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The Chemist Siziba and Oasis bar story

by Staff reporter
14 Mar 2024 at 19:28hrs | Views
It is hard to find a patron who would mostly and consistently drink in one bar for 44 years - a whole generation; a lifetime.

Yet Chemist Siziba, a local businessman and socialite, did. Before he died of kidney failure last Saturday at Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare, Siziba had drank at Oasis Hotel Bar along Nelson Mandela Avenue in the capital for 44-odd years.

At his peak he ruled the roost at the bar, pumping energy, ideas and insight through his brilliant mind, while sharing infectious humour, laughter and light-heartedness; simultaneously spending money like confetti at a wedding entertaining his friends.

Anyone who rubbed shoulders with Siziba would testify to his brilliance and humour, in many ways he was ahead of his time.

In a progressive society, he would have been Silicon Valley material.

His contribution to the advent of mobile phone technology in Zimbabwe was immense. Strive Masiyiwa and others know that.

In another life, he could also have been a brilliant politician, but then he had immeasurable contempt for politicians in general.

He believed engineers would be better leaders and managers of society and the economy than any other professionals.

As a person, Siziba was a jolly-good-fellow; good-natured.

Who would forget his Oasis hilarious refrain or humorous line whenever he entered the bar: "Vachaita sei? Tavaziva vanhu vacho. Vacha... MuZezuru give me some booze and order one for yourself..."

Drinking or a weekend would not have started at Oasis until he arrived.

He was larger-than-life there.

When he hit hard times after squandering his Cosmos Cellular fortune with his close employee/friend Fortune Ncube (also late), he never stopped drinking there.

Many who drank at Oasis first saw a pile of ZW$1 million in the late 1990s (a lot of money then) at the swimming pool next to the bar when he brought the money to sponsor a football tournament - Cosmos Cellular Football Challenge between Highlanders and Dynamos - in a bag with Ncube.

They splurged money with reckless abandon.

Returning to Oasis later when he was broke showed he was brave. Few would do that.

Siziba always called his son Dumile - whom he loved so much - to bring him something or come to fetch him if he was not driving.

That was testimony to his love and attachment to the place.

Different generations found and left him there. It was now in his blood and part of his way of life, which only death could change.

The hotel opened in 1975 and has been renovated several times to keep up with the modern trends to satisfy dynamic customer tastes and needs.

Siziba's Oasis drinking story is both deeply political and social.

He started drinking there in 1980 when Zapu and Zipra leaders and commanders returned home from the liberation struggle in exile in neighbouring Zambia, and made it their drinking hole.

Zapu and Zipra were based in Zambia, while Zanu and Zanla were in Mozambique.

Because of that, many other  people, mainly Ndebeles, came there to drink, socialise, share information, ideas and perspectives on issues.

It eventually became like a bar for mostly Ndebeles in Harare.

Although many other people of different backgrounds drank there, for decades it was mostly for Ndebele-speakers.

The situation has changed now, although Siziba was the last man standing as he often did during drinking sprees there.

Siziba and his colleagues called the bar Emthonjeni (a water well - drinking hole in Ndebele).

At one time, the bar was like a political hotspot - a cauldron of fierce debates on current affairs and history, meetings and action, as well as repressed anger over a whole range of issues, particularly politics.

For journalists, it was a major source of stories for writing or just knowing.

One of the biggest stories in local media in recent years - the 2004 South African Spy Ring exclusive - came from there.

The source is now dead and can be named if need be. It was not Siziba, but a senior Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) officer who drank at the bar.

Another interesting story (which would have been interesting to the public, but perhaps not necessarily in the public interest) Siziba shared there was how he stopped his kids from playing at the late former president Robert Mugabe's home after his friend Leo Mugabe warned him that his uncle was beginning to think he was using children to get close to his wife Grace to strategically position himself to make some advances.

Siziba said Leo told him Mugabe was suspicious after the James Makamba stories and would not tolerate a man hanging around there; coming in and out of his home even if he was fetching kids from playdates.

There was also the story of how Mugabe one day went incognito to search Makamba's Blue Ridge Spar or Sweet Valley on Maryvale Farm, Mazowe, to seize Grace's personal effects as evidence of her alleged relationship with Makamba.

The story was never verified, but was told and retold at Oasis.

For these reasons and many others, Oasis attracted teeming and sniffing state security agents on the spying prowl.

Many a time state security agents were caught recording patrons and Siziba would say let them record.

"Akesimeni madoda (let's wait guys). Kanti vele bafunani (what do they want in the first place?); well let them record," he would say.

But he would then privately complain to senior CIO officers who were patrons, saying the bar was being turned into a "Gestapo state".

He often told stories about the Cold War exploits of Stasi, the East Germany state security service.

It was like the Soviet Union's KGB.

Zipra military commanders and intelligence officers, including Dumiso Dabengwa, who was their overall boss by 1979, were mostly trained in the Soviet Union. Hence Dabengwa was called the "Black Russian" due to his training in Russia and wartime intelligence exploits.

That gave patrons clues about Siziba's history, background and publicly unknown role as a Zapu intelligence officer under the National Security Organisation led by the late Dabengwa during the liberation struggle in Zambia.

Local state agents once marked Oasis as a security threat and deployed spooks to monitor it.

Football also played a part in making Oasis a great bar.

When Zapu and Zipra comrades made it their drinking place,  Bulawayo football giants Highlanders began camping and sleeping there for their matches in Harare, further attracting its supporters to the bar and making it more lively.

After their matches - win or lose - Bosso officials and players always swarmed Oasis.

In recent years, people flocked to the bar to watch international football.

Different musicians played at the bar, including the patrons' favourite artist in later years Lwazi Tshabangu.

Tshabangu is a Lovemore Majaivana lite and admirer.

Majaivana's songs were a main feature at the bar, sometimes the whole weekend would have Majaivana's best collection of hits playing throughout nonstop.

Siziba's best song was Majaivana's track "Inhlanzi yesiziba", which was put on repeat ad infinitum - again and again.

The song's lyrics went: "Njelele njelele nhlanzi yesiziba zwino yabanjwa ngumdaka..."

"Ngivele ngabona ngokubotshwa kukaSiziba bazangifak' ejele..."

Roughly, it talks about a catfish trapped in mud (denoting difficult survival) and the arrest of a mysterious and influential figure called Siziba, signifying a crackdown and looming trouble ahead.

This song, released in 2002, allegoricallly put Gukurahundi into the frame as Majaivana always did subtly in his lyrics and messaging at the time.

As local journalist Dr Mthulisi Mathuthu - an Oasis patron of note for years - wrote in a journal article, Subversive Verses: How Ndebele Musicians Counter-Framed the State Propaganda on The Gukurahundi Genocide, while government used its coercive and ideological state apparatus to frame Gukurahundi as suppression of an armed rebellion by dissidents with the help of some local artists who became enablers to the killings, musicians like Majaivana also successfully counter-framed the massacres as genocide using subversive metaphors, allegories and analogies that consolidated a counter-narrative of the story or counter-hegemony.

Siziba would claim Majaivana was singing about him in the heavily allegorical political song, but that was never verified.

Siziba would say "wayesitsho mina" (he was referring to me), but never produced evidence to back his bold claim.

Yet it is interesting because Majaivana and Siziba were friends. At one time Siziba hired Majaivana and Albert Nyathi to play at his farm in Shangani.

Only Majaivana, who is now based in the United States, can confirm Siziba's claim that the song was about him in a Gukurahundi context.

For some and for sometime to come, Oasis Bar will be a dark, lonely and lifeless tomb without Siziba.

Certainly, as the hotel's managers and staff say in this tribute dedicated to him on video, Oasis will never be the same again without Siziba.

Saka vachaita sei?

RIP Oasis legend.

Hamba kahle Siziba, Godlwayo Mahlabayithwale, Chothozwa, Bra Chem. Hwanqa!!!

Source - newshawks
More on: #Siziba, #Chemist, #Hero