3 July 2018
. . . The real Phathisani Sibanda
Every Monday, I go to Star FM for the 326 Express Show hosted by KVG and Phathisani Sibanda. I’m with them from 4pm to 5pm for a slot that they call Weekend Flashback.
That show does not feel like a radio programme at all. It feels like a conversation with friends because that it what it really is. Oftentimes, the debates or discussions continue long after the programme, both off air and after their slot, even into our little WhatsApp group by the same name.
Besides being a perfect match – for radio – the duo of KVG and Phathisani has a natural ability to make anyone feel at home on air.
But this story is not about the pair, it is about Phathisani, who celebrates his birthday today. The boring thing about writing this piece is I have no idea how old Phathisani has turned today.
What I do know is he asked a 12-year-old how old he looked last week as Star FM celebrated her 6th birthday and when the boy said “40”, he looked like he had hit a nerve.
Phathisani has two secrets, his age, and his love life. We wait for the day when his lover shall reveal the latter secret, if she exists.
Being at H-Metro has taught me one thing, love issues can never be kept secret forever so one day “achabuda musaga hake” to use Phathisani’s language.
The real Phathisani Sibanda is a tat different off air. He doesn’t want to act half as naughty as he sounds on air.
When my father, Charles Snr, met him for the first time in February last year, his remark soon after Phathisani left was, “Ko zvaari munhu musvinu?”
My father must have thought, as many people do, Phathisani is always up to no good and every word that comes out of his mouth is controversial at the least. That is a wrong assumption.
Phathisani is actually what a layman would casually describe as “a decent guy.” Contrary to popular belief, Phathisani is the guy you would take as the go-between to your lobola ceremony. He is the man you would choose to speak to respectable elders and trust never to say the wrong thing.
By the way, Phathisani had no idea that I was writing a piece on him. In fact, there are many things that he will not be happy with that I am including in this article and any quotations I’m going to attribute to him are from previous interactions.
I met Phathisani when he was a virtual freshman on radio.
He was the host for the Breakout slot from 3am to 6am Mondays to Thursdays and he convinced me to go on radio around 4am every week to be with him. I never thought I would last and I thought the hours were too ghostly to have any listenership.
But what I saw in terms of the interaction with listeners and Phathisani’s popularity showed me that this man could soon be the king of radio in the country – and he has lived up to my billing.
He used to call himself Mukwasha Mboko (loosely translated ‘worthless son in law’).
“I did not call myself Mukwasha Mboko, people called me that. They said handina kukwana and they don’t understand me or what I do and say,” quipped Phathisani.
But many will be surprised what Phathisani did before being a Star FM presenter.
“I was a dancer and I did a lot in theatre arts. I was in South Africa for about three years studying theatre arts and I managed Freddy Gwala after he mentored me in music. That man is a brother and a half. He was coming to my house almost every day when he toured Zimbabwe. When I was in SA I lived at his house and I will never forget all he did for me.
“When I left SA I then came back home and got a job as the Artistes and Repertoire Manager at Diamonds Studios. There I managed the likes of Sulu, Jah Prayzah, First Farai, Somandla Ndebele, Simba Revapositori, Kudzie Nyakudya to name a few. I never dreamt of being a radio presenter that whole time.”
But life was about to change for Phathisani whilst he was managing all the aforementioned top artistes.
“I got fired at Diamonds Studios while my father was ill and I had a ton of responsibilities (he is a father to several kids).
“I was a loafer for six tough months and things were BAD! It got to a stage where I could not even afford R5 to buy a loaf of Vivon bread, never mind the $1 loaf of bread.
“That was a rude awakening and it taught me to save and to live with close to nothing. I would read papers every day looking for job opportunities but it was all in vain.
“I was so troubled and the only way out was to be closer to God. I prayed to him every day until I got to a point where I was doubting God’s existence. I was speaking to (Ambassador) Ishmael and I remember asking him, ‘If God exists, why is He letting me suffer?’ I will never forget Ambassador Ishmael’s reply to that question and it kept me going throughout the six months. He said, ‘God is where he was when He watched His son being crucified and you think your problems are worse?”
Phathisani still remembers the day he saw the advert calling for interested radio presenters to audition for what would be Zimbabwe’s first commercial radio station.
“When I saw that advert I said I was going and I was ready to be a fool and to do whatever it takes to get that job. Ambassador was helping me pray for the job and I felt really close to God those days.
“When the day of the auditions came I got a kombi into town but I had to walk to Alex Park as I had no more money. I had zero connections and no one knew me. My confidence waned when I got to Alex Park and saw more than 2000 people waiting to be auditioned, some of whom were coming in Mercs!
“It was scary and I remember stammering like I had never done at the start of the auditions. There were so many affluent people there and they looked good and spoke mostly good English.
“In the queue I was behind UK-bred Demetria Hamandishe and she read a news script and she was flawless ndikati zvino ndichachitaurirwa nani chiVet ichi!?
“I opted to audition for languages and I got a script and did about four languages. I am fluent in Bantu languages be it Tonga, Chewa, Kalanga, Ndebele, Shona . . . I don’t even know which language I think in. my mother is Ndebele while my father is Malawian so I got to speak different languages growing up. So I used all that to my advantage and just gave it a good go.
“I said to myself I had nothing to lose and everything to gain and I gave it a shot. Ndakabatwa nemweya wenzvimbo and I surprised even myself when I auditioned,” said Phathisani.
“I stayed some two or three months without hearing anything from the Zim Talk Radio (as the station was called back then).
“Then one Tuesday at 10:17am, I remember I was at my friend Lobani Mangena’s place ndaenda kunokwata tea. I had walked there only because I had no money for kombi but it was a long distance. I got a call from a land line and contemplated ignoring it in case it was the police as I had overdue accounts kwana Edgars and the like. Then I just said let me answer it and lose the line if it’s about debts – zvinhu zvanga zvakaoma wangu.
“The person on the other end of the phone was Tendai, the Star FM librarian and he said ‘Do you remember the auditions you did a few months ago for Zim Talk Radio? Congratulations, you have been shortlisted to go for training to be a presenter at the station.
“I was soo excited I cut the phone and celebrated without even asking where I should go and when I would start the training. I could not even drink tea yaLobani! Tendai called me a few minutes later and asked me to be calm and gave me all the details.
“The training took about a month but it was worth it. I knew absolutely nothing about broadcasting but the experienced guys like Innocent Chuma and Lianda Kandiero taught me everything.
“I was then given the Breakout Slot with Ndumiso Dube and Owen Madondo but I was not an instant hit. I was very self-conscious, very reserved and I almost lost my job over some letter of complaint that had been written about me but Mudhara Admire Taderera, being the Christian that he is, was patient with me. He told me radio is about establishing your personality as the presenter and I think I have now grown to do that.
“I have enjoyed my job; in fact I cannot believe I am getting paid to do what I do. Maybe that is where the phrase work-tainment comes in. radio is just a door of opportunities.
“Star FM has given us wings to fly and not even the sky is the limit. We are soaring!” concluded Mukwasha Mboko.
Now this Phathisani buys cars for fun and even takes BMWs for spinning at Donnybrook. Radio is the home that he was looking for all his life. It was the home that was waiting for him since his birth on this day a few decades ago.
Sometimes he makes everyone around him so comfortable they forget his worth and a day like today may be the best day to mention that he is one voice and character that makes Star FM tick.
Happy Birthday Phathisani Sibanda!