CELEBRATED actress Jesesi Mungoshi can afford to smile again, a year after her husband and renowned novelist Charles Mungoshi passed on.
She thanks her Tabernacle of Grace Church led by Batsirai Java which gave her the much needed counselling after losing her pillar.
Mungoshi died after a battle with a debilitating neurological illness for a decade. He was buried at his rural home in Manyene, Chivhu.
“I only came to terms with his death this year after I was counselled at church. Those counselling sessions were so effective. His death came as a blow to me; I was not expecting it despite that he was bedridden for 10 years.
Actually, during his illness I was expecting a miracle,” the 66-year-old actress told the Daily News on Sunday.
“The whole of last year I was depleted. My faith was challenged and I would cry each time I got to think of him but now it is the opposite. I can now afford to smile when I think of him,” she said.
Jesesi married the prolific writer in 1974 and owes everything to Mungoshi.
“I met him in Highfield where I was living with my sister whose husband was a friend to baba Farai (Mungoshi). Yes, I was born an artist but he was the one who transformed me into the artist I am today. I used to play the flute and dance. I would draw crowds when I danced,” the award-winning actress said.
When Jesesi met Mungoshi, he was already a published author with the novel Coming of the Dry Season (1972) already on the market.
“I started acting in 1985 when I featured in the radio play Inongova Njake Njake, a play taken from Mungoshi’s novel with the same title,” she said.
The play was Jesesi’s launch pad as she went on to star in a number of dramas and films including the popular Neria, African Journey, The Journey, He Is My Child, Rujeko, Shaina, Cook Off and Muzita Rababa apart from several commercial adverts.
“When I am on set, I give my all. I am not that person who just does the job for the sake of doing it but I do it with all my heart. I am proud of all my works save for those films that I participated in when my husband was ill. I feel I did not give my all as I was affected by the illness,” she said.
She loves the play Makunun’unu Maodza Moyo which is yet to be released.
“I am proud of it as it was adapted from my husband’s novel with the same title. I played the role of VaChingweru though it was a challenge for me considering baba Farai was not feeling well at the time,” she said.
Jesesi revealed that she influenced the outcome of some of Mungoshi’s novels.
“Mungoshi had a tendency of ending his stories with the death of the main character or the main character ended up in sad situations and I was not amused with this.
“Inongova Njake Njake was supposed to end with the death of the main character but I influenced him to change that. The play then ended with an ambulance coming to pick up a sick person (main character),” she said.
However, Mungoshi was not eager or comfortable to always discuss his work with his wife.
“At times I could tell some of the characters in his books were inspired by people that surrounded him. There is a book called Zviri Mubwe which never saw the light of day. In that book there was a character who was more or less the real Jesesi,” she said with a smile.
“In Kunyarara Hakusi Kutaura? Mungoshi used the character of Eric’s friend to depict himself,” Mungoshi’s widow said.
Last week, Jesesi turned 66.
“Yes, I am getting old but I do not see myself retiring from the arts. It is my desire and wish to see senior citizens playing critical roles in our dramas and films. If people retire from the arts, who do you think will be able to play the role of an old Robert Mugabe, who died at the age of 95?” she questioned.
The on-going coronavirus national lockdown has affected Jesesi as she could not complete some of the works she had embarked on.
“We were supposed to publish a new book titled The Silent Depriver which was left by Mungoshi. He penned the book 10 years ago before he got sick. We were also working on a new film titled Mukombe but we stopped because of Covid-19. There was also a movie which was to be produced by some Nigerians but was also affected before it started. We hope to finish all these works after Covid-19,” she said.
In her career spanning three decades, Mai Mungoshi, as Jesesi is also known, has only featured in one musical video, Kumahumbwe, by multi-award winning musician Mukudzeyi Mukombe aka Jah Prayzah.
“In terms of welfare, I cannot complain. I have my boys who are breadwinners in their own right and I tend to get some acting roles in some drama and film productions. We are surviving, God is in control,” she said.
The actress called on government to support the arts sector, not only morally but financially.
“Arts sometimes become a lonely business and maybe that is the reason why at times you see our own writers like my husband die with nothing, no support and yet he put Zimbabwe on the map.
“He got awards like the Commonwealth Writers Prize twice, a Nama award, and there is another award for Africa but the government could not even recognise him enough to give him national hero’s status when he died.”
Last week she got a visit from Acting Arts minister Paul Mavhima and Deputy Arts minister Tinomudaishe Machakaire who gave her food hamper so as to cushion her family during the Covid-19 national lockdown.
“So what do I think (of the government) as a woman and wife who was supporting her husband? I know that what he was doing was not for the family alone but for the nation at large. He would spend all his time with budding writers, trying to help them to write but then you can see it for yourself.”
Machakaire said he had taken note of Mai Mungoshi’s concerns. “It is good that she said it and as a government, we will consider what she raised and we will address the issues. So far, we are trying to help our artists with food hampers and money during this Covid-19 national lockdown.”
The internationally acclaimed Charles published 18 books including Makunun’unu Maodza Moyo (1970), Coming of the Dry Season (1972), Waiting for the Rain (1975), Ndiko Kupindana Kwemazuva (1975), Inongova Njake Njake (1980), The Milkman Doesn’t Only Deliver Milk (1981) and Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness (2013), among many others.
His achievements included winning the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize of Best Book in Africa twice and as a result he was invited to meet Queen Elizabeth.
One of his poems was curated by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2011 as a permanent display in Seattle, Washington in the United States of America.
In 2003 he was conferred an honorary doctorate degree by the University of Zimbabwe in recognition of his multiple awards which included Zimbabwe’s 75 Best Books in the 20th Century where he was in the top five in both Shona and English categories.
His novel, Waiting for the Rain, has been prescribed reading for years in Zimbabwean schools. The novel was published in 1975, the same year as his Shona novel Ndiko Kupindana Kwamazuva (How time passes). He received an International PEN award for both these books.
Mungoshi also took part in local Zimbabwean drama series in the late 1980s to early 1990s, and played a role in a local drama Ndabvezera, which was produced by Aaron Chiundura Moyo.