Zimbabwe’s music industry is immeasurable.
As if that is not enough, another great friend with great passion for the arts, an illustrious academic, educationist, artiste, film-maker, consultant and businessman, Ben Zulu, also passed on. He succumbed to cancer on July 15 in New York, where he was based.
Death is the only immortal who treats us all alike, whose peace and whose refuge are for all; the soiled and the pure, the rich and the poor, the loved and the unloved.
But when it happens to one of our closest friends, we begin to ask the same question the Beatles asked many years ago, “What Have We Done To Deserve Such a Fate?”
I have known Ben since 1982. We met just after he had arrived from the United States armed with an MBA degree in marketing and economics. He became one of the founding members of the National Arts Council board where he worked with Mr John Mapondera and Dr Tafataona Mahoso.
He was at the same time working at Colgate-Palmolive. He was also a keen golfer who teamed up with the likes of Albert Nhau and Andrew Pasipanodya almost every weekend to play this game at Chapman Golf Club.
In the late 80s, he became chairman of the board of the Ethnomusicology Programme at the Zimbabwe College of Music which was established at first in Luck Street, Harare. At a later stage the Ethnomusicology Programme was merged with the Western Programme at the Main Campus situated at the Civic Centre in Rotten Row where he worked with director Neil Chapman and Mrs Ascroft. Ben became the chairman of the two merged colleges until 2000.
The new board’s responsibility which included the growing of classical music, ethnomusicology, contemporary music and dance was steered by none other than Ben Zulu.
My intense interaction with Ben Zulu came during this time when I also became a board member of the Zimbabwe College of Music. Together with the late Dumi Maraire, the late Ephraim Chamba, Bill Saidi, Gibson Mandishona, Stephen Chifunyise, Jeanette Micklem, Lance Reynolds, Mrs Brenda Kahari and Mrs Fatima Kara, we worked on musicology programmes.
He was also a part-time lecturer to marketing students at the University of Zimbabwe’s Faculty of Commerce in the early 1990s.
In 1992, working with John and Louise Riber of Media for Development Trust, he was the executive producer of the films “More Time” to do with HIV and Aids prevention which featured Prudence Katomeni and “Mwanasikana” which promoted the education of the girl child.
In the latter film I was tasked by Ben to be the music director where I edited contributions from Isaac Chirwa, Leonard Zhakata and Chiwoniso Maraire. Later on he, working with the same team produced another feature film, “Neria” which featured Oliver Mtukudzi and “Yellow Card”. He then formed the African Script Development Fund in 1997 which saw him transform to a more established film-maker.
Ben’s leadership in music education and institutional management was not isolated to Zimbabwe only. It is difficult to write about all his activities as the list is endless. He was a respected icon in neighbouring and other African countries such as Zambia, Kenya, Lesotho, South Africa, Uganda and Nigeria where his leadership skills in film, dance and music will definitely be missed.
When I circulated the information that Ben Zulu had passed on to colleagues and friends, eulogies and testimonies which are too many to enumerate were received . Here are some of them:
From Chris Kabwato: “I am speechless. The mighty have fallen in the middle of a battle. Who will win it for us? This is the man who gave me my job.”
From Clayton Ndlovu (musician, dancer, teacher and administrator in Botswana): “It is indeed shocking and sad news that Mr Ben Zulu has passed on. Little did I know that he was saying goodbye to us when he visited Zimbabwe College of Music last year in November. We introduced him to the degree and NCM students and he had a chat with them on the importance of music education in Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole.
“He also informed the students why he was happy to see me and that I had spent 21 years at the Zimbabwe College of Music. He was very proud that the institution was still intact and developing. He was the founder and pioneer of the Ethnomusicology Programme and responsible for the merger with Zimbabwe College of Music. He was the first black chairman of Zimbabwe College of Music and he contributed enormously to its growth. A man with a vision and of integrity. Our condolences go to his family and friends. He will be missed by all of us. May his soul rest in eternal peace.”
From Michael Chinyamurindi (a Zimbabwean film actor based in Hollywood): “I will always remember Ben Zulu as a wonderful human, a powerful force in Zimbabwean business and social circles. Intelligent, articulate and witty. He was a marketing consultant for us @ MBA for years and his knowledge of research and marketing was incredible. I picked a lotta knowledge from his great mind . . . a great man. Rest in Peace.”
From Oliver Mtukudzi (Zimbabwe’s top musician): “My sympathy and compassion to you and Ben’s family. I am so sorry to learn of his passing on and may his soul rest in peace. Thank you for this message, we have lost a great man in our industry.”
From Andrew Pasipanodya ( a close friend and golfing partner who visited Ben in New York): “I am pleased to say that I visited Ben in New York in late May this year and was able to share a wonderful day with him and Mary. On the day he passed on I was given an opportunity to bid him farewell a few minutes before he passed on.
“Mary has been talking about a possible memorial service in Harare which I think would be a wonderful opportunity for Ben’s many friends to bid him a final farewell.”
Indeed, the above five statements do sum up what kind of man Ben Zulu was. His history is long and will take years to narrate in full. His achievements were too many to put on just one page of paper. In our long conversations, I could tell Ben had not accomplished all he aimed for in life. Had he been given many more years he would have turned the whole arts industry upside down, but the good always die young, just like Jesus Christ, Bob Marley and Chris Hani.
Ben is survived by his wife, Mary Symmonds and their two children, Thandi and Mijon.
If a true artiste ever existed in Zimbabwe, it has got to be Ben Zulu. His role in music, dance and film is formidable. Farewell Ben, you have made your great contribution.
I shall be watching the Nama Awards ceremony in a few months to come with keen interest. Ben deserves a posthumous award.
May his soul rest in peace.
l Fred Zindi is a professor at the University of Zimbabwe. He is also a musician and an author of several books on music. He can be contacted via e-mail on [email protected]

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