Home Entertainment The story behind Bob Marley’s invitation to Zimbabwe in 1980

The story behind Bob Marley’s invitation to Zimbabwe in 1980

by reporter263

It took a nationalist, fearless freedom fighter and Zanu-PF secretary-general instrumental in organising Zimbabwe’s independence celebrations, two businessmen, a barman and a radio deejay to chart the path for the invitation of Robert Nesta (Bob) Marley — a visionary Pan Africanist and reggae icon to come for the historic celebrations that marked the birth of Zimbabwe in 1980.

Veteran nationalist Cde Edgar Zivanai “Two-Boy” Tekere, who was Zanu-PF Secretary-General and a senior Cabinet minister in then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe’s first Government in 1980, was largely credited with extending the invitation to Marley to perform at Rufaro Stadium during the historic celebrations.


Cde Tekere, one of the guerrilla leaders of the struggle and many of the freedom fighters were inspired by Marley’s music in the 16-year protracted armed struggle to oust the Ian Smith white minority Rhodesian government.

Reports abound that during the Second Chimurenga War of liberation, Marley’s music was adopted by the guerrilla forces of the Patriotic Front — Zanu and Zapu — with freedom fighters playing Marley cassettes in the bush.

Bob Marley’s Survival album released by Island Records in late 1979 with tracks such as Africa Unite and Zimbabwe identified the liberation movements in Southern Africa which were fighting against colonialism.


Because of the influential role of Marley’s music, Cde Tekere felt strongly that inviting him for the memorable celebrations of 1980 would be a befitting honour that would rally together Pan African movements fighting against colonialism and imperialism across the world.

The problem was how Cde Tekere would go about inviting Bob Marley in faraway Jamaica in the Caribbean islands, at a time when he was just coming out of the bush with little or no connections to music greats such as Marley.

Cde Tekere

“Former guerrillas and most black people used to meet at Job’s Nite Spot and Playboy in Harare, night clubs owned by popular businessman Job Kadengu.

Racism was still there and these were some of the spots where blacks would meet for a drink,” veteran broadcaster and reggae lover, Mike Mhundwa told our Harare Bureau in an interview.

“Cde Edgar Tekere, came to the Playboy night club along Union Avenue (Now Kwame Nkrumah Avenue) one day and had a drink with Job Kadengu, owner of the club and Gordon Muchanyuka another Harare businessman. At that time Cde Tekere was in the organising committee for the independence celebrations.

“While they were having a drink, Cde Tekere then told Kadengu that he wanted to invite Marley for the independence celebrations but he did not know how to get hold of him. Cde Tekere was so keen to have Marley in the country for the historic celebrations.

“He spoke highly of Bob Marley and how his music inspired guerrillas in the 16-year Rhodesia bush war. While they were talking, Thompson Kachingwe, a bar manager at Playboy Nightclub told Kadengu and Cde Tekere that there was a DJ who played reggae on Radio 3 every Thursday that could assist them. He told them to talk to Mike Mhundwa.”

Kachingwe told them that Mhundwa frequented the Federal Hotel in downtown Harare, where he used to go for a drink.

The fiery Cde Tekere is said to have ordered Kachingwe to go and look for Mhundwa at the hotel on that night, early in April 1980.

Kachingwe found Mhundwa and asked him to come with him to Playboy Nightclub where Cde Tekere wanted to see him.

“When I got there, I met Cde Tekere, Job Kadengu and Gordon Muchanyuka. I was introduced to Cde Tekere by Kadengu. This was my first time to meet the man. He immediately asked me how he could get hold of Marley,” Mhundwa said.

He then replied: “I do not have Marley’s contacts but I can get in touch with Island Records in London where I buy records to play on air. Island Records are the producers of Bob Marley’s music in London.”

On the next day, Mhundwa then called a friend in London to get the Island Record number. He later called and sent a telex to the Island Records office in London.

Officials at the London office then gave him the Island Records Jamaica office contact numbers.
“All this happened about two weeks before the main independence celebrations. I got the Island Records Jamaica numbers and I called the office.

I got in touch with a guy called Neville Garrick, a manager at Marley’s Tuff Gong Records in Kingston. I told him that we wanted to invite Marley to Zimbabwe and he said I should call after three hours.

“He said he wanted to tell Marley about it before he could revert back to me. Every evening we would meet with Cde Tekere, Kadengu and Muchanyuka to discuss the invitation of Bob Marley.

“Kadengu later called Neville, who agreed to tell Marley about it. He asked us to call the next day. We later called around 11pm the following day and my God! He told us that Marley had agreed to come for the celebration.

“We were so excited about the news. However, the Marley office team in Kingston was so concerned about security as the country was just coming out of the war. They worried a lot about security issues and they also wanted an official invite from the Government.

“Kadengu and myself told the office that we will discuss the matter with Cde Tekere to address their concerns.

The office wanted this in writing and they also wanted officials to come and hand over the invite physically,” the veteran broadcaster said.

Chris Blackwell, who was Marley’s producer at the Island Records was said to be against the tour citing the politically volatile situation at the time in Zimbabwe.

Mhundwa, Kadengu, Kachingwe and Muchanyuka later briefed Cde Tekere about Marley’s acceptance.
“Cde Tekere was over the moon. He was so ecstatic about the news. Kadengu, Muchanyuka, Kachingwe and myself were the main runners for Cde Tekere when efforts were being made to invite Marley,” Mhundwa said.

Robert Nesta (Bob) Marley — a visionary Pan Africanist and reggae icon to come for the historic celebrations that marked the birth of Zimbabwe in 1980.

“Kadengu and Muchanyukwa are all late. It is only myself and Kachingwe who now lives in the US, that are still alive.

“So after briefing Cde Tekere, he immediately agreed to write the official invitation letter for Bob Marley.

“He said the Government would guarantee the security of Marley and his band during their stay in Zimbabwe. Marley also wanted his security team to be allowed to bring their guns. They were granted permission and when they came, they brought in their own weapons.”

Cde Tekere immediately organised a trip for Kadengu and Muchanyuka to fly to Kingston to hand over the official invite to Marley.

“Marley was my guest. I was responsible for looking after him, I invited him for the celebrations,” Tekere was quoted saying in a report in 2007.

“I sent out two people to Jamaica, Job Kadengu and Gordon Muchanyuka. Each one of us who was in Government at that time had an opportunity to invite two guests paid for by the state.”

Mhundwa had no passport, was on duty and could not fly with the two.
“It was the three of us that were supposed to fly to Kingston. This was on a Government ticket arranged by Cde Tekere,” he said.

“Cde Tekere was so excited about Bob Marley’s acceptance. All this came a year after Bob Marley had released his Survival album which carried the popular Zimbabwe and Africa Unite tracks. Reggae was gaining traction and popularity steadily.”

Bob Marley was said to have been following events in Zimbabwe keenly. Despite the volatile political environment at the time, he agreed to come for the celebrations.

Kadengu and Muchanyuka flew to London and on the next day took another flight to Kingston, Jamaica.
They went there for a few days. Mhundwa said they took details of Bob Marley and his entire entourage which they sent to Cde Tekere back home.

In an article, published around 2011 in the Jamaican Observer, Tommy Cowan, who was marketing manager at the Marley-owned Tuff Gong Records in 1980, said he recalled two Africans visiting the star at his St Andrew home in early April 1980 and requesting his presence at the epic 1980 independence ceremony for Zimbabwe.

“They told us that they were from Rhodesia and were about to get their independence, and it would be an honour to have Marley perform for this occasion as when they were losing the battle it was his music that won the war.

“We discovered that they had no money to bring Bob and The Wailers to Rhodesia, so Marley decided to foot the cost himself,” Cowan was quoted saying.

“I had never been to Africa up to that time but was quite aware of the apartheid movement in Rhodesia and its leader, Ian Smith.”

Later, Cowan was reported to have contacted booking agent Mick Cater in England to fly equipment from that country to Zimbabwe.

Cowan was responsible for production and would accompany Marley and his band, The Wailers, harmony group The I-Three and his sons Ziggy and Stephen on their historic visit to Zimbabwe.

“We were so excited about this. I fully credit Cde Tekere for inviting Bob Marley. He was so committed and supported us fully as we got in touch with the musician. Thompson Kachingwe, was the real link man to all this,” Mhundwa said.

“We became part of the organising team for Marley’s coming. We had to assist in the ferrying of the equipment from the airport to the venue. Marley was so emotional about Pan African liberation and he single-handedly footed the expenses for equipment and the travelling expenses.

“No one in the history of this country had done this before. He chartered a cargo plane to bring the equipment.”

The 21 – tonne equipment with a full 35 000 watts’ public address system plus backline equipment was chartered by a Boeing 707 from London to then Salisbury, now Harare.

Bob Marley forked out £100 000 to hire a plane from London to transport his musical equipment.
Commentators at the time said it was “one of the most extraordinary logistics operations.”

Cater, from Alec Leslie Entertainments, flew down with the equipment and was responsible for setting up the stage in time for the Independence celebrations at Rufaro Stadium.

“Personally, I am a reggae fan. I was so excited by the coming of Bob Marley. I started listening to reggae music in the late 1970s. I loved music by the Pioneers, a Jamaican reggae vocal trio which was quite popular in the 1960s and in the 1970s.

“Their track, Long Shot was quite popular and I enjoyed it. Cde Webster Shamu gave me the cassette.

We were good friends and we would play the Pioneers in his car. That is the time I got to appreciate reggae music.

“I did not know much about Bob Marley but had listened to music by Jimmy Cliff and Eric Donaldson. Around 1977, I was given Bob Marley’s Catch A Fire album and that is when I started appreciating Bob Marley’s revolutionary music,” Mhundwa said.

He had listened to Jimmy Cliff’s No Woman No Cry song and a friend in London later told him that Bob Marley was the original singer of the track.

“He sent me the original song. To this day, I enjoy Marley’s music. I started following his music. Shepherd Shonhiwa, a friend who was in the UK regularly sent me the latest reggae music which I played on air.”

Bob Marley arrived in Salisbury on April 16, 1980. He was welcomed by Cde Tekere, scores of enthusiastic people and by Mhundwa.

“When he came, I went to pick him up and his entourage. Kadengu sent a Merc sports car for him but Marley preferred to sit in my Alfa Romeo Giulia car (a popular Italian model at the time). The I-Threes boarded the Merc and the rest of the team boarded a coach,” Mhundwa said.

“In my car, I had Bob, Neville and Tyronne Downie. Marley was so excited to be in Zimbabwe. He said this place was like Jamaica to him. He said: “Its like Jamaica and it’s not different. When I tell people Jamaica is like Africa, they laugh at me.”

From the airport, they went straight to Job Kadengu’s house in Belvedere. Mhundwa together with Kadengu and Neville later went to Jameson Hotel where they had a torrid time with a white hotel manager who told them the hotel was fully booked.

They had a scuffle and police had to be called. Kadengu and Mhundwa had booked for Bob Marley and his team at the hotel.

“A white manager was shocked to see a dreadlocked man – Neville and decided against the booking.

Whites feared Rastafarians. We had a scuffle before we decided to leave the place. We checked around the city for lodgings but all hotels were fully booked,” Mhundwa said.

“I suspect it was racism by this Rhodesian. We went back to Belvedere and we told Marley about this.

He fumed and said: “I knew that they don’t like I and I.” Fortunately Job had just bought Skyline Motel.
“Job told Bob Marley that he had bought a motel about 10km or 15km outside Harare. So we went with Marley there.

The I-Threes and Marley’s sons stayed at Kadengu’s house. Marley liked the motel and saw no problem in staying there.

“He said: ‘To me this place is like a 5-star hotel. We then picked band members. They stayed here for two or three days.”

Before they left, Cde Tekere paid a visit to Marley and his team at Belvedere.
“Bob Marley was very happy to see Cde Tekere.

“I give it to Cde Tekere, 100 percent. He was the man behind Bob Marley’s invitation to Zimbabwe. Of course, he would brief Prime Minister Mugabe and the cabinet about it.”

On April 17, when sound engineers did a sound check, Mhundwa said the PA system was powerful and was felt as far as Hillside, Queensdale, Sunningdale, Highfield and Mufakose.

“I had never seen or heard such a powerful sound system in my life. It was quite massive and it attracted a lot of people to Rufaro Stadium on the eve of our independence,” he said.

“We hired 10 trucks, 30 tonne trucks from George Elcombe (a transport logistics company) to ferry the equipment from the airport to the stadium. The equipment was massive and never seen in the history of Zimbabwe.”

At the time, Mhudwa was a DJ at ZBC Radio 3 where he worked from 1979 to 1986. His compatriots included Wellington Mbofana, Josh Makawa, Patrick Bhajila, John Matinde, Ray Chirisa and James Makamba among others.

“Bob Marley’s show was quite massive and memorable. The mood was electric and the scenes were wild.

The jubilation was out of this world. He did a show on the official programme on the eve of independence and another on April 18. His show attracted a massive crowd,” he said.

“His performance opened the floodgates for reggae music in Africa. It was a memorable and historic show.”

After the show, Mhundwa said he visited Mbare and Highfield with Bob Marley and his band. He also took him to the Blue Bar at Machipisa in Highfield.

“On that day, we went to Job’s Nite Spot where he saw Lovemore Majaivana performing live. He said: “Lovemore is good and sings very well. I like the music played by Majaivana.”
Kadengu later organised a trip for Bob Marley and the Wailers to visit the country’s premier resort spot – Victoria Falls.

“Bob Marley went to Victoria Falls with Thompson Kachingwe. The team was so happy about the trip. Bob Marley was so amazed by the game, rainforest and the falls. He said the Falls were beautiful and wonderful,” Mhundwa said.

During his stay, Bob Marley also visited Mutoko where he met some marijuana growers. He is said to have sampled the ganja and collected more herbs.

This marked another high point of the Marley tour – mixing and mingling with ordinary rural folks in Mutoko.

Bob Marley largely saw ganja as, according to Fred Zindi, a music critic and writer: “a gateway to understanding. It opens up the mind so as to be cognisant of the connection between oneself and Jah. It is a meditative tool meant to bring about self-realisation and mystical experiences. What it is not about is getting “stoned”.

“Bob Marley loved Zimbabwe, he loved Africa. He cancelled big shows in the US to come and witness the birth of a new nation.

He charged a premium for the shows but chose Zimbabwe. For him, it was not about the money, but the people of Zimbabwe, the revolution and the liberation of Africans that mattered most,” said Mhundwa.

“He invited me to Jamaica and he was so happy about the tour to Zimbabwe. He wanted to come back for another show but he died a year later from cancer in 1981. I later visited Jamaica after his death and his team at the Tuff Gong Studio. They hosted me well and Neville took me around the homes of the Wailers.”

Mhundwa said Bob Marley was a true rastaman and revolutionary.

“He was a kind and down-to-earth man, very generous to the poor. He lived a simple life. He loved the poor and wanted Zimbabwe and Africa to be free from bondage. Freedom to him was so precious. He stood for pan African liberation and freedom.

“He also wanted South Africa to be free. He spoke about Mandela’s freedom too.”
Bob Marley held two concerts at Rufaro Stadium, at the first independence celebration which saw Prince Charles hoisting Zimbabwe’s flag to mark the country’s birth.

He sang before 100 000 people belting out tunes that included the anthem Zimbabwe, which had inspired black guerrillas in their fight against Ian Smith’s white minority Rhodesian government.

In a big way, Bob Marley opened the gates for reggae music in Africa helping to raise the consciousness of African people throughout the last decades of colonialism and apartheid in South Africa and Namibia.

His name has a permanent place in the hearts of most African people as his music continues to inspire many, giving them hope and resilience.Full story online: www.chronicle.co.zw

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