In the 80s and 90s having a Television (TV) set was a big privilege for many Zimbabwean families. This situation made it difficult for most people to access film and TV programs and the few available public screening spaces were expensive and out of reach for many. Today the digital revolution, the internet and piracy have changed the film screening landscape in Zimbabwe. In this article we take you back into memory-lane as we unmask and celebrate the unsung legend of the film industry in Zimbabwe, Mr Mandebvu born Peter Apureni Mugodlani the man behind the popular Mandebvu Films.
By Plot Mhako @plotmhako
Not so long ago most people and families especially those living in poor high density neighbourhoods used converge at one well-to-do house, (with some peeping through the windows) to catch a glimpse of their favorite TV program or movie. In the villages it was a few shops and bottle stores that had a Television and the whole community would gather around a small black and white screen.
The struggle was so real for many film / TV enthusiasts. In some areas getting allowed to watch TV came with a string of tight rules; for instance, sitting on the floor, remaining quiet throughout the entire program, washing your feet first before admission, watching from outside through the window and some other unthinkable demands.
Owing to a myriad of factors such as the economy, the digital revolution, piracy etc a lot of the old film-houses in Zimbabwe have since been re-purposed into churches, offices, government buildings, shopping complexes and other uses. The drive-in Cinema centres turned into white-elephants. Currently Ster Kinekor is running the main Movie houses in Zimbabwe and two years ago they opened a new facility at Joina City in Harare.
Despite Zimbabwe having been one of the few countries in Africa to have its own TV station it was a symbol of status and success for one to be able to afford a television. Cities like Harare, Mutare, Gweru, Bulawayo had film halls and drive-in cinemas that were still inaccessible to many who could not afford. One man by the name Mandebvu would transform the space through provision of affordable film-screenings in communities, schools and towns.
The story of Mandebvu Films and his transformative role in Zimbabwe is literally undocumented and remains uncelebrated. After a long search and wanting to find out who was Mandebvu we got in-touch with one of his brothers Kenny “Mandebvu” Mugodlani.
Most people who grew up the the 90s will remember the name Mandebvu Films from posters or having watched films at school or a community hall.
The name and trademark name Mandebvu came about because he loved keeping long beard. Born in a family of 10 at Chinhoyi he worked at Lobels Bakery as a Salesman and retired in 1987.
Sadly, Mr Mandebvu passed on in 2008 and left behind a wife and 10 children.
His story in the film and entertainment industry began sometime in 1983 after a friend by the name G Crew introduced him to the showbiz industry and this was the beginning of Mandebvu Disco. His Chinese friend Mr Chung had 16 mm projectors at his home that he he used to watch with his family and Mandebvu told Mr Chung that he wanted to try showing films in the “Ghetto” high density communities since the Cinemas in town where expensive and out of reach for many.
Through this film-screening idea Mandebvu wanted to supplement his income but little did he know that this was to make him a ground breaking legend in the local film industry.
He went on hire more films at Liberty Films (a cinema that used to operate down-town Harare) owned by Morah brothers of Indian origin and at Libra Films who owned the Kines on a weekly basis. His business flourished so fast and would hold three shows at different venues at the same time.
“I still cherish the midnight shows after a great performances by the late Makadota at St Marys Hall Chitugwiza.” Kenny Mandebvu
Mandebvu Films grew so popular in the 1990s to the extent of attracting advertisers from different products from local companies such as Unilever then known as Lever brothers. You can imagine how he understood business, marketing and utilised the power of social capital long before social media was developed. This speaks to a great entrepreneur whose ability to see opportunity and create business was ahead of his time. Mandebvu traversed the whole of Zimbabwe with his silver screen and projector showing films sparking the imagination of many Zimbabweans.
The most popular films from his catalogue were the Kung-Fu movies featuring Bruce Lee, the action packed Arnold Schwarzenegger and Van-Dame films amongst many others. These were the all-time hits.
“I remember the advert by the late Dr O Mtukudzi playing a home made guitar advertising Olivine cooking oil.” Kenny Mandebvu
With his business employing six people, Mandebvu Films worked together with two of his young brothers named John who sadly passed on last year and Kennedy who is still actively involved in the entertainment scene.
Kenny still does film-screnings and before the Covid-19 lockdown he worked with the City Council Halls in Mbare but sadly when the Covid restrictions were relaxed the rentals were hiked making it hard to operate.
“I applied for the community hall in July 2022 but I am still to get a response from the council” Kenny Mandebvu.
Kenny revealed to us that his brother remains an icon and was a pillar in the family who will forever be remembered and loved.
There is a song by Winky D where he sings, “Kumafirimu Mandebvu ndiye munhu mukuru” In films Mandebvu is the big man.
We believe, many film-makers, actors and entertainers in Zimbabwe owe their imagination spark to Mandebvu Films, the man who made it possible for them to see the world on the silver screen. He is a legend and at earGROUND we celebrate him. We hope one day there will be a community Hall or film-space named after him.