By Fred Zindi
The death of arts critic, journalist and Pan Africanist Thomas Deve last Sunday robbed the nation of a man of many talents. I first met Thomas in 1987 when I started lecturing at the University of Zimbabwe.
This was also the period in which I was a presenter of the reggae session on Radio 3 on Thursdays and Saturdays. Thomas had also started lecturing Economic History at the same institution the year before me.
Our offices were close to each other. What united us was the conscious reggae music which I was churning out on my programme.
Thomas was an ardent listener of my sessions and when he realised we were at the same institution, he came straight to my office to give advice and direction on how I should conduct my reggae sessions.
He would at first say, “Fred, the people would be happier if you played The Mighty Diamonds, Dennis Brown, Cocoa Tea, Culture, Burning Spear and Black Uhuru.”
I realised months later as I got to know him better, that although he mentioned “the people”, these artistes were his personal choices.
After visiting his home at a later date I also noticed that he had the named artistes’ albums among his collection.
We visited so many musical places together and travelled together to various venues with the Frontline Kids Band.
Around 1992 he decided to be the manager of Vadzimba Band and would come to me every now and again for technical advice.
We shared a lot of cultural thoughts and would talk politics and the direction we thought the country could be developed.
Thomas was a jovial person who did not mince his words when he wanted to share his thoughts.
Thomas was born on the December 22, 1962. December 22 was later to be declared National Unity Day in Zimbabwe.
This is how I remember his birthday. In 1990, I remember him remarking, “I wonder why they chose my birthday to be a national holiday?”
I would say to him “it is because you are destined for bigger things”.
Indeed, Thomas’s life was filled with great achievements.
After his A levels at Bernard Mizeki College in 1982, he went straight to the University of Zimbabwe where he completed a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Economic History.
Dr Mashingaidze, who was the then chairman of the department saw the brilliance in this young man and offered him a temporary post as a teaching assistant in the subject.
Thus Thomas became an employee of the University of Zimbabwe from 1987 after graduation.
After five years as a lecturer he moved to Sapes Trust where he started off as a researcher and ended up being the managing editor of Sapes Books.
Thomas kept improving on his qualifications.
Apart from obtaining a certificate in online journalism from Rhodes University, he had just finished submitting his M. Phil thesis on the Political Economy of Base Minerals in Zimbabwe (1890 to 1980).
His list of experiences is extensive. To mention a few, he had skills in Research, Global health diplomacy, Project management and policy analysis, Monitoring and Evaluation, Grant management, Band management (where he was involved in mentoring the likes of Pastor G, Transit Crew, Winky D and Victor Kunonga), organisational evaluation, University teaching and public lectures.
He also worked as chairman of MISA Zimbabwe, the IT manager of the Daily News under the tutorship of Geoff Nyarota, Mwengo Project officer and policy advisor for The United Nations Millenium Campaign where he worked up to the time of his death.
In this job, where anti-poverty drive was the main objective, he travelled extensively around the continent. He frequented Kenya, Ghana, Egypt, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique.
He also travelled abroad and I remember teasing him with the words, “You only visit Harare in order to have a shower and change your clothes.
“Otherwise you live on the Boeing 747s.” He would just laugh it off.
Daves Guzha of Rooftop Promotions who was clearly in shock when the news of Thomas’s passing away reached him was completely speechless when I tried to interact with him.
He later narrated how they would play together as schoolmates at Bernard Mizeki college near Marondera and how saddened he was by the passing on of his close friend and ally.
Raymond Mawerera, editor of Parade Magazine also expressed the pain he felt by pronouncing that life has no meaning if we are to go just like that.
Trevor Hall, aka Ras Jabulani commented, “It’s flat iron on a flat iron.”
I am still trying to make sense of that.
The musicians who were mentored and assisted by Thomas in the development of their careers, who included Victor Kunonga, Pastor G, Munya Nyemba of Transit Crew were all gathered at 7982 Chita Road in Zimre Park on Sunday in order to pay their last respects.
Thomas loved music and he easily interacted with people.
Two years ago, when Cocoa Tea came to perform in Zimbabwe, he called me from his hotel room after a heated argument had broken out between him and Fantan Mojah, a Jamaican dancehall singer.
He had asked Fantan why Jamaican dancehall singers were obsessed with anti-gay lyrics and why they publicly promoted the smoking of ganja.
This did not go down well with Fantan Mojah and Thomas asked me to come to his rescue.
Unfortunately, I did not go and Thomas felt let down.
Such was his passion for righteousness based on his conscious understanding of the world that he spent a great part of his life as a human rights activist.
Those who were at the Book Café for the Transit Crew show last Saturday all claim that they had never seen Thomas dance to every tune like he did on that night.
In addition, he was shaking everyone’s hand as if to say “goodbye.”
I spoke to Jonathan Banda (Winky D’s Manager) at Thomas’s funeral wake and he told me that they had spent Saturday night together.
At 1:55 am on the Sunday, Thomas sent a text message to Jonathan saying “I am now in Zion”.
I am not sure whether he was referring to Zion as “home” or Zion as a “resting place”.
Bernadette Deve, Thomas’s wife, who is also my former University of Zimbabwe student told me that after Thomas arrived at home around 2am on Sunday, he went to the bathroom and came back complaining about breathing problem.
She called her children to see what was happening to their dad.
They then decided to call an ambulance and the first aid crew pronounced him dead on arrival.
Thomas is survived by his wife, son Takunda and three daughters.
As we bid him farewell, may his soul rest in eternal peace.
He will greatly be missed.
Fred Zindi,is a musician,music critic and professor in education at the University of Zimbabwe. Fred is of Amai we Shava and Hello Brothers, Hello Sisters fame.