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David Chapfika and the Jatropha years, a memoir

12 Jan 2021 at 21:25hrs | Views
David Chapfika came along as a snappy dresser- shiny suits and foreign cologne were the hallmark.

As a rookie reporter with New Ziana then, I had the opportunity to mix and mingle with the elite of Harare at government gatherings in the capital.

Chapfika was one of them as a deputy minister and MP for Mutoko South.

Vividly, I remember taking a trip to Mutoko with him and Olivia Muchena. Both were top government hawks then during the jatropha years - whatever happened to Olivia and the much vaunted jatropha project is a mystery.

The two would speak in the Budya dialect that sounded so foreign to me a Masvingo boy untravelled then. It was the clapping of hands and catwhistles by villagers that made me realize the political men were in their homeground holding the forte.

Mutoko Centre was the venue as  government went on the offensive promoting the farming and haversting of the enigmatic seeds of jatropha by villagers.

The sprawling arable lands of Mashonaland East Province were deemed a bastion and natural habitat of jatropha with the palm-like tree used even as a fence on many a homestead.

Non-governmental organizations were also seized with the matter scrambling aboard trying to toe the government line as women empowerment groups were hatched with a false sense of economic emancipation and self enrichment.

Fuel supplies then as now were coming into the country in dribs and drabs because of Western-imposed sanctions with Mugabe as stubborn as a mule determined to go local.

Jatropha became a buzzword with multi-million blueprint projects floated about as the country had a Eureka moment.

To this day, I never witnessed a fuel station from the much-hyped jatropha even though authorities came within a whisker of endorsing mega deals with foreign companies in extracting jatropha.

Journalists were taken aback and I recall any writings to do with jatropha would see the light of day and the Bio Safety Board of Zimbabwe became my hunting ground for news. One Abisai Mafa gave me nuggets of gold in the form of stories. He was a goldmine of knowledge on the wonder tree- Kudos!

On the Mutoko outing, i had colleagues from the ZBC, the famous youngster, cameramen Jonhera. We even had lunch at a military base deep in Mutoko and retired army boss Mike Nyambuya also graced the occasion. Jonhera Jnr had travelled to China providing footage of President Mugabe. It was always intriguing listening to titbits of what happened over yonder- the beer, gadgets and Chinese women.

Rumours even said during the younger years as leader, Mugabe detested bad dressers, himself a fashion conscious man. It's said he did not like unjacketed man around him at public gatherings and when I interned at The Herald, the legend was still there that a newsman should keep a jacket and tie in the newsroom drawers in case a State House assignment arose.

A little bird told me Mugabe would again walk down the isle and greet everyone aboard by handshake as soon as the Zimbabwe Airways plane took off the ground on foreign trips. He wanted to intimately know everyone on his entourage. He had that touch.

In hushed tones in Murehwa, we discussed how Chapfika dressed to the nines when coming to the villages. That, we agreed gave him an unapproachable air about him. Village grannies and grandpas in threadbare overalls - people he represented at government level felt like minions in his presence with pointed shoes and expensive cologne wafting about him.

It was agreed dressing said a lot about a man.

Even Robert Mugabe would discard the pinstripe suits for Samora Machel or Fidel Castro -like military fatigues and a cap when he flew to rallies in a white chopper. It was revolutionary and resonated with the masses.

Chapfika to me was approachable regardless. He would talk. He had an air of a leader. I also recall another dance at the then Sheraton Hotel now Rainbow Towers Group when he launched the Mutoko Constituency online portal if my memory serves me right. Then, it was deemed the only constituency that had a website.

Hordes of Mutoko villagers came by bus presumably to attend a glittering ceremony in the capital in which their homeland was put on the world map. It was a posh gathering with dancing troupes and Chapfika himself made sure the visitors had a good time.

Eye-wateringly good jazz crooner Tangwa We Kwasando, in an unbuttoned white cotton shirt and trademark dark sunglasses mesmerised the gathering deep into the night after a PowerPoint presentation that I am sure left villagers in wonderment without a clue of what this all meant for Mutoko.

Internet penetration then was a revelation going at a snail's pace in the country. The idea was good. Mutoko is known as the land of the famous granite rock and veggies too.These had to be marketed globally.

As the night dragged on, we imbibed copious amounts of the Devil's Juice on offer. I know a lot of Harare newsman that drink like fish and this day was a jamboree. We even threw away journalistic-mini jackets and took to the dance floor with Chapfika. I marvelled at his touch with the people regardless. On the occasion, I also got to see his lookalike brother. The two looked like peas in a pod.

Whatever happened thenceforth is fate. I packed my bags and left Harare. When a land is hard, a man is made elsewhere with the hope of coming back.

Chapfika was a Zanu-PF member, he was part of the system that has spawned Zimbabweans economic refugees across the globe. He was part of an administration that is today wantonly silencing political dissent arresting opposition figures. He played for the wrong team.

Looking back, jatropha was a blue lie as government sustained hope in a bleak time. We were sold a dummy.

Go well Cde Chapfika regardless. Memories live!

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Josiah Mucharowana is a media graduate writing in his own capacity. Feedback; joemasvokisi@gmail.com. + 27 84 587 4121

Source - Josiah Mucharowana
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