Born Jesesi Jaboon on the 7th of July 1954 in Bikita, the girl was well-known in places around Nyika area in Bikita for her dancing skills. It was fame that many of her peers happily avoided because of the negative moral tags attached to any girl who dared dance to music on a shop verandah at a village shopping centre (Growth Point). In the early 1960s Jesesi was a different girl. She was a confident and independent character. The artist in her was already pushing her beyond limits, giving her confidence that surprised her friends and family members. When she retells the story, Jesesi laughs at herself and wonders what could have been going on in that young head as she twerked and gyrated with reckless abandon. But she is not ashamed to tell the story. For her, those dances were a manifestation of a character that would develop into a career later in life. Although the young Jesesi never knew what lay ahead when she danced to music for fun, the picture is now clear she was born an artist.
The juncture that ultimately directed her career path was meeting author Charles Mungoshi, who was to become her husband and business partner. When she met Charles, she was a mature adult mapping out a career in accounting and doing some temporary teaching. Becoming an artist was not even part of her dreams at that point. Falling in love with Charles was a turning point. It was the beginning of a journey of assisting each other professionally and emotionally as husband and wife. A journey that was to cast Jesesi onto the international stage and make the Mungoshi’s one of the most famous arts couples in the country.
In an interview Jesesi retold the story of her life with Charles. She married Charles in 1975. “I met Charles in Highfield in 1973. I had come to see my sister during one of my few visits to Harare. Charles was friends with my sister’s husband’s younger brother, so I was introduced to him as ‘babamunini’,” Jesesi recalled. “Charles and my babamunini were doing dramas together at Cyril Jennings Hall and they would come home together after their sessions. We got closer and that is how it all started.” Jesesi said she was told about the book “Makunun’unu Maodzamoyo” that Charles had published in 1970 and she was proud to be dating an author who exuded creativity and intelligence. “I read the book and I was fascinated by its depth. I read it again several times after our marriage because I had visited some of the places where the story in the book takes place.
Their love started in 1974. As their bond grew into love, marriage plans began taking shape. Jesesi had started her accounting studies and her brothers advised her to concentrate on her academic journey before thinking of marriage. Charles had started raising money for lobola and had found a job at Textbook Sales. As Jesesi was to reveal later in the interview, Charles felt more independent doing his art and did not like getting employed. He only got jobs when he wanted to raise money for specific reasons.
So, the job at Textbook Sales was solely meant to raise money for lobola. Otherwise he would have been comfortable doing dramas at CJ Hall and writing his books.
“When I told Charles that my brothers were against marriage and had advised me to pursue my accounting studies, my boyfriend surprised me when he said he was quitting the job. He said there was no reason to go to work when I was not ready for marriage. He had only got employed to raise money for the bride prize.
“I did not understand him. I thought he was joking, but he did it. He quit the job and went back to his writing and dramas. That was the time when he wrote ‘Ndiko Kupindana Kwemazuva’.”
When Jesesi felt she could not let him wait any longer, she told her brothers she was going to get married. She told Charles she was ready for marriage. Charles immediately went job hunting again. He got employed at the Literature Bureau. That was in 1975. “He loved his art more than anything else I soon learnt”. I was beginning to understand him. After raising enough money, he went to pay lobola on 31 August 1975.”
To celebrate their union, they had two weddings; one in Bikita on July 12 1976 and another the following day in Manyene. Jesesi recalls how they danced to Zexie Manatsa’s “Chipo Chiroorwa” during the wedding and lit up Nyika Growth point with a colourful wedding.
They did the same at Farm 44 (Mungoshi Farm) in the Maronda Mashanu area of Manyene. The marriage was blessed with five children: Farai, Graham, Nyasha, Charles, and Tsitsi, and at the time of his death they had seven grandchildren.
“It is difficult to be a writer’s wife. Especially some writers who were my husband’s generation. Most of them are wayward. Most wives of writers I associated with left their husband because they did not understand them.
“My husband was a heavy drinker and we often clashed over that character. He enjoyed spending time with people of low standing in society, these men that just roam around drinking. We often argued when I interrogated him about it. I felt they did not add any value to his life. I wondered why he did not hang around with successful people when he had access to them “Still, I sought to understand him every time I sensed he had done something difficult to understand. I learnt to appreciate his way of life.
“Sometimes he would go away to write his book leaving me alone at home. When he wrote ‘Kunyarara Hakusi Kutaura’ he spent a month in Nyanga and I was lonely at home.”
Jesesi said when she got married, she had been told to be a submissive wife but she was surprised when Charles told her
that she was also independent to make her choices about career and at home.
Her career in acting began when she had a role in the play “Inongova Njakenjake” that was written by her husband. “One day when we were at home, a team from ZBC came telling him they wanted to make his book a drama for television. They wanted someone to play the character of a mother and Charles had someone in mind, but he heard she had travelled to the UK.
“I saw he was getting worried and I thought I should assist him. I said ‘’why don’t you try me for that role?’ and he laughed out loud. I then said to him ‘muchashora mbodza neinozvimbira’’ (telling him not to judge a book by its cover). He laughed again but consented to the idea.”
That was 1985 and the beginning of Jesesi’s acting career. She impressed everyone at ZBC. She also featured in the “Makunun’unu Maodzamoyo” play and did “Ndabvezera” by Aaron Chiundura Moyo as well as “Ngozi” and “Roja” among others.
Her greatest breakthrough came when she had a lead role in “Neria”. The film won international acclaim and Jesesi became the face of the production. Until now, many still call her Neria.
The role saw her getting projects in countries like United Kingdom and Mozambique. The Mungoshi’s became a revered arts couple. Both successful in their separate trades in the industry. It was a union made for the arts.
In an early appearance, Jesesi was featured in the 1989 version and the subsequent 1990 two-part series of George Bloomfield's television family film, ‘’African Journey’’ which also starred Jason Blicker, Katja Blomquist, Allan Jordan, Ulla Mahaka among others.
In 1991, she was featured in Godwin Mawuru’s film titled, Neria in which she played the lead role of "Neria" a woman who is widowed and subsequently mistreated by her late husbands family. She was featured in the 1993 short film by Farai Sevenzo titled, ‘’Rwendo’’, starring Yemi Goodman Ajibade, Ben Daniels, Eldinah Tshatedi and Frank Windsor.
In 2017, she made an appearance in the comedy-romance film, ‘’Cook Off ‘’ directed by Tomas Brickhill in which she played a leading role as Gogo. The film, being the first produced in Zimbabwe after a long time was premiered in UK on 27th of July 2019.
In recognition of her contributions to the Zimbabwean film industry, she was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Great Zimbabwe University in May 2017 in Masvingo.
The 2020 film, ‘’Shaina’’, in which she starred alongside other Zimbabwean cast like Marian Kunonga, Charmaine Mujeri.
She says she owes all such success to Charles who gave her a chance to feature in his plays. Jesesi says her most difficult time came when Charles fell ill. “This was the most difficult time of my life with Charles. I had learnt that all he needed was love and support. It kept him going inspite of his challenges and weaknesses. I stood by him as his health deteriorated. I think I shared the pain. It was hard to see him struggling with his health. As a family we tried our best and fellow artistes also stood by us. God took him on February 16TH 2019. Life will never be the same without him. She is many decades away from the young Jesesi Jaboon who rocked Nyika Growth Point with her dances.
Credits: Herald Newspaper, Pindula Online Newspaper and Wikipedia.
Photo credits: Amazon.com, Herald Newspaper, YouTube and Pindula Online Newspaper.