Beaven Tapureta Own Correspondent
The late writer Nobert Mafumhe Mutasa, the author of the iconic Shona novel “Mapatya”, was a man who was as intriguing in life and in all his works. This is what his son, Lexta Mafumhe Mutasa, a well-known actor, told writers at an event in Harare recently.
“Mapatya”, Mutasa’s first book published in 1978, was written when the author was only in Form Two.
Lexta himself gripped local viewers with his deep rhythmic Shona language in the television saga “Tiriparwendo” in which he featured as the character Dapi. People will remember him saying: “Ndinokushagada ukashisha semashakada!”
Lexta is also a performance poet and was a script writer for the local soap Studio 263 with about 500 episodes penned by him.
As an artist in his own right, Lexta is haunted by his father’s shadow as he cannot separate himself from the great name Mutasa.
“I am a very haunted artist. I cannot escape the shadow of my father just like children of late great musicians who have embarked on music. They cannot hold a show without playing their father’s music, otherwise it will be no show,” said Lexta at the writers’ meeting organised by Zimbabwe Writers Association under the theme “Writers’
He likened himself to children of the Dembos and Chimbetus whose fathers (Leonard Dembo and Simon Chimbetu) are known musical greats in Zimbabwe.
Lexta’s father, Nobert Mutasa, who died in 2004, was a polygamist with eight wives and about fifty two children with Lexta born of the first wife. Mutasa penned eleven books including the olde world trilogy “Mapatya”, “Runako Munjodzi” and “Hondo Huru”. Some of his books were popular as Shona literature study material at school.
Lexta spoke at length at the event about how his father valued his art, his writing tendencies and his relationship with his family.
“He went to Kutama College where he was influenced by another writer Patrick Chakaipa and a certain Catholic father. When he got to Form Two, he wanted to do Shona but he discovered that there was lack of reading material in that language and tasked himself to bridge the gap by writing “Mapatya” and the other books that followed it,” said Lexta.
Asked about his father’s favourite writing time Lexta revealed that Mutasa liked to compose during the night when there is less noise and when he would be in communion with his soul.
“But I noticed he wrote all the time. Having a personal driver when he was Chief Executive Officer at Shurugwi Rural District Council was an advantage for him because he would write even when in the car. And when I sometimes looked at his notes afterwards, his cursive handwriting looked like that of a bus conductor who writes bus tickets while the bus is moving,” Lexta added.
Mutasa, as a father, loved and cared for his children that he very well balanced his time between family and writing.
Lexta said at times he would attend the same school with 10 or more of his siblings and people expected them to wear rags but that didn’t happen because his father made sure his kids always had adequate school uniform and fees.
“He united all his wives and children that after his death, we have been united even stronger,” said Lexta.
He also said he saw real love between his father and all his wives.
“It appears as if when my father wanted to take a new wife, he would first get convinced that the woman was able to read his books. He possibly tested each of his fiancés with some of his manuscripts during dating, to see if they qualified.
There was no book published which his wives would not have gone through as a manuscript,” said Lexta.
Mutasa’s works, like other old world novels by authors of his generation, use songs, chiefly an element of African Orature.
Now with the songs in his books, Lexta said his father would make sure his wives sang them loud to him as a way of assessing the songs.
Lexta “joked” that his father’s wives made up a choir for all the songs he incorporated in his works.
As he was blessed with sweetest of Shona language, Nobert Mutasa was always invited to speak at funerals because when he spoke, mourners would forget they were at a funeral and actually begin to celebrate the life of the deceased.
At some other times, Lexta said his father, a devoted follower of the Shona tradition, would invite the whole village to a public reading of one of his books either before or after it is published. Mutasa would kill a beast and brew beer for his listeners who included the young and oldest villagers. Then he would read out (without a loud speaker) his book to the whole village and the audience response was always amazing as his audience would relate to some of the characters and events in the stories.
Lexta, who is also a poet, writer and gifted Shona “linguist”, said when his father died he left no will and therefore his creative unpublished works remained scattered within his family and up to now, no one has taken the initiative to gather them for possible publication.
“Most of the family members and relatives like to associate with the popularity of the name Mutasa but only a few have actually read his works or think about keeping his legacy in different ways. Much of the blame is on us the family,” said Lexta.
Mutasa’s immense contribution to Zimbabwean literature was visible in “the golden ages” of the Shona novel, during which period also emerged the first generation of black Zimbabwean writers.
Although it’s sad that his family, aware of such greatness of their father, has detached itself from his writing legacy, Lexta said he is determined to carry it forward.
“When my father died, he already knew that I was to follow in his footsteps. He would even publicly say that I am the one whom he wanted to carry on with his writing legacy but this is not in a will,” said Lexta.
Asked by writer Memory Chirere what he foresees and his advice to other living writers, Lexta said he also needed advice on how to set up a trust which could help organise Mutasa’s unpublished works and speak with one voice in matters regarding his writing. This, he said, would also influence living writers to take responsibility of their works beyond death.
The eleventh book by Mutasa was a Shona children’s story titled “Kushereketa Kwepwere Nemapere” which Lexta said he helped his father translate into English and it was published by Zimbabwe Publishing House (ZPH) as “The Dangerous Journey” in 2000.
While family trusts may ease the tension of negotiating with publishers for royalties, and maybe pose an answer to the “writers” trouble in paradise” as Lexta described the problems families face after the death of a published writer, they (the trusts) can only stand through family, corporate and national support.
Musaemura Zimunya who attended the writers’ meeting said in the absence of a trust or authentic heir to the deceased writer’s estate, the situation is worsened as it gives oxygen to corruption.
One publisher who confided in Zimunya told him that “writers are their worst enemies” in the sense that they do not leave wills when they die.
“Zimbabwe at the very moment is awash with conmen and some conmen (who are at times employees in the publishing houses) connive with children of the deceased to get royalties from publishers without the knowledge of the deserving heirs,” said Zimunya.
He added that family conventions involving spouses of the deceased need to be held to resolve family differences.