The 71-year old music legend, who is probably better known for his hit Chipo Chiroorwa, is, on face value, the archetypal pastor.
But, by his own admission, the paragon of Christian virtue he has become is a recent development. Until September 12, 1987, when he “saw the hand of God, my life was full of drinking and even smoking marijuana.”
“I was coming from a show in Chitungwiza at Rusunguko Bar in the wee hours of the morning and I was involved in an accident that almost took my life,” said Manatsa told the Daily News on Sunday at his Westgate home.
“I don’t even remember what really transpired but I had a head -on collision with another car at 1 am, and I lost consciousness with my head cut open. I was in a comma for three weeks.
“You know it’s a miracle to have survived that kind of accident. After I was discharged I asked my wife to take me back to the accident scene and there was still blood on the scene.”
Zexie’s wife, Stella, who was part of her husband’s backing band, the Green Arrows, weighed with her recollection of the near-fatal accident.
“When the accident happened we thought all was lost. We decided to engage the services of the Roman Catholic Church to baptise my husband, we couldn’t let him die a sinner,” remembered Mai Manatsa who met the music legend in 1972 at Bhora in Murewa and married him the same year.
“Officials from the church came in and baptised him. After three weeks he was out of the comma and after three months he was discharged from hospital, it was indeed a miracle!
“We decided to start going to church and the first church we went to was the Roman Catholic Church but it only lasted six months. It didn’t really make a big difference as we were still drinking and smoking.”
Zexie chipped in again, taking us back to the week before the accident.
“We had opened a bottle store in Guruve and we were thanking the ancestors for that. We spent some time celebrating and the accident took place,” he said.
“So when I was discharged from hospital I said to my wife we should start going to church, if the ancestors we were giving thanks to at that time could not save us from such a predicament, then there was no need to keep believing in them.”
According to the music legend, the accident affected him in a devastating way.
“We lost instruments plus I was not in the best of health. The band was diminishing because of deaths. I lost my brothers who made up the bigger part of the band to HIV and AIDS, that’s when many people started dying of HIV and AIDS. We lost our Southerton home due to mortgage arrears and things were not okay,” he remembered.
In a bid to get relief from the mounting problems, the Manatsas moved from the Roman Catholic Church to Rhema Church in Glen View. They then relocated to Bulawayo-a city where music legend’s career had begun- after Zexie got a job there.
“I worked for three months and did not get anything. Then one night we went to a tavern called the Neighbourhood in Nketa Seven. When we were coming from there we passed through a ZAOGA church crusade,” he said.
“We were actually discussing with my wife that we needed to poach the girls who were singing there and music instruments that were being ‘misused’ by the church.”
Ironically it was Zexie who got poached by ZAOGA in the end.
“At that moment the preacher started preaching about a drowning incident. Saying that if you are drowning and you call for help three times and no one comes to your help you will die,” said Manatsa.
“It made me think of an incident when I went to Kariba with my wife and our boat sank. It felt as if the preacher was talking directly to me and we got converted for good at the crusade.”
After hearing that Zexie was now a member of his church, ZAOGA founder Ezekiel Handinawangu Guti asked the music legend to come to Harare. Along with his wife the music legend joined the Africa Multinational for Christ College (AMFCC) where they studied theology.
“We spent five years actually, instead of the normal three. They really wanted us to get into the system. Archbishop Guti said he wanted me to use my talent to preach the word of God, that’s how my wife and I got into pastorhood, we are both pastors,” he said with a smile lighting up his face.
The Manatsas now minister at ZAOGA Westgate.
Like many old timers, the 71 year old had plenty to say about his life before he became a Christian even though he was battling a severe bout of flu. And this included his 1979 wedding where music fans paid to witness the event where top performers who included chimurenga music legend Thomas Mapfumo and the late Tinei Chikupo performed. Over 60 000 reportedly attended the historic wedding.
“We raised $19 000 in total. We don’t know how much was stolen,” said Zexie who is father to Green, Aaron, Tendai, Freedom, Shingirai and Takunda, who are all boys.
With his son Tendai married to music superstar Oliver Mtukudzi’s daughter Selma, it was not surprising that our interview briefly drifted to Tuku.
“Tuku used to sing with us. He did so for two years from 1977 to 79 before he started doing his own thing. Our relationship goes way back. Even if the kids divorce, we will still be friends. We often visit each other in fact,” he said.
Mai Manatsa added, “On Selma and her father, every family has problems but because of the fame, the media tends to exaggerate. Tuku loves his kids.”
Inevitably, Zexie also commented on allegations that he used to look down upon members of apostolic sect and people from Malawi and Mozambique.
“I know you are referring to Tea Hobvu. And no, it wasn’t poking fun at them. In fact, my uncle used to drink tea a lot and he was a mupostori. So it’s something I grew up with and I decided to compose a song,” he said.
“My music is about things that I see every day, even the songs about people from Malawi. The song Antonio was just a way of showing that we could not understand each other with other people because of differences in language.”
Before he became a Christian, Zexie produced over 300 songs that included about 36 in support of the Second Chimurenga. Some of the songs include Vachairova Musoro Nyoka Yendara, Vaparidzi Vawanda, Ndipeiwo Pfumo and Musango Munehangaiwa .
The 71 year old told the Daily News on Sunday that he has not quit music.
“I am now singing gospel music. To date I have five gospel albums and will be releasing the sixth at the end of the month,” he said.