David Mungoshi Shelling the Nuts
Someone recently sent me something quite riveting. It was a well-narrated account of the exploits of one Aiden Diggeden, a happy-go-lucky criminal who swore that no jail could hold him — something that he demonstrated again and again in this country.
Whenever I travel into Bulawayo and go past Grey Street Prison, I cannot help but reminisce about the days of Aiden Diggeden.
Grey Street Prison is an inauspicious structure on the highway from Harare.
Its prominence derives from the name of Diggeden.
Way back then, stories were told about how Diggeden would be out on the town with girls and even go to a cinema before engaging in some theft or other. After his night out he would return to prison and share some of his loot with the prison warders.
Zimbabwean film-makers have allowed an epic story to go unnoticed when they could easily use it to make a movie of epic proportions, one that can be a high-grossing one to set new box office records.
Everyone would smile their way to the bank.
When I was a teenager in Bulawayo, our heroes were the day to day petty criminals that we saw or just heard about. The ones that we readily identified with were those that could throw a punch or two.
One such fellow was a natty dresser who always looked like he had just come out of a shower. Very clean and smart he was. No one on the streets could touch his elder brother. That would be the quickest way to court disaster.
The elder brother was an affable man who made a living through photography.
People said it was he who paid for the clothes that his younger brother wore.
Everybody knew the natty dresser as uBhudi Korinte (Big Brother Korinte) and whenever he came out of prison the whole place would be abuzz with news of his return from prison.
It was almost as if he had done something worth emulating.
And how the girls liked him!
Later, when I looked back on this I could see just how apt the Shona proverb about cows always stampeding towards the place where their stomachs are lashed with rawhide whips.
One day, out of nowhere, there stepped in a character that seemed to be making crime pay.
Tall, dark and handsome with closely-cropped hair and an enigmatic smile, Peter Khoza became an instant hit with most boys in the locations.
After all, he drove a sedan that even the white policemen who chased him were envious of.
Weddings in Bulawayo were a high-interest affair.
High society people celebrated their unions in style with a live band in attendance and MacDonald Hall in Mzilikazi Village was the place to be when it came to high-profile weddings.
Anyone and everyone was free to attend weddings whenever they chose to.
There was just one proviso; you had to be dressed decently with a jacket and tie and behave like a gentleman, once inside.
Most of us went in hoping for a taste of the wedding cake that was generally always given to all and sundry.
But above all, we wanted to show our prowess on the dance floor.
One of the most memorable weddings I went to at MacDonald Hall featured a live band from Harare: the Springfields Band with a young Thomas Mapfumo on the vocals.
He did something we had not yet witnessed in Bulawayo.
He took to the stage with Kansas City, a Beatle number and there was pandemonium on the dance floor.
Peter Khoza had a house in Bulawayo’s Number 6 which was the equivalent of Harare’s Marimba Park.
That set him apart as a member of the city elite.
He drove good cars and wore good clothes. He had an image to maintain.
Peter Khoza’s wedding to a staff nurse from Mpilo Hospital was well attended and celebrated.
On the day, MacDonald Hall was full to the brim and a band for whom he had bought a brand new kit of instruments was serenading the newly-weds.
In the midst of all this, Peter left the high table to sing a song with the band.
He did a rhumba piece in Lingala, and as soon as he did his profile shot through the roof.
Stories began to circulate about where he had been in his life.
Nobody in the country, unless they were from the Congo, had ever sung in Lingala.
Rumour had it that most nights Khoza would be out of town on jobs.
People even said that he carried equipment to enable him to use an oxy-acetylene flame to open up doors and safes.
It was said that he did that in the quiet of night and was back home in his warm bed by dawn.
With the passage of time Khoza must either have become over-confident, or careless, or both.
Anyway, in the end the police were onto him and he fled the country into Botswana where he was safe for a while until an ace detective called Ajudi Banda tracked him down.
Ajudi Banda was a deceptive-looking fellow with slow deliberate movements and eyes that missed nothing.
Many a criminal had come to grief because of him and soon it was Peter Khoza’s turn.
Peter Khoza’s escapades, real or imagined as well as his interface with the ace detective, Ajudi Banda, are the sort of material that can be embellished to create a good detective story. The script writer would, of course, have to do some research to fill in the gaps and facilitate creativity.
Perhaps the one story that would be easiest to research would be the story of Aiden Diggeden.
Although he was no Robin Hood, most people were keen to see him break out of jails and escape as often as he did.
This may have been due to the fact that he was not a violent person and was never accused of armed robbery.
Diggeden depended on his wits and on meticulous planning, although sometimes he acted on impetus.
A blogger who calls himself Samaita recently shared some of the stories on Diggeden that he has been able to gather.
Here is a selection of text from what the blogger wrote:
“The forlorn outlook of over 17 years of incarceration and the possibility of extradition to South Africa at the end of his prison term in Rhodesia, gave Diggeden little to look forward to other than to plan his next escape, and somehow to get out of the country.”
As expected, Diggeden escaped again from the maximum security prison on 15 November 1971.
This time he used a key he made in the prison workshop to escape the maximum security section.
Hardy explains the most incredible escape plan:
“His plan was so extraordinarily impudent that it is difficult to believe he actually got away with it. Dressed as a prison guard ostensibly in charge of two European prisoners — one carrying a film projector and the other a screen — Diggeden nonchalantly walked to the main gate of the prison.
“Disguising his voice, and in an admirably authoritative manner, Diggeden told the duty warder to open the gate as he had outside work for the two prisoners to perform, saying that he was taking the two men to give a cine show at the prisoners’ mess. Bidding his ‘colleague’ a pleasant ‘cheerio’, the duty warder opened the main gate and let the three men out!”
You have to give it to Diggeden!
Once outside the prison, he stole “a warder’s Ford Anglia which was parked outside the prison gate and the three men drove towards the city centre”.
They were free for a few days before a tip-off from members of the public who had seen them driving a white Ford in the Avenues area started a manhunt “described as the biggest in Rhodesian history”.
Some of us have probably read the blog itself.
Nevertheless, the incidents described are such cliff-hanger stuff as to warrant repetition. This particular incident is the stuff that suspense-filled movies are made of. One small hiccup and the whole thing goes up in smoke!
What I am hoping I have shown is the fact that we have our own exciting stories and our own legends and that we can come up with excellent world class movies if we put our heads to it.
With time an Aiden Diggeden or Peter Khoza theme can be grown and further embellished to yield ever more and newer themes and sub-themes, plots and sub-plots.
In addition, great literary works like the classic UMbiko kaMadlenya by the inimitable Mayford Sibanda can be made into enthralling epics premised on politics and statecraft.
Is someone out there willing to underwrite such ventures as those I am suggesting here?
Perhaps it is time for an entertainment bank to deal with the arts. With the digitalisation that is going on we now need a bit more imagination with the financing.