Andile Tshuma
Why do we have a sad tendency of celebrating our legends when they are dead?

Zimbabweans have adroitly perfected the art of celebrating a person when they have departed from the land of the living. They all come out in numbers to pour out their hearts and give a sterling performance of speeches and tears.

Is it not better to honour our legends while they live other than waiting to express veritable avalanche of accolades when they are no more?

Humans will want to gather around and compete to deliver heart-rending speeches at the gravesides of great statement, however, few would bother to show some appreciation when these people are still alive to smell their roses.

One person who comes to mind is Mr Pathisa Nyathi. He was recently bestowed the lifetime achievement award at the Roil Bulawayo Arts Awards and this was really well deserved.

However, with all the works he has contributed in arts, culture and academia, it baffles one to think of why he is not yet Dr Nyathi.

Academic institutions in the country queue to confer honorary degrees to some people whose credentials may be questioned, as far as serving their communities. However, ubaba uNyathi needs no introduction.

The man who has penned over 50 books and thousands of articles in his lifetime, is yet to get such an honour from any of our academic institutions. Why?

Who gets to decide who is worthy of an honorary degree? If the likes of ubaba uNyathi and their contribution to the nation are not deserving of such honour, well then, who is?

Come to think of it, how many theses have been completed all from his work? We have so many historians, culturists, journalists and arts academics who have devoted their academic pursuits to the works of Pathisa Nyathi. Some are now professors.

A snap survey at the city’s libraries and research centres showed that ubaba uNyathi’s works are very popular and are well sought after by casual readers and also academics.

This is one man who has been able to write for all generations, from the book series for tiny tots such as the children’s title uFikile Nyathi named after his last born daughter, to other works for seasoned readers such as those on Ndebele Heritage.

This man has penned a column at Zimpapers for more than 27 years. Consistently.

Yet, his name is missing from the list of great men who have been honoured with honorary doctorates in the country.

It stinks.

Not that he may have done it for praise or that this publication assumes he is hungry for a thank you, but it is our obligation as society to give credit where it is due.

Most of the available documentation of the different ethnic groups in the country, especially in the southern region, has been documented by uNyathi, over decades.

What could be even more shameful is that the man, our living legend, seems to be more celebrated in the literary in the international scene than he is appreciated at home. Is it because as a country we do not place as much importance on books, in publishing?

Right now, children from all over have been enjoying trips to Amagugu International Heritage site, where they get immersed in culture and are taught about national heritage. But not enough noise has been made about it and his works.

There is need for a new narrative, Zimbabweans need to celebrate and appreciate their heroes more.

Why wait to shed tears and give Oscar award-winning speeches and get a standing ovation, all for someone who will never get to hear the good words.

Our writers, artistes, musicians need to hear the thank yous and praises during their lifetimes. Because at their graveside, they will not even see the tears, or hear the cries. It will all just be in vain, to ease the conscience.

One would not be wrong to label Mr Nyathi a walking encyclopaedia. Just spending an hour with him, talking about life, rather, him talking and you listening, is sure not to leave you the same. His presence is just different. It has to be something about his passion, his dedication or his resilience — the energy is just contagious, it has a motivational, wowing and inspirational effect.

Yet, there he is, without a single institution out of all of the state universities and private institutions, having conferred an honorary doctorate.

Like it or not, he is Dr Nyathi. Actually, he may as well even be Professor Nyathi. After all, man’s greatness does not always have to wait for approval of certain societal institutions. The great shall stand great even without recognition from the so called Kingmakers.

As the American scholar Benjamin Franklin posits that “if you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading or do things worth the writing”.

Mr Nyathi has done both, and as he said in one of his many interviews, he feels he has attained immortality. He couldn’t be more right.

As he is on the eve of his 70th birthday (July baby), he surely deserves a big birthday present from the many institutions that have benefited so much from his work. Heavens must have smiled at the village of Sankonjana when Mr Nyathi was born. — @andile_tshuma.