Words will fail dismally to explain how I am feeling or thinking at this very moment. If the tables were turned and Russell was tasked to write this ODE for me, he would do so with gigantic charisma, because if truth be told, his pen game was off the hook!! Therefore you best believe it when I say, I am unworthy to write this on his behalf, but I owe him this much at-least, so I will give it a shot to the fullest extent of my abilities.
Ghetto recognizes Ghetto: I met Russell early in 2019. And his first words to me were, “I think I remember you from Zingwangwa, you and your parents lived on so and so’s plot”. It was shocking to note that he remembered my mum more than he did me. And I gave him a resounding yes and We laughed like crazy and went on to talk about life in the ghetto. In the ghetto we never used to have streets nor addresses, your home was identified by the name Of your land lord, case closed. So that’s how we hit it off, from then on, he got interested in my publications and we started sharing ideas.You see, Russell, had this demeanor about him, he had the ability of giving you an idea in the most subtle and humble ways possible and yet without undermining your authority in the subject matter. So after chatting with him online for a while, I shared with him this idea I had, to have my book, Made to Bloom in the hands of every public secondary school going girl on the land. He quickly jumped on it and gave me ideas on how it could be implemented. He went on to write an article about it in the papers creating publicity and support for the cause.But one of the things that struck me was, his unequivocal benevolence spirit, his ability to give even when he had nothing and without expecting anything in return. A day before we launched the One Girl At A Time initiative at Zingwangwa Secondary School, my airport pick up changed their plans on me at the last minute, I asked Russell to organize another and that I shall pay upon arrival; he agreed. When I arrived, I was surprised to see him at the airport in person, with his beaming smile waiting for me. This was the very first time we were meeting face to face after months of speaking on the phone and chatting on line. I recognized him immediately, he came over and helped me with the bags, and I quickly noted that he was accompanied by a very beautiful girl with beautiful black silky hair. I first thought she was his girlfriend and I stretched out my hand to greet her when he said, “meet my sister, she is the one taking us to town today”. It was at that moment that my heart melted, and I thought to myself, this man I have never met, went out of his way to even get his sister to come and pick me up? Really? Who does that? But that was Russell for you. You would be pleased to note that they both refused any form of payment even though I told them I was still going to pay if I had taken a taxi, they refused totally but eventually agreed to a fuel refund after 3 hours of negotiation.
We got to my hotel, Russell went to town describing the script to me, how he had planned everything from the time we would touch the grounds of the school to the time we would get to the hall to Adress the over 600 anxious girls at my Alma Mater. He was remarkably meticulous as he did so; for him this was work to him and it had to be accurately executed, his way, and I obeyed and followed the leader. By the way, this was after weeks of planning between him and the school management without me. I never even spoke to the school authorities, Russel had it covered, he pushed boundaries and went beyond the call of friendship to get work done, and yet he asked nothing of me, absolutely, nothing! In the morning, the entire team led by uncle P as we fondly call him, Peter Mazunda, showed up at the hotel, we went over the script one more time before we could hit the road, the rest as they say, is history.
After Made to Bloom I went on and published three more books, but there is one particular one that caught Russell’s attention as it so much identified with his person and described ghetto life accurately; The Absalomic Loss. This is a memoir I wrote in honor of my brother who was murdered in South Africa in the year 2016. Russell read the book cover to cover in two hours tops! And the moment he closed the book, he called me up and his first words were, “Mum, I want to be the first to announce to you that you wrote a prolific blockbuster “. He went on to say how he thinks the book must be turned into a movie. Then he went a step further, he wrote a review of the same, published it on his Facebook page and what was shocking to me was his ability to recognize the undertones of the issues I needed to raise in the book without being too forward; Russel picked them up, because he was that smart. He positioned my mother as the hero in the book. To think that at the time he did all of this the guy didn’t even have a degree to his name, was hyperbole. Be that as it may, it suddenly occurred to me that a degree, while it is important, says nothing about your abilities. What a degree does is to give you an oomph in your shoes especially when you are among those without, but it says absolutely nothing about your capabilities. Russell did and achieved more without that paper than other people shall ever do with four or five of those on their walls. It’s completely implausible for anyone to deny that Russell impacted lives in the best way he knew how by just being all that God wanted him to be, paper or no paper. Having being raised in the ghetto, he didn’t deny his background, as a matter of fact he celebrated it daily as that was the very thing that gave hope to others that your ghetto life mattered less but that it was what you were doing at present that would eventually entail whether you led a meaningful life or not, because one can live in the suburbs and still be miserable and one can live in the ghetto and be ghetto fabulous all day every day. By establishing the Ghetto’s Finest brand, he wanted to disabuse the common beliefs out there, that nothing good can come out of the ghetto; well, I guess we now know that that ain’t true and it is a misnomer to harbor such primitive thoughts anyway. As Anyone who grew up in the ghetto would tell you, the ghetto teaches you so many things, and if you survive and come out of it, there is nothing you cannot achieve in life because, Ghetto, siisunga kape!!!
Russell loved hard and his humility was positively contagious. Over the years I saw and got inspired with the love he had for his dear mother. How it would affect him once she was sick. The love he had for his siblings and then the love he had for his sweetheart Jacquline. He also had so much love for strangers and friends, like me. He defended me in places At which I had no voice. He understood and spoke on my behalf so ever kindly when he didn’t even have to. When he met Jacque, he told me about it and his exact words were, “masteni, I think we have finally found Mrs. Chimbayo”. Unfortunately, I never met her in person until the day of their send off, but I followed the lord courtship closely as he would share with me once in a while. As I finished counseling them at their send off, Russell hugged me and thanked me, and I said to him, “go and make me proud”. I was so sure he was going to honor his words to me, he was that sincere, he could waste anything but never his affection towards those he truly loved. Now to think that he has left Jacque as a widow after two days? Nothing could have prepared us more for such an unfashionable departure. Surely, this was not Russell’s plan.
But hear this. When his sister spoke to me, she told me that Russell somehow knew that he was about to die. This was on 3rd of October, a day after his wedding. He handed over his ATM cards and passwords and when he was admitted in the hospital, he handed over his wedding band to his wife and asked her to keep it safe. Why would he do that? I have no responses, but I know this, he was at peace with what was about to happen. The guy saw Angels descending and surrounding his death bed. Russell came face to face with mans greatest existential fear and yet he was at peace with it, he welcomed it with a gigantic smile, it was time to go home, he had finished his race. The reverend who presided over his funeral service and coincidentally the one who had also officiated their wedding a few days earlier, said that he handed over those things because he knew that where he was going, these things didn’t matter there. That hit me, what’s the fuss really about? Why do we get so worked up with things we shall leave behind anyway, what’s really keeping us busy on a daily basis? As we all sat there and listened to speech after speech, testimony after testimony about what kind of a man Russell was and the life he lived, it was undeniable to us all, that he lived his life well. You needed to see the emotions that were evident from his friends and family throughout the funeral, I saw for the first time men, breaking down. Our hearts shuttered into countless pieces as Jacque cried saying her hubby of two days is gone. And everyone who spoke at his funeral did so with heartfelt sincerity.
A few things that I have learnt from this death that I want to share with you all:
1. Time is gone, with each passing day we are getting closer to our end, we must therefore live each day purposefully, no more trivia, we can no longer live with impunity. We must grow up and get down to business
2. Whatever you do while you are alive shall be reflected upon your death. Disengage constantly and reflect. We are in the last days, people no longer lie on funerals
3. You haven’t started living yet if your life means nothing even to a single soul
4. It doesn’t hurt you to be humble; time has a funny way of concealing peoples true destinies, whoever God brings into your life, honor and respect them, they carry a blessing for you that you can only see when you open your heart
5. Ultimately, even with the best medical care all of us will eventually die. Your life must count for something and while you are at it, try to live it well
6. We have no control over how much time we have on earth, so as we do our planning, we must know that their manifestation is not entirely up to us especially if we put ourselves at the center of everything else
7. Death doesn’t have to be scary especially if you know where you are going and are sure of the life you have lived; but, let me ask, are we?
8. They say to love is risky, yes, but we take risks everyday. So love without expecting anything, give yourself up as a gift to humanity
9. It’s not about your account balance, even your ideas can make a difference
10. It’s a blatant lie to believe that as long as your issues are ok, nothing else matters, yours will be a miserable life and your ending just as miserable also
When it’s all said and done, Russell’s death goes down in history as one of those unusual occurrences; and for many reasons too. As ghetto’s finest kid, he has exited just as fine as he lived. His death will be on the lips of people for many years to come. His biggest and most profound impact ironically, is in his death, and as hard as that sounds, yet it remains true and for that, we glorify the name of Jehova and pray that the soul of Russell, shall find peace, eternally……
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