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Aleck Damson Tribute: They Called You ‘Chindanga’

Harare, Zimbabwe – One of the longest roads in Kuwadzana area 5 is 118th Street.  It begins from an intersection with 115th Street, going pa...

Harare, Zimbabwe – One of the longest roads in Kuwadzana area 5 is 118th Street. 

It begins from an intersection with 115th Street, going past the shopping centre, with other roads branching on each side – starting with 119th Street, until the last one, which is 157 Crescent.

By @Comic24Derick

At the end of 118th Street is a T-junction, linking with 170th Street, which divides section 5 and 7, an area dominated by red brick houses, built for government employees. 

To the right, the junction goes towards a place formerly called KwaHolland. According to oral history, the area was the former farm owners’ residence, before it became Kuwadzana.

And if you turn left into 170th Street, there is a neat row of houses numbered in ascending order. The majority constructed in the 80s’ were originally painted in alternating blue and white colours, occupied by employees from a local motoring company. 

Let’s rewind

Our family relocated to Kuwadzana at the end of 1987, from Chitungwiza. The seven of us, including two extended family members, lived at number 5865 in 156 Crescent. The rust coloured, five-roomed house was in the last row of houses. 

At the back was a grassland woodlot, where we periodically sneaked to hunt for mice, wild rabbits, swim, or fish in the mud river.

Regular ‘money games’ at a clearing opposite Kuwadzana 6 primary – known as ‘paCZI’ – availed the chance to meet other local boys. At this once famous pitch, which was later turned into homes, some friendships were made, others blossomed and maintained until this day.

The Late Aleck‘Chindanga’ Damson (Image Credit: Aleck's Facebook Profile)

Soccer on open fields, dominated by red soils, became part of our livelihood. At the ground, we often confronted better teams from other streets, placing monetary bets of 5 cents, a decent amount at that time. If we won, which we rarely did, we celebrated by buying ‘Power’ sweets from the temporary tuck-shops, namely, Matundu or Tsoka, lined along 118th Street.

If our winnings permitted, we purchased and shared a fresh loaf of Rubbins bread. Unfortunately, on several occasions, our team comprising my elder brother, our deceased neigbhour, Allan and myself as the goalkeeper, always lost. But we never lost heart – we always came back to play.

Besides soccer, boys from the area joined boys’ scouts, attending regular meetings in town, around the Kensington area. And one of the committed boy scouts was Aleck Damson’s brother, who later introduced me to the scout movement, beginning as a cub scout. After joining, we regularly attended Saturday meetings in Kensington, camping plus cooking competitions.    

Kuwadzana means friendship  

Friendships or relationships based on common interests last longer. My elder brother liked to fix things, anything electrical. With that talent, he attracted other boys who shared his interests, particularly in electrical gadgets, like making small film projectors. 

In that group, I recall seeing Aleck. The aspiring inventors loyally assembled their gadgets, sitting in small groups.

After each successful creation, I recall sitting eagerly inside a dark room, with other kids, facing a white, spotless cloth. The young creatives were ready for a test run. For the next few minutes, we got a glimpse of the action, most probably Jack Chan or Bruce Lee, before a technical fault interrupted the fun. 

Undeterred, the boys regrouped and started fine tuning their earlier mistakes. This act was for the technically gifted and patient folks.    

Like Aleck’s mother, my late mother was also a catholic. In our area, her mother was an active member of the church hierarchy. Often, my mother would send us to the Damsons to inquire about church business, or to get an update on a funeral or sickness of a church member in the area. 

To get to the Zimoco section, we went up 156 Crescent, before we got to the last curve, we went through a gap between the houses. The third house down the line, occupied by the Damson family, had three boys, the first was Aleck.

After work, at local drinking spots, my father who later died in October 1991, used to share a beer with many friends, including Aleck’s father. Occasionally, on weekends, some local men gathered to share bottles of Bols brandy, mixed with milk or coke. 

For food, they had wild game biltong in peanut butter, served with sadza. Other days, they shared opaque beer – chibuku packed in blue and red striped shake-shake containers. Later, after the meal, they drove off in my father’s green Peugeot 404.

Becoming ‘Chindanga’ 

Every generation has its slang, fashion and music that it identifies with. Popular slang words then, were ‘Chimoko’, referring to a girl. Fashion also defined us, with Kriss Kross being one, where one wore clothes backward. 

Again, music played a significant part. Shabba Ranks came with a bang, singing Bedroom Bully. Boys to Men captivated us, too. Fortune Muparutsa was a local darling. 

During our childhood, everyone had a nickname, some became famous, others faded away as we grew older. The alias ‘Chindanga’ was coined during this era after Aleck moved to rent a room with a friend. 

At the lodging, the two boys acquired the latest radio, shipped from Germany by a relative. Each time the radio was switched on, it was loud, attracting a lot of attention.  

Until the mid-90s, Kuwadzana was one of the dark suburbs, without electricity. Also, owning a radio or television was considered an accomplishment – it was a status symbol. 

Actually, part of our routines as youngsters included hunting for houses with television sets, usually powered by a generator to watch wrestling, called WWF, then a popular weekly programme on ZTV.

Our neighbourhood had less than three families with generators to regularly power a TV. And out of those three, only one family welcomed us into their home. 

Sitting on the floor, we watched the likes of Zeus, Hulk Hogan, British Bulldog, the Ultimate Warrior, not forgetting Andrea The Giant (all deceased, except Hogan). The latter, became my all-time favourite athlete. We were so passionate about wrestling, unfortunately, our parents could not afford a TV and a generator.    

For that reason, a modern radio or a TV was considered a ‘Chindanga’ – a rare, valuable possession, a nickname which Aleck later assumed because of the state-of-the-art radio they had. For example, one would say, “He bought a heavy ‘Chindanga’” – meaning one has a valuable asset. 

After that episode, ‘Chindanga’ quickly spread across the suburb. Almost everyone in the area knew it. Some say if you want a name to go away easily, just accept it, but in Aleck’s case, it stuck to him.  

Brothers’ keeper

Aleck Dasmson at Work (Image Credit: Aleck's Facebook Profile)

One house in our crescent had a gym that was frequented by many locals for free. Aspiring body builders came at sunset for weight lifting. Out of interest, we also went there to witness the body builders, including Aleck. 

Daily, with other friends, he came to the gym to pump some iron. Outside the fence, we gleefully admired the athletes’ swelling muscles from a distance, wishing we could join in the fun. Sadly, we were still young to be allowed in. 

With a body builder amongst us, we knew that we were safe from bullies. And the heavily built athletes were prepared to defend their territory, family and brothers when they were in danger. Part of their dressing consisted of vests that revealed big biceps. 

During our time, territory meant everything. We were proud that we could defend our area, friends, integrity and fame, with everything that we had, including fighting, if the need arose. 

I don’t recall any particular fight involving the body builders, because they also had their rules and regulations, which required a lot of personal discipline. But I remember the respect these athletes were accorded, due to their physical build. 

At school, if other pupils knew you were from our area, you were safe, although some other kids abused that privilege by provoking unnecessary fights. 

Fishers of men

Each day, a public Zupco bus left Market Square station in Harare, destined for lake Chivero, the dam that supplies water to Harare, as well as recreational facilities. Fishing roads made of bamboo were suspended on the bus. Other fishermen, coming from different locations across the city were already on the bus. 

The bus travelled along Bulawayo Road, picking more passengers at different stops, starting with Warren Park. In Kuwadzana, a group of fishermen, including beginners waited patiently, a few meters from the Holland turnoff.

At the bus stop, more people got inside. Aleck and his friends were sometimes part of the fishermen. Back on the road, the bus went past the Lion and Cheetah Park, others dropped off at Hunyani River. 

At Turnpike, it turned left towards some favourate fishing spots, For the whole day, the men and boys engaged in float fishing, until sunset when the bus returned to collect them.     

Fishing was both a hobby and a source of income for some families. However, it was a game that demanded loads of patience. It was common to see men in a single file, energetically riding on black bicycles towards the dam. 

Of course, some were reportedly using illegal fishing nets, but the rest made an honest living. Enterprising fishermen reportedly built houses through fishing. Years later, like the biblical fishermen, Aleck would later convert to Christianity, convincing other souls to join him.          

Friends to the end

Our family left Kuwadzana at the end of 1993. That move separated us from many friends, but we also made some new ones. In 1996, I was back in Kuwadzana to attend a funeral. On this rare visit, I discovered that many other families had left the area. After that sad episode, my visits became erratic.  

Thankfully, social media, especially Facebook, later reunited us. Years after separation, I befriended Aleck on Facebook. Predictably, his first question was: “Where is your elder brother?” After all these years, he still remembered everyone in my family. 

I gave him my brother’s contacts, and the two renewed their lost friendship. Although I did not overhear the conversation between the two, I am sure the name ‘Chindanga’ was resurrected.  

Before Aleck’s death, he had invited my elder brother to visit him in Durban. When he heard the news about his death, he was devastated, everyone was, including my young brother, who was in regular contact with Aleck. 

Through Aleck, I have learned that some friendships are made to last, even though they may be temporarily broken. To me, Aleck was a brother, one who could share his thoughts, for example, the death of his daughter.   

The last dance

Aleck was born in January 1972. This year, 2022, he turned 50 years old. A month later, on February 27, he collapsed and was pronounced dead due to a heart alignment. 

To many, including his new wife, children, family and friends, he had lots of promises, a hard worker, who sought to succeed spiritually, physically and financially. Sadly, his wishes were cut short, leaving us his rare, special gift of networking. 

Back in our days, before the coming of CDs, if you placed a cassette into the cassette player, you could either pause, play, rewind or fast forward it – the choice was yours. Unfortunately, in life, we have limited options. 

God, the author of life, pressed play when Aleck was born. Along the way, he went through some challenges, but God kept him alive. When God saw it fit, He pushed the stop button, without a warning or approval from anyone.

And on that day, Aleck transformed into another world. Yes, we have every right to mourn, wish for more time together, but all that we can control now are the memories. His life on this earth, our relationships, both happy or sad movements will continue to play and replay inside us, like a flawless song. 

The infectious smile, followed by an echoing laugh, will remind us that life on earth is temporary. We are on a journey that will come to a pause.  

Carving a legacy    

For this story, I have captured the few moments I still recall about Aleck, however, his life had numerous chapters. Like an old cassette, my account might have skipped some episodes, not by choice, but due to the time frame. Most of these events occurred over 34 years ago when I was aged 9 years old before we left the suburb in 1993.

In 2018, I was in Kuwadzana for an erratic, formal visit. Again, this was a chance to revisit the past. Three years later, on March 6, I returned to a place that carries part of our history. On my way, at the outskirts of the suburb, just opposite Kuwadzana 3 Primary lies a range of hills rich in soapstone deposits. 

As daring young boys, we often climbed at the summit, kilometres from home to harvest soapstone to make our own artifacts. Further down these hills is the Warren Hills Cemetery, a place where famous names are buried. 

As part of the convoy of mourners bidding farewell to Aleck, my mind raced back in time, retracing the old days, the battles we had fought and won – the unwritten history that had shaped the lives of famous personalities born and bred in Kuwadzana.  

Finally, we reached the gravesite, encircled by mounds of red soil, ready to swallow his remains. A few paces away, Zex Manatsa, the famous entertainer of the 80s is buried. George Shaya, the late eminent footballer’s grave is further down. To me, this lineup was not an accident for Aleck to rest next to some local heroes.   

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