Let’s not turn Kanumba’s death into a cheap film noir

Saturday April 14 2012

Tanzanian actor and entertainer Steven Kanumba died this past weekend. He was cut off in the very prime of his life, at a crucial point in his career development.

An amazing crowd of 30,000 Tanzanians, including dignitaries, showed up at his funeral to see him to his final resting place in Kinondoni.

This news made the international circuit. What was left out was the domestic side of the story, the most interesting part.

Her name is Elizabeth Michael Kimemeta, stage name Lulu. She is a legal minor at age 17, she may or may not have been Kanumba’s girlfriend depending on whom you ask, and this week she has been charged with the actor’s murder.

On the day of Mr Kanumba’s funeral, I checked my social media to get a feel of the situation.

It is not a good idea to speculate before all of the facts are out, but in this instance the public and the media are showing no restraint.


As soon as the news of Kanumba’s death started spreading, so too did the accusations of Lulu’s culpability in his demise.

Happens she was there when he died, and here is my first difficulty — no one seems interested in what a 17-year old girl was doing in a 28-year old man’s house at 2.30am.

Whipped off to be interrogated by the police before the grief-maddened could get a hold of her, Lulu spent several days refusing to speak until she was granted the services of a psychologist.

In her version of events, the late Steven and her were embroiled in a disagreement that was turning physical but she denies pushing him to his death.

There is a linguistic element to this: in Kiswahili if you say that someone has killed, there is no distinction between manslaughter and homicide.

The closest you can come to manslaughter is to say that a person “killed someone by accident,” which does not convey the same thing.

The information that has been made available to the public by authoritative figures — the police and the coroner — neither confirm nor deny Lulu’s direct and premeditated participation in Kanumba’s death.

Here’s what is definitely known: Kanumba was not a slight man, to put it politely. He had a great amount of whiskey in his bloodstream when he died.

He suffered a fatal head injury. So far a murder weapon hasn’t been found, or at least publicised.

How did Mr Kanumba receive that injury? What information we have is circumstantial. Allegedly, Lulu refused to accompany him on an outing, and then had the temerity to receive a phone call from someone whom she did not identify to Kanumba.

This apparently triggered a sequence of events — let’s call them passion-driven — that ended with a loss of life.

We have a tradition of witch-hunting in this country, the way we immolate petty thieves and murder albinos and little old rural ladies with smoke-reddened eyes.

We’re very handy at blaming victims, especially when they are female, especially in certain kinds of domestic altercations.

We have a dark side under our socialist smiles. In the case of Kanumba’s death, the obsession with Lulu’s role as murderer is part of this darkness.

But this case is symbolic — it will test our concept of a fair trial. The question is whether we are going to use our legal system to make a scapegoat of Lulu to alleviate our national grief, or if things will proceed according to what evidence there is.

Let’s go back to that pint or two of Jack Daniel’s finest Number 7 found in Steven’s bloodstream.

Celebrities lead interesting lives, too often the result of pressure from their popularity and the craziness that ensues.

Substance use and abuse in the creative industries are like ties in corporate land: You only notice their absence.

Sometimes the famous pass out and drown in their bathtubs like Whitney Houston did.

Or they practise what they preach and don’t believe in rehab, like Amy Winehouse.

And sometimes, some of them, they chase their teenaged non-girlfriends around the house while inebriated, misstep, smack their large frames hard into a wall head first and slip away on Easter Weekend.

It doesn’t make any sense, but then death does not wait on convenience or rationality.

Until we can prove that there is a nefarious story here, let’s try not to turn Steven Kanumba’s death into the plot of a cheap and torrid film.

He was a real man, deserving of his final respects. The melodrama? That was just his job.

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report, E-mail: [email protected]