Thursday, May 10, 2018

Bhonzo: Rich, colourful career and tragic end

WE will never hear the sound of his boisterous laughter on the screen again — unless on old reruns of the comedy series Timmy naBhonzo. Neither will he provoke our laughter with new antics.
By Phillip Chidavaenzi
Top television actor and comedian, Lawrence Simbarashe (69) (pictured), died on Saturday night at Chitungwiza Central hospital after a long battle with diabetes.
A look at some of the productions in which he featured at the glorious peak of his acting career — Cry Freedom (1987), Jit (1993), The Slit (1996) and Flame (1996) —perhaps demonstrates the unforgiving nature of local show business.
He deserved better and dying a virtual pauper should never have been his portion, especially for a man who, at the peak of his career, parked nine vehicles at his house and enjoyed the good life.
He had become a mere shadow of his former self and nowhere near the almost idol status that had seen thousands that sat glued to their television sets, with the actor launching them into fits of laughter over the years.
It was a heart-breaking tale of sorrow, misery and pain, as St Mary’s residents and die-hard fans of Bhonzo’s theatrics have witnessed over the last few years.
From as far back as 2011, Bhonzo — born Lawrence Banda — was often spotted walking along Harare’s streets with a Bible in his hand. He was quoted back then saying the Bible had become his friend.
“The Bible is now my friend and I read it every time. I am not confined to any church, but I believe God is there for everybody,” he said.
If he had been fortunate enough to live in South Africa — or perhaps in Hollywood — where actors and comedians are richly rewarded for their talents and gifts, perhaps his story would have been different.
For an actor who featured in the international blockbuster, King Solomon’s Mines and a raft of local commercial adverts including Black Label and Perfection soap, he should have had much to show for his work.
With the gift of the garb, Bhonzo was an old war horse, whose experience added value to several companies’ marketing strategies as they dashed for his signature, engaging him to feature in their television commercials.
His long-time friend and sidekick, Timothy Tapfumaneyi, reflected: “He was an experienced artist. He knew a lot in music, acting and broadcasting. He was so good that he would at times do commercials without a script. He was also against the idea of using a script when we did Timmy NaBhonzo.”
His widow, Pain Banda, was surprised by the number of people who came to pay their last respects a day after Bhonzo died.
Musician Michael “Minister” Mahendere, Elijah Madzikatire and Tapfumaneyi were the only notable figures.
“My husband was a great man as he mentored a lot of actors. He was a role model to many. So far very few notable people have come to pay their respects,” Banda said, adding with resignation that perhaps others were occupied at their workplaces.
The situation was almost the same yesterday at their home in Chitungwiza and during burial at Zororo Cemetery.
Sometime last year, filmmaker Marlon Murape was moved by Bhonzo’s dire situation threw him a lifeline in his hour of need, casting him in a new film.
“We realised that there is a tradition that prominent actors, who were vibrant in the 1980s, have gone quiet so we thought of bringing him on board,” Murape told NewsDay Life & Style then.
“This was after he had approached us . . . Bhonzo has been looking for a way to get back into acting and is currently doing rehearsals for his role.”
Now Bhonzo is gone before he could enjoy the fruits of his labour in that latest production.
“He really did well (in the movie). In fact, one of his scenes went viral on WhatsApp. He was a very talented actor and it was an honour to work with someone so distinguished,” Murape said on Sunday.
It would appear like fate and circumstances marshalled their forces against him to rob him of another chance when sickness set in, arresting his voice — his only tool of the trade — and he consequently lost many of the contracts that had sustained him for years.
Over the last few years, however, it appeared like there have been more efforts to offer him a shoulder to lean on, with former Highfield West legislator, Psychology Mazivisa, and former Local Government minister, Saviour Kasukuwere, leading a delegation with goodies to help the actor in his hour of need.
The delegation — which also included actor Tapfumaneyi, businessman Stanley Kasukuwere and socialites Thomas Chizhanje and Nomathemba Ndebele — donated goods to Bhonzo following reports of how his life was spiralling out of control.
Well, Bhonzo may have made his mistakes like all humans are prone to, but he deserved to have his life celebrated for his contribution to the local entertainment industry — but many who matter, including those he showed the ropes, were conspicuous by their absence.