FROM SHAKA TO SEKE
One of the more prominent artists working with the Lynde Francis Trust is Tichaona (“Titch”) Maledadi who lives and works in Seke, a semi-rural part of Chitungwiza, Harare’s sprawling dormitory suburb.
Titch’s work is distinctive. He creates useful objects such as waste bins, stationery holders and handbags from a variety of found objects and waste items – discarded vinyl records, pen casings, bottle tops, soft drink cans and wire. His pieces reflect a profound concern for the environment and have been exhibited widely.
He traces his influences to his unusual ancestry. His great-great grandfather was an Nguni, from the ethnic group that comprises Zulu, Xhosa, Swati and Ndebele peoples. He fled South Africa to Tanzania at the time of the Mfecane, the series of Zulu and other Nguni wars and forced migrations of the second and third decades of the 19th century that were set in motion by the Zulu king, Shaka. The impact of the Mfecane was felt as far as Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia.
“My grandfather was born in Malawi,” says Titch. “He came to Zimbabwe in the 1920s to work as a cook at Gwebi agricultural college in Norton near Harare. My father was also born in Malawi, the only boy in a family of seven sisters. He began his working life as a dairy hand at Gwebi. Later he qualified as a skilled welder and joined a firm of coachbuilders in Harare.”
Titch’s mother was a KoreKore from Mount Darwin in the northeast of Zimbabwe. He was born in Harare in 1967. His father influenced and encouraged Titch greatly in his art. “Our home then was in Hatfield where my father had a workshop. My brother and I would be allowed to play there. It was the source of my earliest inspiration. Our father erected a metal screen to protect our eyes from the glare of the welding. It became my kindergarten.”
At school Titch took art subjects, finishing with six O-levels in 1982. “I worked with my dad in his welding workshop. Sometimes in his absence I would work on my own, making items like door frames. My dad was delighted. ‘Keep it up,’ he would say.”
A few years later he attended a Danish-funded technical college in Shamva, 80 km northeast of Harare, and obtained a London City and Guilds certificate in tropical agriculture. But he did not take up farming immediately. He and his brother worked together in their father’s workshop.
“In primary school we had learnt handicrafts. At home our father allowed us to use all the tools that we would need for our ‘art and craft’ activities. We would make doormats and paintbrushes with sisal, feather dusters, toys with wire and oil cans, wooden carvings and cooking utensils. We even had an aviary with many colourful birds. I wanted to become a Disney of sorts.”
In 1993 Titch took up an invitation from a friend to visit him in Cyprus. In March that year he began work as a general hand at a pig farm in a small village near Limassol. “I mastered basic Greek and after six months,” says Titch. In the next seven years his Greek employer put him to work on a variety of skilled jobs – milling, feed formulation, artificial insemination in a pig-breeding programme and training Sri Lankan farm workers. His salary increased from £150 to £350. His brother sent him craft items which he sold at flea markets in Limassol to supplement his salary.
“I took a month’s leave and toured Israel and Egypt. At the time I had a Tamil girlfriend. She wanted us to travel to Singapore, but my people said no. I returned to Zimbabwe in 1999.
“In 2000 I was introduced to Ondine Francis, who became my main client. That was the year that my brother Aaron died after being paralyzed in a road accident and the year that I became engaged to my wife, Gertrude. Three years later I was working fulltime on my craft and we had a baby boy whom we named Aaron in honour of my brother.”
In 2005 Gertrude began to suffer epileptic seizures. “I had a passion for her,” says Titch. “I arranged for her to get treatment.” Her condition deteriorated. In 2009 she had a miscarriage. She died six years later.
Today Titch lives in Seke with his mother and son. He keeps busy collecting plastic and scrap metal for recycling. While his mother makes crocheted items for sale, he teaches handicraft at a teachers’ training college in Seke and conducts lessons for children in primary school.
“In the school holidays I work with a dozen kids, making items with bottle tops and cans. Some come to do reading and homework. My wish is for them to have a library. I hate for kids to be idle. It can lead to drug taking,” says Titch.