By Bill Saidi
LIKE most people, I thought Lupi Mushayakarara’s first name was either Zulu, Ndebele, or Xhosa. Her mother, after all, was South African. No, she told four of us – Francis Mdlongwa, Bornwell Ch
akaodza, Iden Wetherell and myself – during our 1999 tour of South Africa. Lupi said her first name was actually Afrikaans.
We were not exactly aghast at this disclosure, which she made without the least hesitation. But how would such a proud African woman allow herself to carry such an undesirable handle, in a manner of speaking – an apartheid monicker? She was unfazed and proceeded to explain to us how she had been named Lupi. Of course, the consolation for her, from our point of view, was that her middle name was African, Nomhle.
Lupi took our amazement in her stride, a maturity which many men brought up to believe all African women are servile and docile must have found intimidating.
Someone said Lupi, along with such people as Rudo Gaidzanwa, Everjoice Win and Thoko Matshe, were the sort of women who put the fear of God even into the hearts of men with hair on their chests – amadoda sibili. But reflecting on her death in the United States early this month, I realise it is the same gumption that made her decide to form an amazing political alliance with what some people have called “that old white supremacist reprobate”, Ian Smith before the 2000 parliamentary election.
But again Lupi took the criticism in her stride. After all, hadn’t Edgar Tekere, once Robert Mugabe’s righthand man – assuming such an individual actually exists within this country – formed a similar alliance with the same politician in his 1990 bid for the presidency? The same lack of reverence for men of power influenced her stance against the leadership of President Mugabe. In her Candid Comment column for the Zimbabwe Independent on November 13 1998, under the headline “Mugabe must be told it’s time to go”, she wrote:
“I could with confidence say that the major preoccupation of my writings over the last two years has been to see the ouster of Mugabe. I have not hidden my agenda or pretended that there is another way to the salvation of this country.”
For someone from Zvimba, the home district of the president, and the daughter of a scion of the Zvimba clan, Lupi was particularly caustic about Mugabe, almost as acerbic as another Mugabe relative, the acid-tongued nationalist, James Chikerema. He has related anecdotes of their childhood together with Mugabe which Sigmund Freud would have used to conclude that Mugabe developed megalomaniac tendencies while herding cattle – when people didn’t respond with the same docility, he decided they needed to be whipped into line, like cattle.
But Lupi’s criticism of her relative is not extraordinary: for one thing, she shares the disenchantment of millions of her compatriots with Mugabe’s performance since Independence. For another, her disappointment is the more acute as she was a freedom fighter herself, a member of Joshua Nkomo’s Zipra forces.
As long as I can remember, I never saw Lupi in a dress. She was always in slacks or jeans. This could have been a statement, not of fashion but of her utterly low opinion of things considered feminine.
As a Zimbabwean journalist she was among a few women in the profession an editor would think twice before assigning to cover a women’s club meeting – or a wedding, unless it was a same-sex affair or if the groom had just been released from prison after serving a 15-year sentence for rape. She cocked a snook at convention, not only with her bold anti-Establishment and iconoclastic treatment of politicians in her columns, but also with her open defiance of the wallflower concept of African womanhood.
She was among the first leaders of the National Constitutional Assembly, yet ended up as a member of the government’s Constitutional Commission, during which she had that memorable encounter with Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku. Again, it was her iconoclasm which came to the fore. Men of power irritated her far more than the ordinary, garden variety Joe with his one-track mind of bedding every female in sight. Her lifestyle was no more extraordinary than that of many other modern women. She was married, divorced, her marital home auctioned amid much publicity.
She was, like many other pretty, assertive women of her education and intelligence the topic of conversation among many men who secretly admired or even lusted after her, for her forthright manner but would never tolerate such forthrightness from their own wives.
Her foray into politics was an unmitigated disaster, although she displayed the kind of pragmatism which is much admired by most liberal democrats. But I put it down to the quite often mistaken belief among some journalists that they can make better politicians than politicians. I once said to Willie Musarurwa he should never have become a politician, but Willie was probably a politician before he became a journalist. Yet it was always his ability to analyse other people’s motives for their actions which singled him out among the early journalists as an incisive commentator on the political scene.
But Lupi was always something else. She studied journalism at one of London’s finest schools of journalism and clearly enjoyed her job in the trenches, or she would never have launched her controversial magazine Everyhome, which tried, with little success, to mask its latent feminism with the traditional women’s magazine fare of cookery and knitting. In many ways, she reminded me of Angeline Mhlanga (née Makwavarara) who was my senior at African Parade in the early 1960s. Other pioneers in journalism at the time include Mavis Gumede, later Justice Mavis Gibson, and the late Doreen Kadzirange. All were basically good writers and would not confine themselves to covering “women’s stories”.
Lupi was in that mould: she was feminine in every way, but would not let that interfere with her mission: to boldly go where no journalists – man or woman – had gone before.
* Bill Saidi is the editor of the Daily News on Sunday.