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What was it about Steven Kanumba, actor and producer?

You must have heard of the fruit company Apple Inc. that sells Apples which are not edible, I-phones that play I-tunes but refuse to communicate with Blackberries via Bluetooth as Sam sings about Samsung Anyways, Steve Charles Kanumba – call him SCK -- came from some village in Shy-bush, I mean Shinyanga.  

He never saw the inside of a Harvard University lecture room, but could make up stories about everyday life that resonate well with many folks in Eastern Africa.  DVD shopkeepers in Zanzibar claimed recently that it is the popularity of Kanumba’s movies which kept their shops in business and enables them to put food on the table. Shopkeepers must know which side their bread is buttered.

SCK wrote, produced, directed and starred in many of his movies, a bit like my favourite film director Spike Lee.  In a brief career spanning only a few years, SCK managed to capture the imaginations of many movie lovers in DR Congo, Zambia, Rwanda, Burundi, his native Tanzania, Nigeria and even as far away as USA.  

Yes, you can find Kanumba’s DVDs being sold and possibly bootlegged by enterprising boys and girls in America and Europe. Tanzania lacks the means to promote and sell brand Tanzania with Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar in the minestrone a la coconut.

Kenya probably sells the Kilimanjaro and Serengeti more effectively to tourists. To sell a few hundred copies of a local movie on DVD is a Herculean effort only achievable by a modern terminator of Hollywood fame.  That Steve Kanumba managed to outsell Nigerian DVDs that sell for half the price of his DVDs speaks volumes about his ability to entertain, educate and captivate his audiences.  

SCK was no Steven Spielberg making hundreds of blockbuster movies for screens large and small, and earning academy awards and millions of dollars for the movie industry.  SCK’s few creations have stirred the imaginations of maids in Dar es Salaam and fellow actors visiting Manhattan, so much that Tanzania started dreaming of Tollywood.  

When SKC unexpectedly died recently, many East Africans in general and Tanzanians in particular were caught completely by surprise. Hundreds flocked to his modest home in Sinza suburb in Dar es Salaam to mourn for the loss of their hero. Organizers completely mis-anticipated the huge turnout of mourning fans.

The Leaders’ club was convenient but proved totally inadequate.  Had he been a national leader he would probably have been bid farewell at the higher-capacity national stadium.  Had the process of paying last respects been allowed to proceed to its logical conclusion, Kanumba would probably have been buried at night.

But having seen him at the Club, many fans would have chosen to go home knowing it would be impossible to follow the proceedings at the Kinondoni cemetery.  Organizers may have realized paying last respects would take forever if everyone was allowed to file past the coffin.

Hundreds of thousands of men and women flocked from every direction in Dar and converged at the cemetery.  Crowd control became an exercise in futility.  Have lessons been learnt in case another hero of the people dies? How many of the national leaders who attended really loved SKC or his movies like some ordinary folks in this land of Lake Manyara national park and the Selous do? Many folks did not believe he was really dead.  

Like doubting Thomases, they rushed to the cemetery to prove for themselves. A maid I met after the funeral told her boss her appetite for work was gone that week; her heart was where his family and fans were burying Kanumba. She had watched some of his movies at a neighbour’s house and became hooked for life.  

Travelling from Tabata to Kinondoni she hoped and prayed that the death was just a bad rumour.  When she saw the crowds on Kinondoni road, she believed he was really dead and became very sad.  On the way some people told the swelling crowds their hero was already buried so they should go home.  

But the maid kept going and her name is not Devota. At the cemetery she pushed and shoved till she got close to the grave.   There she saw a vendor of bottled water handing bottles to buyers but was taking no money.   He just gave the water free to whoever asked to buy.  He had sold enough for the bus fare home, some 2,000/- which he was holding tightly in one hand.  A visiting preacher went for a haircut and found the barber dosing on a chair.

When the preacher asked whether he could have a haircut, the barber retorted, what was the use of working hard for money when he could die young and leave everything here like Kanumba?   After the haircut the barber told the preacher to pay only 2,000/- instead of the usual 6,000/- for services rendered. Did local barber shops give massive discounts when Whitney Houston was buried?

Or did rich supermarkets give away drinking water when Michael Jackson died? This poor but devoted fan of Kanumba gave his water away happily. As Waswahili say, the good ones die off early. Or if I may add, they die at Easter like Pope John, our Abeid Karume and Eddy Sokoine and now Kanumba.

Yes, the good ones die early leaving the bad and mediocre – that is us -- surviving on borrowed time.  Goodbye Steve Charles. Did you leave too early? For God there is never too early or too late.  It is just God’s time.  Otherwise we would have petitioned Almighty Allah, God of all nations to lodge an appeal for your return.  


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