Zimbabwe confers ‘national hero’ status to afro-jazz icon

Zimbabwean afro-jazz legend Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi, who died this week, has been declared a national hero, President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced Thursday — a rare honour for a non-politician.

The internationally-acclaimed star died Wednesday at the age of 66 at a hospital in Harare.

Mnangagwa said the supreme decision-making body of the ruling Zanu-PF party, the politburo, decided unanimously to confer hero status on the singer.

“We have agreed to confer him the national hero status, he is our national hero,” the president announced during a wake at Tuku’s house in the town of Norton, west of the capital Harare.

Mtukudzi became only the second non-politician to be granted the status after university vice-chancellor Phineas Makhurane, who was similarly honoured in December.

National heroes can be buried at Heroes’ Acre, a shrine traditionally reserved for prominent politicians and people who fought in the country’s 1970s liberation war, which Tuku did not.

His song Wasakara, translated as: “You are very old”, stirred controversy as it was seen to be directed at former autocratic leader Robert Mugabe.

The lanky self-taught guitarist was a legend in the vibrant cross-genre music of Afro-jazz, with 66 albums under his belt in a career that spanned 45 years.

His lyrics, delivered through rasping vocals, often carried social messages about HIV/AIDS and alcohol abuse and encouraging self-respect, sometimes invoking proverbs and wisdom from his mother tongue, Shona.

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