October 3, 2014 will always be remembered by the arts-loving community in Zimbabwe and abroad as the day on which the iconic arts entrepreneur, Paul Brickhill, passed on. He died of a complicated thyroid cancer, at age 56.
Paul’s contribution to the cause for freedom spans across many battlefields, starting as a freedom fighter in the war for the liberation of Zimbabwe, to the establishment of the world-famous Book Café as a space for free expression, artistic or otherwise.
The establishment of the Book Café is neither an event nor an end in itself, but its chronicle epitomizes the person that Paul was better than any narrative in words. It started as a small progressive bookshop called Grassroots in the early 1980s, to become a well-known and popular venue and a place for artists to go, to share their work, and to keep their work alive, especially during those gloomy yearswhen Zimbabwe was going through unprecedented social, political and economic turmoil.
About 2 years ago, the Book Café’was forced to abandon its home of many years in a move that was clearly manipulated by the authorities to silence the “critical” voices that were coming from this venue. But true to his character, Paul and his team, supported by the local artists, found a new venue in 2012.
It was at the official opening of the new Book Café (March 2012)that Paul was awarded the Prince Claus Award by the Government of the Netherlands in recognition of his contribution to stimulating creativity in Zimbabwe.Earlier on in 2011, the Book Café (Paul) was awarded the National Arts Merit Award (NAMA) “for services to the arts”.
On 24 September 2014, barely a week before Paul was to pass on, his son received the Artwatch Africa Lifetime Achievement Award on his behalf at the opening of the SHOKO Festival in Harare. At that time, Paul was in the Intensive Care Unit at a hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Hivos’ support to Pamberi Trust, which is the parent organisation of the Book Café, spans over the last decade. The partnership was in recognition of the Book Café and its sister organisation, the Mannenberg, as spaces of freedom of expression, creativity, dialogue, and various forms social engagement, especially for the young generation.
Under Paul’s direction, many young (and old) artists who passed through the Book Café have found fame in Zimbabwe and the world over.
Dikson Monro puts it succinctly in his obituary on Kalabash Media, a website run by Magamba, another Hivos partner. He says that with his death, “Paul does not leave a legacy alone, he leaves something much more real and alive than that – a family, a generation of live art and culture that will take us forward in pursuit of the liberation he fought for .”
This last quote about sums up the reason why Hivos has continued to support the Book Café up to now. Such institutions continue to play a vital role in increasing and expanding spaces for free expression and engagement in Zimbabwe.
Tambudzai Madzimure, Hivos Programme Officer for Expression & Engagement, worked with Paul and Pamberi Trust for many years. She says, “Paul’s contribution to arts and culture development went beyond the borders of Zimbabwe and stretched into the SADC region. In 2012, Paul approached Hivos on behalf of festivals in Malawi, Swaziland and Mozambique which had organised themselves into a regional festivals’ network. His interest was to ensure that they had resources in place to purchase equipment that would contribute to the quality of productions they presented. Today this equipment exists because of his personal drive and passion for excellence in the arts.”
Hivos Regional Director for Southern Africa, Tanja Lubbers expresses a sentiment felt by many in the arts community today, “We are ever so grateful for Paul’s contribution to the arts and the struggle for justice in Zimbabwe. We can only celebrate his life and his heritage while we fight the tears of losing a true Hivos partner and friend.”
In this 2012 video, Paul talks about Book Café: