In Memory of Paul Brickhill (1958 - 2014)

Society & Culture | By Paul Brickhill, Visionery | 21 November 2014
PHOTO: © Fungai Foto

Paul Brickhill had accepted an invitation and was excited to contribute to the Anniversary issue of the POVO Journal, and this was the last communication we had with him as he stated his reasons why he would not be able to work on an article. We are extremely proud to have had the chance to be inspired by him!

On Friday 1 August, after 8 days in intensive care diagnosed with strep pneumonia and laryngitis - I underwent emergency surgery to open an airway into my trachea after discovery of a tumour pressing my windpipe causing huge distress; a biopsy had diagnosed anaplastic thyroid cancer, the least-known cancer, and the most aggressive. I will soon head to home based 24-hour care, and the relief of sky, trees, flowers, birds, music and family. I have started radiotherapy.

It was a close thing that night. I am lucky to be alive, thanks to quick thinking both by my brother Jeremy and the specialists who saw me that day.
A 33-year era has – for me – ended, abruptly and dramatically, the next journey of my life already begun. This era started as an outcome of the liberation struggle on our return home in 1980, I was then just 22 years, those heady early nation-building days and promise of our future. Grassroots Books (est. 1981), transformed into the Book Café culture centre (1997) that paved the way for Pamberi Trust (2002), and in turn helped found African Synergy in 2005. Related memorable arts included Solidarity Band and Luck Street Blues in music, and African Publishers Network APNET and ZIBF, as well as Anvil Press in books.

Needless to say, Book Café and Pamberi Trust have united leadership, competent and dedicated management, and all will operate as normal. Please allow a period of transition for projects and responsibilities within my remit; I know you will understand. It is also not easy for my colleagues and comrades. 

Virtually my entire close and extended family was either with me or flew to Harare and mounted a 24 vigil at my bedside. Overwhelming really! It is perhaps strange to say, but true, I feel myself utterly blessed, in many ways; this extraordinary, rich life, an African life, so many wonderful, loved people and happenings, my life brim-full with goodness, love, beauty, music, books, people – all manner of wonders - and majestic Africa; now each day is lived simply as it should be, alive and happy to see what the day will bring, the miracle of life, it is not over!
I fight on. Aluta continua! African struggles, emancipation! I find myself so fortunate to have been in situations where I could do something.

“Either everything is a miracle or nothing is”, to paraphrase Albert Einstein. The choice is ours. For me, everything that has taken place in my life appears to me as some kind of miracle, none more so than beloved Book Café, its artists and life!

Do not think of this as a goodbye; I am sick but also just updating those who may not have known the dramas that unfolded over the last 3 weeks, from 24 July, and changed my life.

A Timeline of his achievements

1976
Escaped from the country to join the liberation struggle after he refused to serve in the Rhodesian army.

1980s
At the same time, Paul pursued his own personal journey as a musician, establishing a series of bands. Solidarity Band which featured several young musicians who were destined to find fame as the Bhundu Boys

1981
Founded the country’s first progressive bookshop.

1991
Elected Chairperson of the association in and served on the Board of the Zimbabwean International Book Fair for the following ten years.

1995 - 2005
Played almost 1000 live shows together with legendary jazz guitarist David Ndoro as Luck Street Blues

1997
Expanded the original Grassroots Books concept into a multi-dimensional artistic vision involving music, theatre, film, literature, poetry, art and craft and thus was born the world famous Book Café.

2011
Received a NAMA Award for “services to the arts”

2012
Awarded a Prince Klaus Award by the Government of the Netherlands in recognition of his role in establishing the Book Café and his own life-long commitment to promoting the arts.

2014
Received the Artwatch Africa Lifetime Achievement Award on the opening night of the Shoko Festival in Harare.