Sydney Kawadza Snr Features Writer
June 20, 2004 is a day that former pastor and guest radio personality Gift Mabhaudhi will never forget.
On this fateful day, Mabhaudhi was arrested for shoplifting after he reportedly stole bottles of Meadows Estate Sauvignon Blanc wine valued at $17 360 (Zimbabwe dollars) at TM Supermarket in Ruwa.
Today, he would rather shy away from the public and the media.
In a brief interview at the Dutch Reformed Church in Central Harare, Mabhaudhi was visibly cagey after what seemed a herculean task trying to pin him down for an interview.
One fact is that the day he was nabbed for shoplifting will never be erased from his memory.
“Have you ever cried yourself to sleep? That is exactly what happened after that incident. I would cry and cry till I fell asleep. It took me time to overcome that grief,” he said.
Mabhaudhi feels that his case was not treated well and he was a victim of his popularity.
“After the publication of that story I lost everything. I lost my job. I lost my pension. I lost almost everything that I ever owned in my life. I was treated unfairly by the newspapers and today that incident will always be in my mind,” he said.
Mabhaudhi, who was the Far East Broadcasting Association missionary director also lost his British visa.
“The British cancelled my multiple entry visa and all the international organisations I worked with dumped me,” he said.
The man of the cloth has, however, picked and dusted himself up and continues with his evangelical work.
“I would like to thank my church leaders for helping me heal from this ordeal. I am still preaching, not only for the Dutch Reformed Church, but other churches and congregations have invited me to minister whenever I am available,” he said.
Mabhaudhi also said he was working on a book inspired by that incident on June 2004.
“I am writing my book and I think it will be published soon. However, I know that life has its ups and downs but I have to move on. Hupenyu hune zvakawanda hunenge hundi ndosaka kuine mvura iya inonzi gukurahundi inounza zvinhu zvitsva.”
Mabhaudhi hit the headlines on that day when he reportedly nicked those bottles of wine and paid, according to the then police spokesperson Superintendent Oliver Mandipaka, Z$25 000 admission of guilt fine.
He was reportedly spotted by security at the supermarket drinking the wine inside the shop without paying and returning the empty bottles on the shelf.
Mabhaudhi was arrested outside the shop after he left the till points without paying for the wine but for other items in his shopping basket.
The then respected broadcaster, who was popular for the Radio Zimbabwe’s programme “Zvidzidzo ZveBhaibheri”, was reportedly locked in the supermarket backyard as he tried to violently escape.
The reports indicated that his son, who was present during the incident, acknowledged that his father was going through personal problems as he had suddenly started drinking alcohol, which was taboo in his church.
The reports also said that Mabhaudhi appeared emotionally unhinged and his son attested to the fact that the popular preacher was suffering from undisclosed trauma or stress.
The then pastor in the Dutch Reformed Church in Zimbabwe had turned the programme “Zvidzidzo ZVeBhaibheri” into a signature programme every Sunday morning at 2 o’clock at, the then ZBC Radio 2, now Radio Zimbabwe.
So popular was the preacher at Mbare Studios that he grew a cult-like following as many would not miss the programme by “The Praying Mantis”.
However, after the shoplifting incident the Praying Mantis was embarrassed and his world collapsed around him and almost a decade later it is very difficult to identify the once popular figure.
The search for Mabhaudhi was an intriguing experience as all the people contacted thought the man was dead.
When everyone rightly thought that he was holed up in Ruwa where he stays, his relatives still believed that he was still living at the Zimphos houses just after Jaggers Msasa in Harare.
The search for the elusive preacher took us to Chiware in Makoni District where Mabhaudhi grew up.
While the world, especially the people in Harare, have put The Praying Mantis behind their thoughts, villagers in Chiware believe he needs another chance to rebuild his career especially on radio.
His young brother, Pedzisai, spoke fondly of his elder brother adding that the preacher had been treated unfairly.
“I am glad you want to talk to him. Many people think he is dead but he still preaches with passion besides the challenges he faced when that story broke out. I think he is one of the best preachers in Zimbabwe and radio has not been the same since he stopped that Sunday service on Radio Zimbabwe,” Pedzisai said.
Pedzisai expressed strong hopes that given a chance Mabhaudhi can still “rock the airwaves”.
Another villager, Panganai Mafirakureva, said the opening of the airwaves was an opportunity for Mabhaudhi to rekindle his love with the people of Zimbabwe.
“That unfortunate incident is long gone and any of the radio stations can rope him in for their weekend shows.
“The man has not lost his touch and even if you interact with him you would notice that he still has it within his blood,” he said.
Mabhaudhi, the only child to Faith and Mabhaudhi Mabhaudhi, was born in 1953 and attended Chiware Primary School before enrolling at St Augustine’s Mission in Penhalonga.
He later moved to Chinhoyi, where he started working before joining the National Railways as a security guard.
Mabhaudhi later went to work in Victoria Falls where he married his wife, Kuraimunashe.
He later studied for a Diploma in Theology at the Morgenster Bible Correspondence College before joining Radio Penya.
He later took up training in communication specialising in radio production.