Nigel Munyathi Own Correspondent
The wealth of this man can only be measured in the number of nicknames he got. “Dr Funk”, “Fi O’Hara”, “Chikwama” and ‘Danger’ among otherswere aliases by which Fidelis Chirimuuta Cheza was known. Those of us who grew up with or around him, just called him “Bla Fi”. I have known Fidelis from when I was a young and very impressionable pre-teen in 70s Old Highfield township. Ever regal in his flowing and colourful flamboyance, “Bla Fi” was the iconic successful entertainment industry township idol.
His famous advice to us youngsters then was “Mpfana kana uchida bhebi unoitengera quarter chicken and chips”. Though too young to understand what it really meant at the time, this piece of advice was emblazoned in the alpha male section of my memory until I was old enough to understand . . . and it was very helpful.
“Bla Fi” started his lifelong career in entertainment in the 70s as a disc jockey, thus the Dr Funk nickname. Safirio Madzikatire was impressed by his talent while he was working at the Le Coq D’or Nightclub in 1983, and persuaded him to join the “Mukadota Family” TV sitcom playing the part of “Chikwama”. He then went on to act in most of Zimbabwe’s major film and television productions from the 80s, till his death on 25 October 2015; a week before his 67th birthday.
In his 32-year film and television career, ‘Bla Fi’ was in at least 34 productions. Major films included, “King Solomon’s Mines (1985)”, “Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold” (1986), “Cry Freedom” (1987), “The Lost World” (1992), “Return to the Lost World” (1993), Bopha! (1993), “A Far Off Place” (1993), “Kini & Adams” (1997), and Thinking About Africa (1998).
In all these productions, “Bla Fi” would have rubbed shoulders with some of the world’s best actors and production crew. Names like Richard Chamberlain, Sharon Stone, Kevin Kline, Denzel Washington, Donald Sutherland, James Earl Jones, Reese Witherspoon, Danny Glover, Malcolm McDowell, Alfre Woodard, Henry Silva, Herbert Lom, Maximilian Schell, Robert John Burke, Ethan Embry, Jack Thompson, John Rhys-Davies, David Warner, and Eric McCormack.
Local productions included “Jit” (1992) “Ndakaitei”, “Neria” (1993), “Everyone’s Child” (1996). On TV he was “Chikwama” in the sitcom “Mukadota Family”; and “Danger” in “Studio 263”, Zimbabwe’s first soap opera. Most recently, he was “The Collector” in the ZIFFT Short Film Project production by the same name, and was currently part of the cast of “Makunu’unu Maodzamwoyo” with Jesesi Mungoshi.
“Bla Fi” had an amazing sense of humour, and was renowned for his stories of how Richard Chamberlain or Richard Attenborough had just called to tell him he was needed in LA immediately, or how he kissed Sharon Stone! His quick wit was such that his character could change in an instant.
I recall moments when he and my late brother Mike met and immediately start playing Hollywood movie characters, and start shooting at each other with imaginary guns, and taking cover. “Bla Fi” was one of the five inaugural recipients of the “Safirio Madzikatire Award” for significant contribution to Zimbabwe film, at ZIFF2013.
He was so delighted to see his childhood friend and fellow recipient, Oliver Mtukudzi that he couldn’t hold back the childhood rhyme “Kanyunyunyu kakaka . . .” which he sang as a fond reminder of their shared childhood.
Given the abundance of Hollywood royalty in his long career, he rubbed shoulders with some of the world’s greatest actors and producers, most of whom are multi-millionaires. So simple logic would have expected some of their collective wealth to rub off on him; but alas – none did!
“Bla Fi” died poor; as have many of Zimbabwe’s creative industries practitioners. He has died with virtually nothing; and I do not hesitate to add that the reality of his world must have broken the heart of a very proud man who knew he deserved better, but was so beaten down by the weight of an unyielding breast of a country once full of milk wasted on some babies while the incessant cries of others have been ignored.
As executive director of the Zimbabwe International Film and Festival Trust I represent an institution that is truly saddened by his sudden death, only a few weeks after the premiere of the Short Film Project’s latest production, “The Collector”, in which he co-starred with Zimbabwe’s first blind actor Edith Masango. This is a ground-breaking achievement for Zimbabwe film, whose consummation he, unfortunately, was not able witness as he missed the film’s premiere at ZIFF2015. ZIFFT has dedicated “The Collector” to his memory and the sterling contribution he made to Zimbabwe’s film sector.
Immediately after completing “The Collector”, he was already immersed in another project: the production of another ground-breaking film; the adaptation of Charles Mungoshi’s book, “Makunu’unu Maodzamwoyo”.
Ironically, his character in this film would also die; and so it may be the fitting ending to his acting career and life as he was lowered to his eternal place of rest at Warren Hills Cemetery on October 27, with an audience of hundreds.
It was ordained that his death would not be a loss to only his immediate family, but to his very extended family that includes the people of Highfield, Zimbabwean lovers of film and television, and the film fraternity.
Although he was much older, we were very close, and I always had time for my big brother. This is a very painful loss of a great warrior, one so true to the game that it hurts. You may not have enjoyed the comforts that material possessions bring, but the multitude of names bestowed upon you by appreciative audiences, and admiring community made you great. Rest in eternal peace “Bla Fi”. As your young contemporary, Mike, would say, “actor haafe!”
Nigel Munyathi is the director of the Zimbabwe International Film and Festival Trust.