THE government will consider a “special honour” for global music superstar and Zimbabwean cultural icon Oliver Mtukudzi, Arts and Recreation Minister Kirsty Coventry has said.
Tuku, as he was known by fans across the world, passed on Wednesday afternoon at the Avenues Clinic where he had been admitted in the intensive care unit.
Aged 66 at the time of his death, Tuku was not just a music superstar; he was also businessman, philanthropist, human rights activist and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for Southern Africa Region.
Zimbabweans across the world immediately called on the government to declare him a national hero.
Minister Coventry, who was among the mourners to visit Tuku’s Norton home, agreed that he deserved a “special honour”.
“He was a legend. He is not only a music hero for the country,” she told The Herald newspaper.
“He is a hero of Africa. He deserves a special honour, but things will become clear in the next days.
“We had mutual respect for each other. Last year we sat on the same panel when we were talking about philanthropy work.”
She added; “I last spoke to him towards the end of last year when we met at the airport. He was coming from a tour and I was travelling to South Africa.
“We talked about the future of the arts industry and he was telling me about young people he was working with. He was indeed a legend.
“As Government, we are prepared to honour our legends in various sectors.”
The national arts council of Zimbabwe (NACZ) said it had already approached government over Tuku’s honour.
“We have approached the Government with our request for Tuku to be considered for national hero status,” said NACZ director director Nicholas Moyo who was also at the legend’s home.
“The formal procedures have started and we are here to talk to the family so that we get the ball rolling.
“It would be great to have him as the first artiste to get such honour. He deserves the status because of his hard work and leadership in the sector.
“He was a hero on his own and a hero of the people. I had the privilege to work with him personally and I am satisfied that his works deserve great honour.
“However, what matters to us most is not the status. What matters most is the heritage that he has left to the arts industry at large. His works will live forever.”
With his distinctive husky voice, Tuku had a career that stretched from white minority-ruled Rhodesia to majority-ruled Zimbabwe, producing a string of hits that spread his fame across Africa and eventually to an international audience.
He tended to avoided political controversy. The closest he came was with his 2001 song “Bvuma,” which in the Shona language means “accept that you are old” and was taken as a message to longtime leader Robert Mugabe to retire.
In a country where political tensions are high and party loyalties matter, Mtukudzi cut across the divide, singing at ruling party events but also performing at late opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s wedding and funeral.
One of his biggest hits was “Neria,” a mournful song about the tribulations of a woman who was thrown into poverty when her husband died because customary law did not allow her to inherit his property. It was the title song of a movie of the same name.
Mtukudzi’s rollicking, captivating performances won him devoted fans. He sang, played guitar and danced while directing a tight band of guitarists, keyboards, percussionists and dancers who seamlessly performed his catchy songs. He made several successful international tours and performed in South Africa late last year.
He also was known for mentoring young Zimbabwean musicians.