers or go to the movies with the girlfriend.

Puwayi Chiutsi and I were in the pretentious lot. We loved the Wine Barrel where on Fridays and Saturdays it could either be Newman Chipeni or our homeboy Fortune Muparutsa playing the acoustic guitar. Of course, we felt so important because the suave bartender, Mr Peter, would greet us as we entered and before you could shout ‘Shumba!’ he would already have poured some golden liquid. Sensitive to our identity as Mutareans we revelled in Fortune singing with pride, tongue-in-cheek:

Ndiri SaManyika



MaZezuru anodya majuru

Ari pachuru

Whereas a beer was 75c at The Embassy Hotel, the Wine Barrel came in at $1.20 but we reckoned it was worth it as you filtered out the ticks (magupa) who always bolted to the bathroom whenever it was their turn to pay for a round of drinks. We had such two notorious ticks, but the problem was that they were such enthralling storytellers and we needed them at most gatherings. On many occasions, we all ended up subsidizing the gupas.

Flying close to the sun

In Form 6, we had studied Irish writer James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. In the novel, Joyce retells the Greek fable of the young and impetuous Icarus ignoring his father’s advice and flying close to the sun with the result that his waxen wings melted, and he falls into the sea.

In part 3 we shall see what happened when the little matter of adulting collided with our bubble of ‘joy’.