Chinhoyi 7: A review by Nixon Nembaware

It is finally here! It is out and running! Chinhoyi 7 is out! Local movie “Chinhoyi 7” premièred at Ster Kinekor, Borrowdale last Friday, close to four years, since the idea of the production was mooted to the Zimbabwean audience. Despite postponement of the premiere it was launched and it is now showing at Ster kinekor theatres countrywide. I attended the premier and felt good about having a Zimbabwean movie telling our story in ‘our’ own voice. I felt the reality of Zimbabweans living to Chimamanda Adiche’s creed that there is danger in telling a “single story”. Chinhoyi 7 made me feel like we are telling our own story, yes our own story to a world with enough resources and the audacity to distort and destroy historical truths. The danger being that our heroes become the villains. Our freedom fighters will become terrorists in their narratives and our spirit mediums will be portrayed as drunks, tramps or psychopaths needing medical attention.

You would expect the world to apply the laws of natural justice which exhort everyone not to pass judgement until you hear the other side of the story, but the world does not operate using those ideals. The world today listens to the narrative that is dominant and so if we do not tell our story, let alone market it we are doomed to be recipients of false tags and images of ourselves. The world instead takes advantage when we do not have resources or when we are preoccupied with survival or worse still led by some leaders without a vision. It’s now time for us to self-publish, self-edit and tell our own stories in all media through what we do and say. Our deportment, songs and even our digital footprint should tell our story in our own way for our own agendas without fear or shame.

The Storyline

Chinhoyi 7 is Based on the Chinhoyi Battle which took place in 1966. It is the story of the famous seven soldiers (David Guzuzu, Arthur Maramba, Christopher Chatambudza, Simon Chingosha Nyandoro, Godfrey Manyerenyere, Godwin Dube and Chubby Savanhu) who were the first to be deployed after being trained in Guerrilla war strategies. They had a fierce gun battle in Chinhoyi against Ian Smith’s (UDI) government soldiers. That famous ‘Battle of Chinhoyi sparked the fire of the second Chimurenga which eventually led to the liberation of Zimbabwe.

The Spiritual Significance of Chinhoyi 7

The battle of Chinhoyi has spiritual significance to the people of Zimbabwe in that an inspiring prophecy of the Nehanda spirit was fulfilled. The Nehanda spirit was very influential in pre-colonial and colonial Zimbabwean life. Historical sources say the original Nehanda was Nyamhika the daughter of Nyatsimba Mutota the first Mwenemutapa (founder of the Mutapa state) in the 1400. Mutota also had a son called Matope (Chikanyamatope) who later became the second Mwenemutapa. Matope was Nehanda’s half-brother, and to increase Matope’s power, Mutota ordered his son to commit incest with his half-sister, Nyamhika, who became widely known as Nehanda. The incest ritual is believed to have increased Matope’s power and empire. Matope handed over a portion of his empire to Nehanda who became so powerful and well known that her spirit incarnated itself and lived on in the human bodies of various spirit mediums over the years until almost 500 years later when we find it occupying the body of the Mazoe Nehanda (Charwe Nyakasikana [c. 1862-1898]). Nehanda initially welcomed the occupation by the Pioneers and counselled her followers to be friendly towards them. Unfortunately relationships became strained when the settlers started imposing taxes, forced relocations, forced labor, etc. She influenced (together with two other spirit mediums; Mukwati, in Matebeland and Kaguvi from Mashonaland) a collective military drive (knows as Chimurenga/Rebellion) against British colonial settlers in the period of 1896-7. As the mouthpieces of God (Mwari), Kaguvi and Nehanda preached that Mwari wanted the white men to be driven from the country to rid the country of problems. For her role in the resistance, a warrant was issued and Nehanda was eventually arrested in 1897 after over a year of avoiding arrest. Charged with murder together with Kaguvi they were summarily sentenced to death by hanging in 1898 for her part in the killing of Native Commissioner Pollard. After two unsuccessful attempts were made to hang her an African prisoner present at her hanging then suggested that the hangman should remove from her belt a snuff-tobacco pouch because it had spiritual powers. This was done and on the third attempt, she was successfully hanged. Nehanda’s dying words were, “My bones will rise again,” However, the white hangmen and the catholic priest executing the hangings could not decipher the deeper spiritual meaning of the rumblings and mumblings of an ill-fated female, black native. With their religious bigotry they dismissed the words as those of a crazy, unrepentant, primitive pagan defeated by a system bigger and more robust than hers. Little did they know that on the very anniversary date of her hanging almost 70 years later, true to the prophecy, the battle of Chinhoyi would be fought by the magnificent seven soldiers signalling the birth of second Chimurenga to finish off from where Nehanda and team had left during the first Chimurenga.

Cast

The film has combination of actors from Canada and The United Kingdom who together with their local counterparts worked together to tell the Zimbabwean story about the struggle. I am convinced they shared notes and resources that will benefit the Zimbabwean film industry in years to come. Notable local names in the film include Eddie Sandifolo, Albert Nyathi (musician, poet and author) and Fungisai Zvakavapano-Mashavave (musician). The cast includes Julia Shaw from Britain and Mori Miyuki from Japan (make-up artiste) as well as Cameron Morton, Greg Brown and Cynthia Stone (all from Canada).

The Timing

The release comes on the heels of Black Panther which hyped black consciousness attempting to reposition Africa’s aspirations and narratives through futuristic fiction. This means Chinhoyi 7 can tap into the goodwill of Black Panther. Chinhoyi 7 instead uses historical repositioning. On the flipside, it also means that Chinhoyi 7 will be evaluated against Black Panther in terms of production quality, storyline and success yet they were in different leagues budget-wise. As I sat in the theatre at Sam Levy’s Village, one drunk person shouted from the back of the theatre “inoda ma girazi e 3D here iyi” to which the whole auditorium burst into laughter. The release after a military takeover (coup) means that some sections of the country may associate it with an attempt at abusing history to further the interests of the military. The next day I went to watch Overboard, and it was a full-house for Overboard and so were the other three movies; sold-out. Discouragingly the Chinhoyi 7 theatre was not full. I said why Zimbabweans? Why? I think we should learnt to support our own! Maybe it is the timing, maybe is the culture of waiting for piracy and over mixing art with the military rulership of the day.

The Production Partners

I was afraid when I heard of the involvement of the army, worse still the postponement of premier after the November 2017 coup. I feared the movie would fall into the category of all the sponsored movies which lose the artistic taste as they try to espouse the agendas of the sponsors. Without discounting the work done by donor agencies and development NGOs who sponsored many movies in post-independence Zimbabwe, I feel some of them sacrificed art at the altar of sending out a message or moral lesson. I guess the movie remained objective, Mugabe still plays his liberator role, the two military, and two ideological sides of our liberation struggle are represented. Nkomo (played by Albert Nyathi) and the ZAPU side of our struggle is not downplayed. When history is written we need to be very wary of the person holding the ballpoint pen lest she hijacks the agenda to espouse personal agendas, settle scores and advance vendettas. Worse still the one sponsoring the process even though they are in the background they determine the colour of the ink even though they are not holding the pen.

The Scenes and Choreography

Prison scenes were set in a real prison and real inmates participated in the movie and the people ate real prison food. It felt good to see the mountain-scapes that I normally see when I drive down the Harare Chinhoyi Highway (Lomagundi road as the Rhodesians affectionately called it). They used the real location of the 1966 Chinhoyi Battle which is now the Mashonaland West Provincial Heroes Acre. The gully from which the original seven fighters of the battle of Chinhoyi fired their shots in 1966 is still there by the Heroes’ Acre and it is the one that they used for their battle-the one we see in the gunfire-exchange finale. The bush-war scenes seemed so real. I gather that the national army supplied trained soldiers and real-life props and this made the production real. 44 soldiers, 21 police officers, a helicopter, guns and bombs were availed for the production. The Z. R. Police also made Rhodesian police uniforms for the production and availed trucks, a bus, fuel and guns. The Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services facilitated the shooting of prison scenes of the movie at Chinhoyi Prison. There are one or two scenes you could really negatively criticise but the movie is a step in the right direction for Zimbabwe.

Blunders

The German automaker Mercedes Benz launched its M-series in 1997 and to have Ian Smith’s wife driving a Mercedes Benz ML270 in the 1960s was a no brainer. The ladies’ make-up and hair extensions have a 2018 feel. The smelly-perm, fully grown tufts of afro-hair, human hair or wigs could have given the character who plays the second maid to Ian Smith’s wife a retro feel. The greatest of all factual blunders in the movie is the part where Ian Smith is fatally shot in the head during the battle of Chinhoyi. As far as I know he lived his life to old age and only died in 2007. In addition, to have him as just a simple foot soldier representing a little group of adventurous land grabbing white is not so realistic, by the battle of Chinhoyi the whites had been fully established and Ian Smith was already the prime minister then and he was no longer a foot soldier. Ian Smith did not have a daughter; he only had one son Alexander Douglas Smith, who by 1966 could have been 17 years old or so, and two, step children from the wife’s first marriage, who could not have been in High School but in University in South Africa at the outbreak of the second Chimurenga. I know some will say, “cut it bro, it’s a movie”. Remember it is a biopic and it is a counter narrative of the events surrounding the battle of Chinhoyi and so we would rather keep some facts in tune lest our valuable history be lost in the dust of the script-writers mistakes.

The Music

We have a huge discography of war songs, some are out there just as folk songs that people hum in the streets, some have been adulterated by the Mbare Chimurenga Choir yet some were formally recorded in studios. I remember seeing a whole book entitled ‘Songs that won the liberation struggle’ in the University of Zimbabwe library. There was paucity of music in the movie. The War was won partly by musicians – that is common knowledge, it is the music that steered the emotions. The Middle east kind-of-tune that is overly played in some parts of the movie does not resonate with the Zimbabwean musical ear. Cde Chinx’s Roger-confirm, Thomas Mapfumo’s Kuve nemufaro muZimbabwe or anything Chimurenga could have sent the Zimbabwean adrenaline flowing. Some Mbira, some Kanindo, Sungura, Jiti, or some drum beat resembling Zhana, Mbende, Mhande, Jerusarema, Shangara, Dinhe, Mbakumba, Muchongoyo, Isitschikitsha, Amabhiza, Inquzu, or even Gure drumbeat since the movie is set in the post-federation era when Malawian and Zambian influences were already in the Zimbabwean art taste. Something like that would have hit the nostalgia chord in-sync with the Zimbabwean musical genius and sold the Zimbabwean story better.

The Business Side

For Hollywood productions they talk of millions and hundreds of millions but in Zimbabwe $100K is a lot of money for a movie. Actually the most recent movie prior to Chinhoyi 7, which had a budget nearing the $100k mark, was Joe Njagu’s Escape. I have not watched it yet, but I feel more should be done to market it. Of cause Matanda, the producer of Chinhoyi 7 went on and on talking about his passion and the patriotic mantra of telling the war story to generations, but the business side of the movie is important. We want to see how Chinhoyi 7 as a business venture thrives. This is in view of very cheap quality low-budget productions like Sabhuku Vharazipi whose story lines have remained in the hearts of Zimbabweans who feel the Masvingo theatre outfit should have been funded well.

Chinhoyi 7 got me thinking. We are on the right track; our films can take Africa by storm. I can’t waste time talking about the sound, which is world class, and the picture quality which is excellent. I wish you a happy viewing! In addition, long live the story of Zimbabwe, long live the Zimbabwean film industry and Long live the patriots who pay for art.

Source: Nixon Nembaware