The Sunday News
HUMAN experience provides society with rich stories littered with stories of triumph!
Last week, Bulawayo hosted the Seventh Edition of the National Disability Expo bringing together more than 50 organisations comprising of Government Departments, Parliament of Zimbabwe, United Nations (UN) agencies, Disabled Persons Organisations (DPOs), several academic institutions and service providers showcasing programmes, innovations and other interventions directed towards the betterment of conditions for PWDs
While the Expo provided many life-changing stories, there was one which stood out, dovetailing with the mantra of abilities as opposed to disability. At the Expo, Margaretha Hugo School for the Blind (Copota) were the main attraction in Bulawayo. While officials deliberated on policy issues regarding the disability issues, Copota School kept the event alight with their marathon star performances.
Ultimately, the school’s musical band comprising of twenty students with varying degrees of blindness, and others with albinism, managed to churn out a top-shelf performance littered with individual and collective stories of triumph.
Does wisdom not say disability is not inability? True to that adage, the band, whose supply was led by three singers Kumbulani Mubuso (21), Thomas Mutambirwa (19) and Ownstar Munodawafa (19), brother to Munyaradzi) wowed revellers.
In the process, the gains of the new curriculum were heralded. The minefield of talent within the disability fraternity came to the fore again. Despite having been in existence for the past six years, the band has gestated to immortality.
Mrs Kumbirai Mashava, a vocational skills teacher who has been at the institution for the past fourteen years said that Copota School is making sure that it is providing educational and extra-curricular activities, which include music.
“We have a community based programme identifying talents and skills of children in various fields, which include music, as part of our commitment to bridge the gap between academia and industry”
“By implementing inclusive education, we are promoting skills which empowers the students, who do not end up begging for their sustenance,” she said.
“We have some children having conditions of albinism. We are teaching them to use braille from a tender age, in case they lose sight later in life,” she continued.
While the Copota students-cum entertainers ordinarily look like unassuming scholars donning the typical blue and grey uniform, the students however, ignite a life unto themselves as they brace to the musical instruments, cobbling well-polished acts embodying the school’s investment in extra-curricular activities.
The group performed renditions to household Zimbabwean songs over the past forty years, and some from the hymn book of Western artistes.
Kumbulani Mubuso, a Form Four student, who specialises in chanting the late Oliver Mtukudzi’s songs with breath-taking precision said he aspires to become a journalist later in life.
He however, hinted his undying passion for music.
Then there was Thomas Mutambirwa. For the greater part he did renditions to songs by the late James Chimombe, whom he says was a favourite of his parents. His story is quite inspirational, having been born with a total visual impairment.
“I was born totally blind and my parents took me to Parirenyatwa Hospital where I underwent an operation which partially restored my sight.”
“In 2007 I was enrolled at Copota School, where I developed an interest in music, starting off in the percussion band in elementary school before being introduced to music by Mr Obey Chiteke,” one youthful music teacher at the institution.
Collectively however, the trio (including Ownstar Munodawafa) further performed songs from other Zimbabwean artistes including Jah Prayzah, Winky D, Killer T and Baba Harare among others.
The fact that they summarised Zimbabwe’s musical epoch comprising of popular songs from legends and contemporary artistes depicted the institution’s investment of time in rehearsing their acts.
As the band belted out hit after hit, the audience reciprocated in appreciation.
They marched to the table, freely depositing their monies, as the faithful do when paying tithes.
That the band managed to perform Aleck Macheso’s songs, including that legendary bass guitar, throwing one reveller to the dance floor, imitating the famous Borrowdale dance was surely some stuff of the legends.
The school is increasingly growing its repertoire, having already come up with compositions to be recorded. Apart from the notable brilliances of the students, Copota School has managed to tap much counsel from Mr Chiteke, the music teacher who is armed with a music degree from the Great Zimbabwe University and exuding passion from the gods.
He took us through the remarkable journey which the band has gone through. “As you see here, the children are performing renditions to some well-known songs which have been performed by various artistes over the years.”
“Before they perform, I play the song to them, ask how many instruments are there, backing vocalists and other such information.”
“We have however, gone further, having our musical compositions, which now number fifty.”
“These are based on occasions which we have attended in the past, out of which songs have emerged.”
“We however, have resource constraints in recording the material.”
With resources at their disposal, the students can have lifelong careers in music.
Unfortunately, some of the students have lost their musical touch, especially after leaving school. The teachers attributed this to the fact that most of the children do not have instruments back home, which ends up affecting their acts.
Having realised this, from experiences of most students, save for the few having well to do parents affording instruments, the institution approached Leonard Cheshire to sponsor musical instruments which the scholars keep upon leaving school.
Despite such hindrances however, the school has bred notable names within the music industry.
Prominent among this lot is Munyaradzi Munodawafa, the start-up gospel musician of the 90’s, who has grown to become a man in the musical divide, all under the glare of the entire nation.
Then there is John and Ownstar — the pianist-cum lead singer who is part of the current band. Beyond the Munodawafa trio, other musicians have emerged including Tendai Chiodza and Trymore Chikandaviya, who doubles as musician and Pastor at the Reformed Church in Zimbabwe Victoria Falls Assembly.
These and many other positive stories at Copota have debunked disability and society’s minimal expectations.
The school has further gone on to bring in gospel musicians Mai Mtisi and Blessing Shumba, as part of a programme to create an interface with known artistes.
True to their growing profile, the band has performed at occasions held at its sister entities — Teachers College, Reformed Church University and countless national fixtures and private ceremonies.
In the end, a remarkable story of triumph has been written at one of Zimbabwe’s première institutions for disability.
- Francis Mupazviriho is a Labour Officer, while Praise Mhishi is a Social Welfare Officers. The two officials are with the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare.