By Sibanengi Dube
THE death of Alum Mpofu has once again sparked interest in his salacious and colourful lifestyle.
The Mberengwa South legislator died on Sunday, plunging his constituency into mourning. Love him or loathe him, his constituents, cutting across the political divide, appreciated him. Although Alum drove fancy cars and lived on the fast lane, the former headmaster was generous, simple and accessible.
He was, however a drama king in many aspects. The former SABC boss was a happy fellow who didn’t care much about what people said about him, especially on his sexual orientation. That he was bi-sexual was not a secret.
In 2001, he was caught in a dark alley at a seedy Avenues joint in Harare run by the then Zvishavane legislator Pearson Mbalekwa, allegedly in a compromising position with another man, causing him to leave his job at the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, in shame. He disappeared back to South Africa for another decade only to re-emerge in 2018 as a Zanu PF contestant for the Mberengwa South seat. Bouyed by unwavering confidence and powered by a thunderous grassroots support, Alum snapped victory in the Zanu PF primary elections from Collin Shirichena. He then went on to beat MDC A candidate Davies Shoko with a wide margin even though a bi-sexual stigma was hanging over his head.
A respected local political commentator and historian Tshabani Dhliwayo remarked how Alum was close to the hearts of his fellow villagers.
“I was in the rurals when he passed on, the amount of grief among villagers was massive. He is a one person who ‘won’ the Mberengwa constituency more than once without real Zanu PF help. He was or is a son of the soil, his sexual orientation did not mean anything among his people,” said Dhliwayo.
Another Zimbabwean, Pilate Ngwenya, who Alum helped in Johannesburg to find his feet in the media paid his homage to his hero.
“Like many others, I owe my success and entry into the media industry to Alum,” said Ngwenya, a Joburg based media advertising guru.’
Alum was a focused smooth talker with seemingly unlimited capacity to dribble past difficult situations.
Some people sniggered behind the lawmaker’s back about his sexual orientation and that aspect of his life came to the fore, once again, upon his death. However, he was not apologetic about it.
“You know what, munin’ina, I am a man trapped in a woman’s body,” he would own up before flashing his signature smile.
At 24, Mpofu became the headmaster of Makuva Secondary School in the early 1980s bringing a breath of fresh air to the area, where most schools were headed by the elderly. In the process, he produced doctors, accountants, teachers and other professionals. Some of his shining stars are Dr Mfandaedza Hove, a researcher with Anglo-Gold American in Johannesburg, Canada Malunga, a managing director with one of the leading banks in Zimbabwe and Trouble Moyo, the current headmaster of Makuva High School.
Not only did he overhaul the academic performance of his school, but Mpofu also changed the complexion of high school soccer tournaments in Mberengwa. The ever-giggling late legislator professionalised the game by introducing a few high-profile soccer players into his school team. Mpofu recruited soccer wizard students from the asbestos-mining town of Zvishavane and offered them scholarships in exchange for their talents. He was the first headmaster in Mberengwa to hire a full-time soccer coach, Duncan Chiboko. Makuva Secondary School soccer team, which produced premier soccer league players like Nana Banda, Thankido, Joackim, Mawale and Bobo was only stopped from snatching the national Chibhuku Trophy in 1987 by the death of a fellow student. It was a marvel for the community to watch a match between Makuva and Chegato High School another soccer powerhouse in the district. The annual clash of the two soccer giants at Mataga Growth Point became a prominent feature on the annual calendar of Mberengwa.
Mpofu was far from being the reserved and conservative person he became a few years before his demise. Instead, apart from being smart, articulate and eloquent, the diminutive Mpofu was full of energy, controversy and confidence. He would always hide behind humour when put on the spot. There was never a dull moment with him. Oh yes, he was controversial. As a cousin, I lived with him in 1999 when I found myself on the streets of Johannesburg. He worked for SABC 2 as a research manager. He offered me comfortable accommodation in his mansion in Centurion Park. As he was well-connected and respected in the media fraternity, it was not long before he got me a job with The Sowetan newspaper where I freelanced for a few months before getting a full-time one with Media24. I shall forever remain grateful for the assistance he rendered. I’m sure many other Zimbabweans who found refuge in his home at various times are equally grateful. He would, at times, take up to six Zimbabweans under his wing and assist them with accommodation and in finding employment or work permits.
For the four months I stayed with him, I never heard or witnessed any moment he abused the young men or women he looked after. Instead, handsome South African gays would literally run after him. He would not shy away from introducing them to me especially after a few glasses of a cold Hansa.
He was really living a fast life. Most of his days would start with business during the day and end up with drinking sessions in Hillbrow, Braamfontein, and Pretoria. “If I become President of Zimbabwe, CIOs would have to guard all bars because I won’t confine myself to the State House as I enjoy the vibe in pubs,” he would say, amid gulps of his favourite tipple. Of course, he had presidential ambitions. In his world nothing was impossible. Aiti hapana muti unoyera shanhu!
He was a savvy SABC business manager by day and reveller by night. He was a free-spirited person with a genuine interest in hundreds of people he would rub shoulders with every night. We would hop from one bar to another until the wee hours of the morning. He had no problem engaging in low-key bar chats with anyone. Apart from that, he was so generous with his wallet and many Zimbabweans we met during these night escapades would benefit from his benevolence. It was during such nights that he would open up and start talking about his lifestyle.
“You know what munin’ina, I am a woman trapped in a man’s body and there is nothing I can do about it,” he would say. He was known as Mama Kadzamira in his circle of gay friends. He, however, would sometimes introduce himself as Lillian at ‘their’ events. He also loved and respected his wife, Mai George, whom he has been married to for more than three decades. Mpofu was a committed family man who looked after his mother and sponsored the education of his siblings.
His wife, siblings and children came to terms with his sexual orientation long back. Even though he was aware of the stigma associated with being gay, he lived his life according to his tastes. “Vanogondidini savanoroya?” he would say.
One day, he gave me a long list of gay people in Zanu PF whom I will not mention now, except the late nationalist Nathan Shamuyarira and of course, the former president Canaan Sodindo Banana, whose gay proclivities became a matter of public consumption when his former lover and security aide Jefta Dube was being tried in the High Court for murder in the late 90s.
“I just hope he (Shamuyarira) was the man. I cannot imagine him being the woman!” he sarcastically said.
I once asked him how he expected to win the Mberengwa South constituency with the gay tag hanging over his head. He shot back: “Unoti vanhu vane basa nazvo izvozvo zvekuti munhu anovata naani?” He stood. He won resoundingly on a Zanu PF ticket, but the party announced Rugare Gumbo as its preferred candidate. His victory celebrations came to an abrupt stop when a recount put Gumbo’s ballots ahead of him.
Mpofu had an aura of likeability. He was the kind of a headmaster, business manager, or MP who would park his 4×4 German SUV in a village and spend the whole day mingling with villagers and quaffing opaque beer. My mother, who is his aunt says, he had always been like that, even before joining politics.
Although violence was the bedrock of Zanu PF during the campaign of 2018, the former ZBC boss preached tolerance of other political players. He was not a hard-core Zanu PF member and was prepared to dump it if it no longer suited him. All he wanted was to represent his home area in parliament. “Akawanda ma church anopidza vanhu denga,” he would say. “Ukadzingwa kuneimwe unongotsvaga imwe yekupinda kuti usvike kudenga. Iwe unoda party here kana kuti unoda kuita MP?”
Unlike his Zanu PF colleagues, Mpofu remained friends with his MDC-A rival, Davies Shoko. Shoko revealed this in a condolence message on a Mberengwa WhatsApp group, 03 South.
In 2019, I had a fallout with Alum after he ordered the local clinic to return benches, mattresses, and bandages my brother, Thembinkosi Dube, a former MDC-A council candidate, had donated. He then called me and promised to accept our donations at an appropriate time. He, however, died before collecting the donations which are gathering dust in our rural home, as mothers in my village continue to give birth on the floor
Mpofu dismissed the incident where he was allegedly caught having sex with another man at Tipperrary’s in the Avenues in Harare as a set up by journalists who followed him to the toilet where he was relieving himself. “Aah! Vakatiwana tichitotunda mu toilet yepabhawa takawanda, then they asked kuti imwi two murikuiteyi? How was that possible in a public toilet?” asked Alum, while laughing off the incident.
The former MP who died at the age of 63, went to Manama High School in Matabeleland. He had a brief stint at the University of Zimbabwe before being expelled for political activities. He was then awarded a Zanu PF scholarship to study linguistics at a Sierra Leone university. He returned to Zimbabwe after 1980 to teach at Mandava High School in Zvishavane before being posted to Mberengwa to head Makuva Secondary School.
Mpofu is survived by his wife, Mai George, and three children, Elisha, George and Tafara. Rest in peace Mhofu!
—Sibanengi Dube is the publisher of Zimbabwe Observer