A radio evangelist par excellence
By John Masuku
RADIO programmes such as “Thought for the day”, “Epilogue” and “Sunday Evening Service” were the most prominent presented in local vernacular, when I began my broadcasting career in early 1974 at the then African Service of the Rhodesia Broadcasting Corporation (RBC) later ZBC Radio 2.
Different Christian denominations were put on a roster indicating their turns to assign carefully chosen pastors or priests with “acceptable” voices to come over and pre-record short radio sermons.
Some episodes were pre-packaged for broadcast by the few church-related organisations which owned approved recording studios such as Transworld Radio, whose anchor person for many years was Mr Stephen Bapiro, and Radio Penya — part of the Dutch Reformed Church’s evangelism outreach initiative which had a Shona presenter whose surname was pronounced differently by many RBC continuity announcers whenever they introduced his programmes.
Some would say, “Thought for the day this morning comes from the Dutch Reformed Church and will be conducted by Rev Gift Mabhandi (belts)”.
Others said: “Today’s Epilogue will be conducted by Rev Gift Mabhaudhi (bolts)”.
For a long time, the confusion, created by unclearly written cue sheets where “u” mistakenly looked like “n” to some readers continued and no one, including Penya personnel, ever bothered to correct the anomaly.
Rev Gift Mabhaudhi, a Morgenster Mission, Masvingo, “kwaMuneri” — trained pastor-cum radio evangelist, who owned that puzzling surname, then already winning many souls to Christ and predictably into the future through powerful story-telling and preaching skills, died in Harare on October 15, 2021.
For a long time in the 1970s, Mabhaudhi was not known personally at Harare Studios (now Radio Zimbabwe at Mbare Studios) because his programmes were usually sent for broadcast via the RBC Town Office or delivered by his senior and mentor Rev De Villiers.
However, one day when Mabhaudhi, later nicknamed “The Praying Mantis” due to his prowess in no-holds-barred radio evangelism, came to drop the programmes in person, he became a centre of attraction to us all who wanted to meet him, while he also had the opportunity of confirming the correct spelling of his surname.
“Mfundisi” (church minister) as I always called Mabhaudhi and I, whom he simply called John with priestly authority, instantly became close broadcasting colleagues.
We met regularly near the Dutch Reformed Church along Jabavu Drive in Highfield township and I also visited him at the Penya recording studios at Vassan Buildings in Sinoia, now Chinhoyi Street, frequently.
In later years I would also pop in to see Christian communicator, author and respected, US-educated journalist and Mbare veteran Pius Wakatama, who had set up his Chiedza Communications project in the same building to train evangelists in all round professional media skills.
Mabhaudhi’s authoritative voice was well-known and respected all over Southern Africa because some of his evangelistic programmes were beamed on the Medium Wave frequency band from Transworld Studios in Manzini, Swaziland now eSwatini together with those of Bapiro and several other guest preachers.
In Bulawayo, many Ndebele language Christian programmes were recorded at the Brethren In Christ Church-owned Amagugu Evangeli production studios administered for many years by the late Edgar Ndlovu.
When the Far East Broadcasting Association (FEBA), which broadcast Christian programmes to parts of Mozambique, Indian Ocean and Seychelles, wanted to expand its reach into Southern Africa, especially with Shona programmes to then Rhodesia, they dispatched evangelist Norman Brierley, an engineer by training to come and set up the local FEBA branch.
He immediately recruited Gift Mabhaudhi long before the organisation acquired a double storey building in Harare’s Avenues area and built state-of-the-art studios, which produced lots of Christian radio content for ZBC and outside stations.
FEBA’s first offices had been at the Brierley family residence garage in Emerald Hill where, through Mabhaudhi, I had become a de facto adviser on how the entity could work with ZBC to acceptably increase their radio programmes on local stations.
Their major breakthrough was the launch of “ChiKristu neTsika”, first hosted by the late Benjamin Chipere and later by Maguire Godzongere every Sunday evening.
On the popular programme, Mabhaudhi and Bapiro defended Christian beliefs while sociologist Professor Claude Mararike and late Zanu PF former chief whip and Senator Naison Muroyiwa proffered traditional cultural approaches and protocols on vexing topics of discussion like mental health, persistent illnesses, unstable marriages, unexplained deaths, strange phenomena among others.
“ChiKristu neTsika” as a programme concept received both local and international acclaim.
Locally, it generated debate about how people can balance their spiritual lives to suit both Christian and cultural belonging.
FEBA and Transworld Radio, as co-producers with ZBC, wrote extensively about its impact in their magazines and newsletters and profiled it at international conferences and workshops as I witnessed during my travels with Mabhaudhi to Singapore and Sheffield, United Kingdom to attend Christian communicators meetings and workshops.
In Singapore, in April 1991, the Zimbabwean participants at a two-week long Christian writers’ workshop at the Haggai Institute of Advanced Leadership Training comprised Mabhaudhi, author and publisher Barbara Nkala (nee Makhalisa), who has written many Brethren in Christ Church biographies and historical books, the late Paul Makanyanga who worked at Scripture Union and myself.
We had been nominated by the late Central Baptist Church rector, television presenter/preacher and former Scripture Union youth mentor Rev Dr Phineas Dube who was the Africa co-ordinator of Haggai, established by well-known US evangelist, the late John Haggai.
Besides working for ZBC, I edited St Peter’s Anglican Church Mabelreign’s KEY Magazine which I regularly sent to Dr Dube and Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) then General Secretary Rev Murombedzi Kuchera, who I both knew from Wakatama organised interactions to welcome Christian visitors from different parts of the world.
So my friendship with Mabhaudhi was strongly bonded as we undertook the long trip to Singapore via Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Bombay (Mumbai) India and shared stories about our families, backgrounds, Christian beliefs and radio broadcasting.
He loved to ask questions about my RBC workmates and their programmes.
I also got to appreciate how he envisioned transforming radio evangelism to higher, diverse and balanced levels.
Later the same year, a big conference was organised by the International Christian Media Commission (ICMC) for media writers, radio and television evangelists at the University of Sheffield, United Kingdom.
Having kept the invitations and travel arrangements to ourselves.
Mabhaudhi and I later bumped into each other just before the opening ceremony at the huge Octagon Hall.
Two other Zimbabweans, Marvellous Mhlanga (Nyahuye) now with VOA Studio 7 and her colleague from World Vision also attended.
At the insistence of Mabhaudhi, I was chosen to be among the speakers to make brief welcome remarks using our regional languages to an audience of well over 2 000.
I decided to use poetic Shona and a lot of Ndebele clicks and tongue twisters which did not mean much.
I however, stole the show and drove the audience wild so much that during break, tens of people came to inquire where exactly I came from.
Some asked me “Are you brother to Miriam Makeba of South Africa, who sang the internationally known click song Uqonqgothwane?”
“Well done John. As I expected you were very creative,” said Mabhaudhi, as he interrupted many admirers surrounding me.
Years later, Mabhaudhi would invite me to present papers and train radio production at FEBA-run courses and workshops regularly held at the Reformed Church in Samora Machel Avenue, Harare.
After leaving ZBC and joining the privately-owned Radio Voice of the People (Radio VOP), Mabhaudhi assisted us with affordable studio facilities after our offices and studio in Milton Park were in 2002 reduced to ashes.
My last encounter with Mabhaudhi was before the new dispensation in November 2017 and after his widely reported arrest following his downing of an unpaid for bottle of wine at a Ruwa supermarket.
He was neatly dressed and appeared to have recovered from bad publicity, stress, shame and huge loss of trust and respect.
“John I am now one of the official prayer warriors for the President (former head of state Robert Mugabe) so that he overcomes all international onslaught due to his defence of our country’s sovereignty. Let’s arrange to meet soon and catch up my friend.”
We never met again due to our busy schedules.
I will miss the wise counsel, evangelistic connections and inspiring sermons from the late Mufundisi Gift Mabhaudhi, who fortunately mentored a very able successor in his daughter Pastor Faith Mabhaudhi-Nyarambi whom he groomed at FEBA Radio.
John Masuku is a radio trainer/media consultant. Contact him on email@example.com & Twitter: john_masuku