I was born on the 29th of March, 1976, the eldest child of Samuel Musodza (1949-2004) and Catherine ( née Muramba, 1955) at Harare Hospital (then the main hospital for Black people), Salisbury (now Harare), Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). My father named me Julius, after the Roman general. My mother named me Masimba (the Might [of God]). I had what is called a breach birth, and the doctor told my parents that there was a greater chance that I would not last the week, but she replied, "By the Might of God, my son shall live." Which is what I have been doing ever since
Emergent hip-hop artist Twan Afriqa is my youngest sibling, while Australia-based model Faro is a first cousin ("sister" in our more elaborate kinship system). The only other Zimbabwean family where one brother is a writer and another is a performing and recording artiste are the Moyos, who gave us novelist and dramatist Aaron Chiundura Moyo and the leader of the Devera Ngwenya Express, Jonah Moyo. I have several other distinguished relatives, but these two stand out because they have chosen careers in the arts and entertainment. I am of the Buja ethnic group. I am a patrilineal descendant of the legendary founder of the Buja people, Nehoreka the son of Mukombwe, who led the migration from Mhingari. ( I guess that makes me a five hundred and thirty-something in line to the throne) On my mother’s side, I am of the VaHera people, directly descended from Nyashanu and his anonymous Khoisan wife.
Born on the cusp of the country's emergence from colonial and white settler minority rule, I was educated at Avondale Primary School in Harare and St Mary Magdalene's High School in Nyanga before studying Filmmaking at Vision Valley Film, Video & Television Institute. My family were United Methodist. As a child, I played at the feet of Bishop Abel Muzorewa while he delivered a sermon, with no idea at all that this man had been our country’s Prime Minister during my own infancy.
Zimbabweans are often deplored for the lack of a reading culture, despite the country’s much-vaunted 98% literacy rate. However, books were a feature of life in the Musodza household from an early age. I recall distinctly the first book I ever got, after I impressed my great-uncle, the late Raphael Chimhanda, by being able to read. He was a headmaster, so he handed me a junior school textbook. In no time, I had mastered all the words. It was clearly way beyond what was considered the normal reading age (I wasn't going to school yet) for I will never forget the look on my mother's face when she saw me reading. When my father came home from work, they argued at length, she insisting that she had seen what she had seen and he maintained that such was not possible. Then, my father tested my reading skills and had to admit that I really could read well. The next day, he brought home some Ladybird books and a book adaptation of the TV series, Elephant Boy. Fuel for a growing imagination. So too was the continuation of the ancient custom of telling folk stories.
At around this time, our family moved from Chitungwiza, the so-called dormitory town because it was built to house Black workers who commuted to the then Salisbury as part of the Rhodesia settler regime’s policy of racial segregation, to live in Avondale, a hitherto Whites-only suburb in Harare. In this privileged environment, I had greater access to books than the average Zimbabwean boy of that period. There were bookstores, our school had a library, and every Saturday, our father took us to the Harare City Library near Rotten Row. At Avondale Primary School, they initiated the U.S.S.R. (Uninterrupted Silent Sustained Reading) programme. A bell would go off, and every pupil had to produce a book from their desk or satchel and start reading. If you did not have a book, or, if you tried to be pert by bringing out a book for younger readers or a comic book or one of those annuals based on a popular TV series, you got detention. So, there was plenty to read at home and at school.
A third source of fuel for the imagination of the young was television. I started to make up my own stories based on favourite TV shows such as 240 Robert. It was at around the same time that I stayed up late with my younger brother, Kudzai, and watched the dramatisation of Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot. My father, was on one his trips outside Harare, so we begged my mother to allow us to watch it. If she had known what it was about, it is highly unlikely that she would have indulged us. For obvious reasons, we were not allowed to watch the second episode, especially as my brother became what the ZBC programme announcer would describe as a person of “a nervous disposition.” But the spark had been ignited. The following year, aged 10, I used my prize voucher to purchase Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein at Evans Shepherd on George Silundika Ave. The book not only inspired an abiding interest in not just horror and science-fiction, but also in scientific research, such that for much of my childhood, I wanted to be a scientist. It was only when I was at secondary school that I realised that I was going to be a writer.
There can be no question that much of the literature I was exposed to was Eurocentric. Today, we have experts banging on about how Eurocentric images in the media engender “self-hatred” among non-White people. Yet, when I look back, I don’t think there was anything wrong with those books or the films in that sense. I was a fan of the American cartoon, He-Man, and identified with him, fashioning my own magic sword which I would raise and shout “By the Power of Greyskull….” Yet it in never occurred to me to clothe that identification in terms of not just my skin colour or the fact that I was never going to have massive biceps. I can look at my own experience and seriously question, for instance, the hordes of social justice warriors who claim that problems of self-esteem in Black people, in girls, in everyone, can be blamed squarely on blonde, well-toned heroes on TV. It was only when I came to England that I found out that Enid Blyton’s books were racist, sexist, elitist and generally inappropriate for children.
The Old Man: Samuel S.Musodza (1949-2004). My father was a senior civil servant with the Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development and an avid bibliophile.
Momstren. Catherine Musodza (1955-)
Aged 4, with my brother, Kudzi, 2, and our minder, Sisi Theresa.
Reconciliation and intergration. Kudzai and I went to Emblem Nursery School, Avondale, which had hitherto been reserved for White children. One of the other few Black children in the same year was the son of singer Fungai Malianga.