Spotlight on Damien Marcus: The artist leading Kuwadzana towards a greener future and environmental consciousness


HARARE – Zimbabwe is currently enduring the effects of the El Nino phenomenon, possibly until March. Sudan is battling floods, having suffered from a drought last year. 2023 was the hottest year on record, globally. It's clear that we're facing the real effects of climate change in real time.

Tafadzwa Damien Marcus Gwini and Greening Kuwadzana Project in Zimbabwe
Image: @dmarcusgwini/X

It's even clearer that urgent climate action is needed. Yes, of course, 'climate justice warriors' have emerged in Zimbabwe over the past few years but most of them choose vacuous statements and never-ending workshops to 'push for climate change', leading many to think it's merely performative activism. They lack in praxis.

From this perspective, Tafadzwa Gwini, alias Damien Marcus, becomes a breath of fresh air, literally. He is the founder of Kuwadzana Press, a community newspaper championing The Greening Kuwadzana Project, an initiative founded in 2020.

He has been a resident of Kuwadzana since 1993, when he was just 3 years old.
The idea to start this noble initiative came 27 years later in 2020, and from a simple realisation...

Close your eyes and take a trip to 'North Samora'. Notice the avenues lined up with exotic trees? The fresh air? The cool breeze? Now take a trip to any high density suburb, with a few mango and guava trees doted around. Do you feel that heat? Is the dust blinding and choking you at the same time? Is the air unpleasant at best?

Tree density is a factor to these stark differences. Trees act as natural air purifiers and wind breakers, thereby preventing dust. They also contribute to the atmospheric temperature of an environment as they release oxygen. The shade comes as a cool extra!

It was out of this realisation that Gwini reached out to Duri Green Finger Nursery, Let's Green the Future and City of Harare Kuwadzana District Office to start an initiative called the Greening Kuwadzana Project.

The aim of this initiative is to improve the environmental conditions of Kuwadzana, to reduce income related health inequalities, to fight for environmental justice, to increase access and exposure to green spaces, and to bring the aesthetic value that comes with increased tree density, among all the other benefits of living in an area with high tree density. 

You can look at the Greening Kuwadzana Project as a public health intervention.

Image: Supplied

They have grown from strength to strength, mostly due to the support from community members who volunteer their time and effort to bring change.

"We started with less than 5 community members in 2020, but as of 2023, we have more than 18 committed volunteers who are residents of the community," explained Gwini.

To date, they have planted and are maintaining 3000+ trees within Kuwadzana and its environs. 80% of these are indigenous trees. This current initiative is a pilot project of a bigger Green the City Project that replicates the strategy into other low income high density suburbs.

The initiative has launched and currently manages different programmes such as the Indigenous Trees Park Programme, Tree-Lined Streets, Pimp my Spot, Fruit Trees in Schools, and Tree Care Therapy for Mental Health.

In most cases, they collaborate with other related organisations, as was the case on 02 December 2023.

The Greening Kuwadzana Project commemorated National Tree Planting Day with a bevy of activities right in the heart of Kuwadzana. They started off with a tree planting ceremony at Kuwadzana Major Park. Keeping it local, only indigenous varieties were planted. 

Some of the trees that were planted include mubayamhondoro (3 different types of acacias), mupfuura (marula), muonde (fig trees), muhute, muNyii, and usika (Tamarind Indica).

Councillor for Ward 37 Kuwadzana Richard Pamire graced the event and showered praises on the Greening Kuwadzana team for the work that they are doing to make a difference in Kuwadzana.

Damien Marcus With Ward 37 Councillor Richard Pamire. [Image: Supplied]

Speaking to ZimSphere, Councillor Pamire had this to say, "They're doing a very good job, they're planting so many trees and this is not the first time. They have been doing this for some years and it makes us feel great as a community to experience something we weren't expecting."

Speaking further, Clr Pamire said The Greening Kuwadzana initiative aligns with his vision of improving livelihoods in Kuwadzana, and it starts with the environment.

"As you can see, when you go to the suburbs you see roads lined up with trees. We're slowly seeing that picture come alive here in Kuwadzana through these guys' efforts, and that's why I'm here as councillor embracing this event," he added.

After the tree planting ceremony, volunteers and members alike convened at The Greening Kuwadzana Project's base close to Kuwadzana 2 Shops.

There, they conducted a GBV & Mental Health Programme, in collaboration with Ndinewe Foundation, a leading youth mental health advocacy organisation based in Harare. 

Mental Health and GBV Programme in collaboration with Ndinewe Foundation. [Image: Supplied]

The major objective of the discussion was to give an understanding of mental health and gender based violence and how these issues bedeviling Zimbabwean society relate to each other, as well as the environment.

Programmes Coordinator at Ndinewe Foundation, Miss Paula Muparutsa spoke of the enduring relationship they have had with The Greening Kuwadzana Project.

She said, "The relationship between Ndinewe Foundation and the Greening Kuwadzana project has grown over time as we’ve partnered on a number of events together. We appreciate the trust they’ve had in us to deliver quality mental health education to the youth of Kuwadzana. We are grateful for our partnership and are excited to continue growing and working together on new projects."

She also concurred that indeed, there was a relationship between mental health and environment, which thereby necessitated their collaboration with The Greening Kuwadzana Project. The collaboration thus becomes an extension of Ndinewe Foundation's work.

"Factors such as noise and air pollution, and a lack of greenery can influence one’s stress and anxiety levels as well. Our collaborative efforts have been an effective way to mobilise young people and educate them on taking care of their mental health and their environment," Miss Muparutsa explained.

The greatest challenge that this noble initiative has faced is vandalism, mostly due to a lack of knowledge and sometimes because of illegal urban farming. Thus, The Greening Kuwadzana Project has decided to take a 'catch them young' approach to environmental awareness and educate school children through various events and programmes.

In 2023 they hosted two events that meant to spread awareness to reduce vandalism; Dance for Climate Action in July 2023 and Beats, Rhymes & Climate Action in November 2023. They have also been appealing to relevant authorities for legislation that outlaws illegal tree felling and starting of fires.

In 2024, the initiative plans to increase its scope of awareness to educating children on plant propagation techniques. 

"We intend intend to teach basic budding and grafting skills soon as we find the resources to carry out such as task. In 2024, we are starting a class to teach children between 8 and 12 years professional plant propagation methods," explained Gwini.

Never one to tire, Gwini also uses his artistic talents as another creative means of environmental activism. Damien Marcus, as he's affectionely known by his fans, has three EPs, two mixtapes, an album and plenty singles to his name.

His latest release, Plant a Tree featuring Jattan C is a war cry.

Speaking to ZimSphere, he says the genre he would like his music to be associated with is 'conscious rap'. Damien Marcus sees rap music as a tool for advocacy, rather than just entertainment.

"I consider my rap to be an advocacy for socio-political, cultural and environmental justice. I guess my last project 'Bira Guru' is a testament of the claim," he explained.

And truly, Damien Marcus' critically acclaimed debut album Bira Guru proved this assertion. The 17-track LP is laced with spiritual introspection and powerful pan-African messages, on top of being a thoroughly enjoyable listen.

The album has credits from acclaimed author Cynthia Marangwanda, Aerosol, Outspoken, hip hop legend Synik, songstress Diana Samkange, BA7, Viewsa and South African artist Mfece.

Standout tracks include Mavara, Hondo, Chinhoyi 7, House of Chaos and Confusion, and the title track featuring Mfece
For Gwini, a peek into the future, beyond 2024, shows a greener, healthier Kuwadzana with an appreciation of indigenous trees.

He added, "I imagine the Kuwadzana parks as tree knowledge bases, with various indigenous fruit trees like nyii, mapfuura, hute and so on. I envision a community with many free fruits in schools and churches, such that the community is nourished."

As for the music…

You can revisit Damien Marcus' future classic Bira Guru here. Also watch the lyric video for Plant a Tree on YouTube.

To stay up to date with everything about The Greening Kuwadzana Project as well as events and programmes being spearheaded by Kuwadzana Press in Kuwadzana, you can follow them on Instagram, Facebook, and X. You can also contact the man himself, Tafadzwa Gwini.

The Ndinewe Foundation is also available for mental health counseling and assistance with GBV related issues. You can contact them through Instagram , Facebook, and X. For calls, feel free to call them on ring on 0781 293 888, or reach out via WhatsApp.

They can also directly call Tafadzwa on 0772 831 644.

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