As a small boy, Jephta became well known for truancy and absenteism at Tumba Primary Skool. He preferred spending his time out in the wild trapping mice and shooting birds with a catapult, as opposed to the classroom tedium at the hands of bullying schoolmasters.
He would sell the mice he would have caught and the birds he would have shot, and using the money he would have earned from selling his forest kill, he would buy sweets and penny cool drinks and have a helluva good time at Chirashavana Township, as it then was.
The Tumba Primary school authorities hunted him down and he evaded them, and when they caught him, he was spanked in front of the whole school as an example and as a lesson to all the other students of what befalls you if you run away from skool.
lt was a public shame.
But Jephta always went back to his absconding ways, as the freedom of the bush and the rewards of the sweet little things of Chirashavana Township were altogether irresistible, and far outweighed the shame, pain and humiliation of a public spanking in front of the skool.
He was an outlaw. He was a hustler. He was the little Robin Hood of rural Chirashavana.
Many years later, significant things happened. A country called Zimbabwe was born in 1980 after a protracted war of liberation from colonial bondage. Chirashavana Township was renamed Tongogara Growth Point. A boarding skool called Tongogara High Skool was built near the growth point. A small police station was constructed at Tongogara.
And Jephta, who had become a grown man now, got a job at Tongogara High Skool as a hostel janitor.
Jephta still enjoyed the good things in life. He was the chief patron of the bars and bottle stores that had sprouted at Tongogara Growth Point. He was a member of the secret gambling school which operated under cover of darkness at the rock boulders behind Tongogara Growth Point. He shone in the Tongogara elders soccer team. He bet and won money at darts, flipper and draught. He lived on the edge, and enjoyed it.
Brushes between Jephta and the law were inevitable. He was arrested by Tongogara police a couple of times for public drinking, and for contravening the Miscelleneous Offences Act, and in all instances, he paid a fine at the police and returned to his life of exhilerating existence.
One evening, someone broke into the home of Mandizvidza and stole household furniture which included a kitchen cabinet, a table and chairs, and a lounge suite.
Mandizvidza is a shona name which means, depending on the context; “you have belittled me,” or “you have underrated me.” Whatever the context, the word has connotations of underestimating one’s opponent.
Mandizvidza himself and his whole family were not at home on the night of the theft, but were in Bulawayo where Mandizvidza worked.
A small girl clad in an ill-fitting green and white uniform who was enroute to Tongogara High Skool passed through Mandizvidza’’s homestead the following morning and discovered the break-in. She alerted Tongogara police.
Two constables were assigned to investigate the theft.
They managed to contact Mandizvidza in Bulawayo telephonically and advised him of his misfortune.
They attended the scene and made preliminary enquiries but could not get any lead.
Two days after the break-in, the two constables still had no idea of who had done the deed. They however suspected that the thief was a local person who knew that Mandizvidza and his family were away and capitalised on his absence to literally raze his entire household.
They therefore decided to patronise the local bars at Tongogara in search of information which may give them a lead.
Late in the evening, Jephta walked into Nyaguze bottle store where the two constables were drinking beer. Jephta was tipsy and delirious with joy. He bought beer for everyone present, except the two constables. He produced a thick wad of cash and paid for the beer, all the while cracking jokes about the invincibility of outlaws in general and the ineptitude of the authorities.
Everyone laughed, except the two constables.
Jephta bade farewell to the patrons and promised to buy more beer for them the following day, and as he staggered out of the bottle store, he shouted;
“Jephta the jubilant is
chicanery are the
names of my game
Catch me then, if you
think you can.”
And he vanished into the night.
The two constables left Nyaguze bottle store immediately thereafter.
The next morning the two constables arrested Jephta at his home as he prepared to go to work. They locked him in the police cells at Tongogara after charging him with the “unlawful entry and theft” which had occured at Mandizvidza’s homestead three days before. They released him and escorted him to Tongogara High Skool on foot, manacled and handcuffed, and ordered him to hand over the hostel linen, detergents and the hostel keys to the skool authorities, while all the time they shouted at him;
“Make it quick thief,
we dont have the whole
day. No thief can outwit
the police. You are
Students, teachers and the skool support staff watched the proceedings in stunned silence.
Jephta and the shame of public humiliation at skools were inseperable compatriots.
The two constables put Jephta back in the police cells, but Jephta refused to confess to the crime, and insisted that he was innocent.
Meanwhile, Mandizvidza arrived at Tongogara from Bulawayo and was surprised to hear that Jephta had been arrested for the break-in that had occured at his homestead.
He knew Jephta well. After all they had grown up in the same village and had played soccer together and had teamed up often to trap mice. Whilst he knew that Jephta was a free spirit who generally defied authority, he wasn’t sure that he would go to the extent of stealing from his neighbour. But you couldn’t be entirely certain with human nature. He decided to approach the issue with an open mind.
After reviewing the details of the case with the police, Mandizvidza walked to the growth point and bought a beer and sat alone.
He was engrossed in thought.
He reasoned that the person who stole from him, whether it was Jephta or someone else, needed transport to succeed in the heist. Otherwise, how else could that person have carried the lounge suite, the table and chairs, and the kitchen cabinet from the scene?
He must have used a scotchcart, or maybe a truck?
He started asking people who parked trucks for hire at Tongogara, whether anyone had sought their services to ferry property from his homested three nights ago. No one had, but one of the truck drivers remembered seeing an assortment of household goods heaped at the Tongogara bus terminus in the wee hours of the morning a few days ago, and wondered how they got there, when no one had given him the business to ferry them there.
Although he still didn’t know how they had been brought to Tongogara, Mandizvidza now knew that his goods must have been ferried away from Tongogara to an unknown destination by bus.
He waited for the buses to arrive at Tongogara on their return journey from town. He asked each of the bus crew the same question in turn; had they carried household goods from Tongogara three days ago?
The crew of the first bus had not, the crew of the second bus had not, but the conductor of the third bus remembered something. Yes, someone had loaded household furniture at Tongogara three days before, and he had offloaded the goods in Gweru. He remembered him because he was unkempt and had a torn wet towel tied around his head, and he wondered to himself how such a backward and impoverished man could afford to buy all those goods.
Mandizvidza thanked the conductor and retired to his home for the night. lt was nearly sunset and too late for him to do anything else that same day. As he slept in his empty house, he knew that he had a concrete lead, and needed to get to Gweru as quickly as possible.
Mandizvidza arrived in Gweru from Tongogara at around 7:00 hrs the following day.
He disembarked at Kudzanayi Bus Terminus. He had a clear cut plan of action.
He knew that Kudzanayi Bus Teminus was infested with jobless youths who were known for their rowdy and aggressive and sometimes violent behaviour. Some bus companies hired these youths so that these disorderly youths could use their unorthodox methods to “persuade” passengers to board their own buses and spurn those of their competitors. These youths became known as touts, and they sometimes assisted passengers to load and offload goods from the bus carrier, for a fee.
Some of them owned pushcarts, which they used to carry luggage for passengers from one point to onether, again for a fee.
Mandizvidza also knew that although they were rude and obnoxious, the touts were the people who had information about what happened to his property after it reached Gweru. But they had to be approached with caution.
Mandizvidza began his enquiries with polite tact. He started conversations with the touts, and enquired how business was doing. As if it was an afterthought, he’d mention that he didn’t quite remember the person who had helped his guys offload household furniture from a Marongwe bus which had travelled from Tongogara some four days ago. He wanted to thank the person who had helped him with something to quench his thirst with.
On hearing this, all the touts he spoke with became interested and were more than willing to help. According to the unwritten code of touts, any tout who brought business or information to onether tout, which resulted in money exchanging hands, automatically became entitled to participate in the proceeds of the deal. All the touts who Mandizvidza spoke with concerning his quest thus promised to find out and revert.
ln less than three hours, Mandizvidza had found his man. He was brought to him by one of the touts he had spoken to earlier. Upon being probed politely by Mandizvidza, the tout boastfully gave a detailed description of the goods he had offloaded, and to prove that he knew what he was talking about, he told Mandizvidza that he had ferried the goods using his pushcart to a house in Mambo residential suburb.
They were his goods alright.
Mandizvidza’s heart started pounding with both excitement and fear. He pushed these emotions aside and forced his brain to engage in the process of rational thought.
Touts hated the police. Touts and police were always engaged in cat and mouse games, with the police trying to get rid of them from the bus termini, while the touts resisted this attempt to terminate their source of livelihood. lf he mentioned the word theft or police, the tout would immediately either disappear or refuse to cooperate. The vital link to the recovery of his property would vanish.
Mandizvidza calmly invited the tout into nearby Kudzanayi bar for a drink.
Over a mug of frothing go-beer, Mandizvidza befriended the tout and slipped a five dollar note into his hardened and calloused palm. He asked the tout whether he was available to assist him, for an additional fee, to move the property from where he had left it to a different house. The tout readily agreed.
Off then to Mambo the tout and Mandizvidza went.
The owner of the house where the tout left Mandizvidza’s property was present. He explained that the gentleman who rented his two backrooms had gone out in the morning, and he didnt know what time he would be back.
Before they left, Mandizvidza managed to peep into one of the backrooms and clearly saw his wife’s kithen cabinet, and the crooked nail he personally once drove into its rear when he repaired it.
The tout and Mandizvidza parted ways, after Mandizvidza promised to get in touch with him as soon as “his” guy came back with the keys.
Mandizvidza himself rushed to nearby Mtapa police and presented his story.
He was given two police officers and together they went back to the thief’s den and hid a distance away and watched the house.
Around 15:00 hrs, a man who had a towel tied around his head walked past their hiding post. Mandizvidza recognised him instantly.
Mandizvidza used to see the man quite frequently at Tongogara Growth Point where the man had become famous because of his rhumba dancing skill. The towel which he always tied around his head was his trademark, and oh boy the man could dance. Each time he came to Tongogara and danced to rhumba music, a large cheering crowd always formed around him, and the crowd would urge him on by tossing coins and cigarettes into his dancing ring.
Mandizvidza didn’t know the man’s name, but knew that he was employed somewhere in Gonye Village as a herdboy.
We will therefore call him “The Rhumba Dancer.”
The Rhumba Dancer walked straight to the house in which Mandizvidza’s stolen property was concealed, unlocked and opened the door, and disappeared inside.
And the two police officers pounced. The Rhumba Dancer did not resist.
When The Rhumba Dancer was brought face to face with Mandizvidza by the police, he laughed. l didnt think you would catch me, he said. l planned everything carefully and used my employer’s scotchcart to ferry the goods from your homestead to Tongogara in the thick of night. lt took three loads to complete the task. l just managed to catch the earliest bus to town which leaves Tongogara at 4:30 am after l had returned my employer’s scotchcart and oxen to his home. But how did you catch me when l did everything under the cover of darkness?, he asked.
lt no longer matters, Mandizvidza answered him, but do you know that Jephta was arrested and is presently in police custody for this same offence?, Mandizvidza countered.
The Rhumba Dancer laughed again and said; Jephta is not brave enough to do a man’s job like this one. He drinks too much and talks too much, no wonder why he has been arrested for what he didn’t do.
After a long silence, The Rhumba Dancer spoke again; sorry Mandizvidza l stole from you, he said. All l wanted was to break away from the ignominy of being a rural herdboy, and start a new life in town as a rhumba dancer, something which l love and enjoy, something which was going to bring me fame, and tonite was supposed to be my first professional perfomance at Mtapa Hall. But l guess all is now lost as l have been caught and have to pay for my sins.
The Rhumba Dancer was thus detained at Mtapa Police.
Mandizvidza kept his promise to the tout and hired him to ferry and load the furniture which he had recovered onto the Marongwe bus which left Gweru for Tongogara at 19:00 hrs.
At about the same time, the two constables released Jephta from the cells of Tongogara Police station, after they had received a phone call from Mtapa Police which informed them that the real culprit had been caught, and had given the police a detailed confession of how he committed the offence, and that all the stolen property had been recovered.
A few days after his release, Jephta went to see his uncle who was a lawyer and narrated his ordeal at the hands of the police. Uncle Lawyer said;
“Leave everything to
me, l will teach the
bastards a lesson, and
you and me will have
the last laugh.”
Uncle Lawyer did not waste time and instituted Court proceedings against the two Tongogara constables to recover damages for “public shame, humiliation, unlawful detention and deprivation of liberty.”
The lawsuit was successful, and the Court granted Jephta a substantial monetary award. After Uncle Lawyer had delivered Jephta’s money to him at Tongogara Growth Point, Jephta could be heard singing;
“Jephta the jubilant will
surely make you pay
lf you dont know what
you do or what you say”
And so Jephta the jubilant thus sang: for public shame can sometimes pay, and the desire for public fame can sometimes bring shame.