Two Days With Peter Tosh In Zimbabwe
16 February 2020
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I must confess that I was star-struck upon meeting Peter Tosh for the first time. I had admired the man for a long time after listening to several of his hits such as Bush Doctor, Pick Myself Up, Mystic Man, Downpressor Man, Get Up, Stand Up, Brand New Second Hand, Oh Bumbo Klaat and Legalise It.

I know that many people, whether they’re meeting a pop star, a school crush, or the cast of their favourite binge-worthy show, get geeked out and giddy. That was me in 1985.

I last wrote about Peter Tosh in 2012, but did not finish the whole story due to column space. So call this one, part two.

Winston Hubert McIntosh, aka Peter Tosh, who co-founded the Wailers with Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer, was known as Jamaica’s “rude bwuoy”. In his lifetime, he was seen as a reggae revolutionary. He changed the names of prime minister to “crime minister,” manager to “damager”, Chris Blackwell (who was Bob Marley’s white manager) to Chris Whitewell (and sometimes Chris Whiteworst) and BMW to “Black Man Wagon.” He was full of bad words and smoked marijuana non-stop. He was anti-establishment and an outspoken revolutionary.

Mike Mhundwa (Radio 3’s DJ at the time) and I heard of Peter Tosh performing in Swaziland (now Eswatini). Mhundwa and I decided we would capture him while he was still in Swaziland and discuss the possibility of a performance here in Zimbabwe on his way back to Jamaica. I flew to Swaziland to discuss this project with Tosh. He was booked in Eswatini Hotel in Mbabane. I followed him there. He arrogantly said he was too busy to talk business with me. I flew back to Harare after his performance in Mbabane, but left him my contact details. To my surprise, he called me from Swaziland two days later informing me that he was coming to Harare to discuss business on condition I booked him into a hotel for two nights. I discussed this with Mhundwa, who was excited by the whole deal.

So, we booked him into Bronte Hotel. He arrived the next day and we picked him up from the airport. We had informed the press that Peter Tosh would be coming to Harare and before we knew it, Bronte Hotel was full of journalists who jostled with each other for an interview with him. One rather pushy journalist, Jimmy Salani, wanted an immediate interview with Tosh, but was told to come back the following morning at 10am as Tosh was too tired to give an interview at that time.

The following morning, we all went to Bronte Hotel, promptly at 10am. Tosh was still in bed. We waited until 12 noon and I decided to go to the reception to phone him in his room. He answered abruptly with the words, “Soon come, man!” At 1:15pm, he eventually emerged from his hotel room. Salani politely asked: “Mr Tosh, you told us to come at 10am, but we have been waiting here for three hours?” Tosh replied, “You is too raatid bumboklaat mad, man! What is three hour? You people have been waiting for independence from colonial rule for over 100 years. So what is three hour?”

He took out his satchel, which was strapped around his shoulder, and out came this long and thick spliff which at first I thought was a cheroot until he lighted it and the smell from the billowing smoke made it obvious what it was. I had never seen such a large joint before. The last time I had seen him with close to such a big spliff was at a concert in London when he sang Legalise Marijuana, and he was preaching to a 99% all-white audience with policemen all over the auditorium, “Black people, this herb make you wiser, seen! It’s the only cure for asthma, seen! Dem say it’s illegal, but I smoke it and dem cyan’t arrest me, because if they do, I will not sing for you. If I don’t sing for you, you will riot, seen!” True to his word, the police just looked on.

When he came to Zimbabwe in 1985 on his way from Swaziland, he was enthusing on the possibility of performing in Zimbabwe. We had housed him at Bronte Hotel. He wanted to see the venue where Bob Marley had performed. I told him Marley had performed in open-air conditions at Rufaro Stadium. Mhundwa and I drove him to Mbare and showed him Rufaro Stadium. I told him that apart from the open-air conditions there were other problems. The hire of the stadium to be used as a music venue was not encouraged at all by Harare City Council. They would hike the hire fee to $6 000 while footballers were charged only $1 000 as the City Fathers were not keen on using the stadium for music because the turf might be damaged by “mad music fans”. “Is who say dat?” Peter asked. “Let’s go dere and talk to the damagers (managers) and make a fuss!” he went on. There was Mr Bev Taylor, the director, and Mr Tait at City of Harare who confirmed this policy. Peter cursed them: “You too raatid white raasclaat battyman. You is good for nothing. Go back to Hinglan and let dem Blackman run tings here.”

He asked me if there were no indoor venues which could accommodate over 10 000 people. I told him there were no such venues. That was before the Harare International Conference Centre, built in 1984, was functional. So, he asked me again, I think out of curiosity, “Fred, tell me, is how much night club you have here in Harare? I and I need to pay a visit to one of them.” I said

I could not give the number off hand but would name the night clubs one by one as I remembered them. I told him there was the Red Fox in Greendale, one of Harare’s northern suburbs, Circus Night Club in Strathaven owned by Itai Mutasa (father of multi-millionaire businessman, Shingi Mutasa who is the brains behind the construction of Joina City), 7 Miles Hotel, Kentucky Hotel, Skyline Hotel, Ambassador Hotel, Feathers Hotel, The Punch Bowl, Le-Coq-Dor, Archipelago, Bretts Night Club, Sarah’s Night Club and Scamps Night Club which all provided musical entertainment. “Which one would you be interested in visiting?” I asked him. He responded with, “That Archipelago sound nice.” I explained to him that it was a white club and he said, “Dem racist still? We will go there and show them that this in no longer Rhodesia but Zimbabwe, Africa for African, seen!”

Later on that evening we went to Archipelago Night Club at Linquenda House in Baker Avenue (now Nelson Mandela Avenue) where Fraser MacKay was performing. There were two bouncers stationed at the entrance. I was allowed free entrance because I had performed there a few times before. Besides, the owner of the club, Greek businessman John Stouyannides, knew me. Tosh walked in past the bouncers without paying. The two white bouncers at the door went and dragged him out. I tried to explain to them that this was superstar Peter Tosh, but before I could finish, Tosh was onto them; “You bumbo klaat idiots took me out of Africa into slavery in Jamaica. You made me work without pay. Now you are asking me to pay to go into this raatid night club. Is where you tink I get the money from? Until you come to this realisation, you shall remain in dem bumbo klaat chain.” He stormed out of the club without another word. Mike and I followed him.

The next day we went to Harare’s First Street . He was riding on a unicycle and smoking ganja, oblivious to the possibility of being arrested. A true rebel indeed.

Later that evening, on our way to the airport, we tried to commit Peter Tosh to agreeing to a date of performance in Zimbabwe and this is what he had to say: “Listen to me now! I am not coming to Zimbabwe on any lesser terms than Bob Marley. Bob was invited by Mugabe. So go and tell Mugabe to write me a letter inviting me also. He should also tell me how much he is offering me for the performance. So you go and work it out with Mugabe.”

That was it.

On September 11, 1987, I was in Kingston, Jamaica, trying to conduct further negotiations, but was met with the shocking news that Peter Tosh had been shot dead.