An artiste, prophet, in­yanga all in one

Sunday News (Zimbabwe) - - Soccer Rugby Sport - Se­nior Life Re­porter

MANY came to know the late Richard Phiri, warmly known as Micah from the early 2000s lo­cal hit TV drama se­ries Amako­rokoza, as a co­me­dian, or a care­free char­ac­ter who took even the most se­ri­ous of is­sues in a light hearted man­ner.

A co­me­dian by pro­fes­sion, Phiri lived up to his worth in the eyes of his many fans, with his epit­ome be­ing that of his epic fea­ture on Amako­rokoza, where he played Micah, a sneaky and sar­cas­tic farm hand that was al­ways caught up in con­tro­ver­sial il­le­gal gold deal­ings.

. . . But his real life story is one that many peo­ple never knew.

Born in 1955 in the City of Kings, Phiri grew up to be a man that many peo­ple looked up to, a re­spectable man in his neigh­bour­hood — Mpopoma, where till the time of his death, was iconised as a dis­tin­guished res­i­dent, who many could turn to in time of need.

His nephew, Michael Mh­langa (MM), whom he was very close to spoke to Sun­day Life’s se­nior re­porter Peter Matika (PM) last Fri­day about his late un­cle’s larger than life char­ac­ter, where he de­scribed him as hum­ble but yet ad­ven­tur­ous.

PM: It is with great sad­ness to have to meet un­der such cir­cum­stances. Phiri was a man who was loved by ev­ery­body; he had the abil­ity to turn a frown up­side down. Many of us never re­ally knew his per­sonal side but knew him as a ta­lented artiste. It would be very hum­bling to the world to re­ally learn what type of a per­son he was.

MM: In­deed, he was a great man. He was a fa­ther, not just to his im­me­di­ate fam­ily but to his ex­tended fam­ily as well. Even to the com­mu­nity. Af­ter the loss of our grand­fa­ther, he as­sumed the role of be­ing ev­ery­body’s fa­ther. He looked af­ter all of us. Back then he was mar­ried to El­iz­a­beth Mpala, whom he mar­ried in 1978. They had a daugh­ter to­gether Prisca Phiri, who is mar­ried and lives in South Africa. As life pro­gressed and with the turn of fate, af­ter I lost my dad, he be­came a fa­ther fig­ure in my fam­ily. He worked hard; he paid for our up­keep, paid our fees and al­ways made sure there was food on the ta­ble.

PM: That is quite in­ter­est­ing, to learn that a man who al­ways kept a smile on his face car­ried such a bur­den on his shoul­ders.

MM: Af­ter he and his first wife parted ways he then re­mar­ried. He set­tled down with Abi­gail Tshuma, and had two chil­dren. She is the woman he was liv­ing with till the time of his death.

He car­ried with him so many bur­dens but never showed or broke a sweat from it. He was our fa­ther in the fam­ily and even in the com­mu­nity of Mpopoma.

PM: Be­sides all that what type of a man was he and what did he do out­side the arts?

MM: Out­side the show­biz and arts he loved car­pen­try. Be­fore I go there be­fore that era of his life, he ac­tu­ally was in the army. He en­listed in 1975 but later re­signed in 1980 where he fo­cused his en­ergy on car­pen­try, while pur­su­ing his com­edy.

PM: He was such a hum­ble and care­free char­ac­ter, but apart from all that how else did he live his life?

MM: (Laugh­ing) There’s a side of his life that we as a fam­ily al­ways make fun of and laugh about.

At one time he founded a church in Ku­malo sub­urb. An Apos­tolic Faith Church, where he pro­claimed him­self a prophet and went by the name Baba Ny­oni, af­ter he told us that he had an epiphany, were he says he saw the Holy Ghost com­ing to him in the form of a bird. He ran the church for three years and re­ally had a fol­low­ing. Also he worked as a gar­dener in Ku­malo for a very long time, it was ac­tu­ally from the 80s to the late 90s.

PM: Now that is quite funny. No one would have ever thought that of him.

MM: There­after he then claimed to have had an­other epiphany, where he then be­came a tra­di­tional healer. He called him­self Baba Khu­malo, af­ter he said he had traced his an­ces­tral roots to the Khu­malo fam­ily and that the an­ces­tors had spo­ken to him, telling him to cor­rect him­self and an­swer to his true call­ing. He was a tra­di­tional healer for about two years. Af­ter that he then left that life and fo­cused his en­ergy on his God­given tal­ent in the arts and show­biz. That is when he joined the Amako­rokoza cast.

He also fea­tured on the Ing­webu Iyab­ha­lansa ad­vert.

PM: The man re­ally lived an ad­ven­tur­ous and event­ful life. He ex­pe­ri­enced it all.

MM: True, he en­joyed his life. But af­ter he fell ill, his life took a dip. When he first fell ill he was in de­nial and was at conflict men­tally, with him be­ing a tra­di­tion­al­ist, he never wanted to seek med­i­cal at­ten­tion. He lit­er­ally re­fused to be taken to hospi­tal. He only agreed when I spoke to him and that is when he ex­pe­ri­enced a se­vere bout of di­a­hor­rea. That was in 2004. At that time he was us­ing herbs to treat him­self but they ren­dered use­less. Af­ter he re­cu­per­ated he then stopped tak­ing his med­i­ca­tion. In 2007 he then fell ill again. This time it was ex­treme and we thought he would die. His daugh­ter then came from South Africa to as­sist. We opened a funeral pol­icy for him, as we were not sure of the out­come. Sur­pris­ingly he got bet­ter and started work­ing on his com­edy again, vis­it­ing dif­fer­ent schools to make ends meet. How­ever, in 2016 he fell ill again and this time he suf­fered TB. It ren­dered him bed rid­den and he needed con­stant care. He was un­able to do any­thing lit­er­ally. That is when he was now liv­ing in Em­gan­wini but we moved him back to Mpopoma. He had lost a lot of weight and was just gaunt. He got bet­ter and went back again to com­edy walk­ing from dif­fer­ent neigh­bour­hoods and schools. He never be­lieved in com­mut­ing.

This year he how­ever, fell ex­tremely ill, the neigh­bour­hood, be­cause we be­lieve in fam­ily val­ues, joined hands and came to as­sist till the time of his death.

PM: It is re­ally such a sad sce­nario to have such a larger than life char­ac­ter hav­ing to suf­fer so much.

MM: Ac­tu­ally on his deathbed he com­plained and con­demned the lack of ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the arts in­dus­try in the coun­try. He said if it was as lu­cra­tive as other in­dus­tries artistes wouldn’t die as pau­pers. He wished the arts would be ap­pre­ci­ated and be pay­ing to avoid such in­stances as his.

PM: True, it is such a sad phe­nom­e­non. May his soul rest in eter­nal peace.

Phiri was born on 8 May 1955 at Mpilo Cen­tral Hospi­tal in Bu­l­awayo and learnt at Lukhany­iso Pri­mary and Msiteli High schools in Mpopoma. He worked for the then Rhode­sian Army in the sig­nals band and was a self-taught car­pen­ter.

He joined the then Amakhosi Arts Cen­tre in 1992, but his act­ing ca­reer stretched as far as 1968 where he acted with the late co­me­dian Michael Madlez’babayo” Moyo do­ing street theatre and stage acts in schools and com­mu­nity halls.

Phiri is sur­vived by two daugh­ters, a son and two grand­chil­dren. He was laid to rest last Mon­day in Bu­l­awayo.

Peter Matika

Richard ‘‘Micah’’ Phiri

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