Chiwoniso Maraire
Chiwoniso Maraire Wikipedia

One of Zimbabwe’s best-known entertainers has died at the age of 37, apparently from pneumonia. Chiwoniso Maraire became a star in the realm of world Music with the release of her album “Ancient Voices” in the late 1990s.

"She has been in hospital for the past 10 days suffering from chest pains," her manager, Cosmas Zamangwe, told Zimbabwe's Herald newspaper. "We are however still to ascertain the disease she was suffering from but we suspect it is pneumonia."

The BBC reported that Chiwoniso flouted gender roles by playing the mbira, or thumb piano, an instrument traditionally played only by men. She learned the mbira from her father, musician Dumisani Maraire. Her ex-husband, musician Andy Brown, died last year. They left behind two children.

In her brief life, Chiwoniso was highly accomplished. The Herald noted that in 1991 she formed Zimbabwe’s first Afro hip-hop group, A Peace of Ebony, recording an album the following year with them called ”From the Native Tongue.”

Her debut solo album, "Ancient Voices," received the Decouverte Afrique award from Radio France International later in the decade. From 2001 to 2004, she belonged to a multinational all-women band called Women’s Voice, which also included people from Norway, Tanzania, U.S., Israel and Algeria.

While her death is rather shocking, it should be kept in mind that Zimbabwe has one of the world’s lowest life expectancy averages -- although as a prominent celebrity she did not suffer from the woes like malnutrition, poverty and disease that plague most of her countrymen.

Nonetheless, between 1990 and 2007, Zimbabwe was one of only six nations in the world where life expectancy rates declined. Now, in 2013, the average Zimbabwean male does not live past the age of 50, while women tend to die at 47. But these figures have actually been climbing since 2006, when the average expectancy was only about 37 for both genders, according to the World Health Organization. HIV and malnutrition were largely to blame for the plunge from 59.2 years in 1980, when white rule ended, to 37 in 2006.

Zimbabwe’s health and child welfare minister, Dr. Henry Madzorera, told Zimbabwe media last year that the life expectancy numbers have edged up due to increased access to HIV drugs and better nutrition. “Life expectancy has been rising slowly in Zimbabwe. This is to be expected considering the general improvement in the welfare of the people through economic recovery,” he said. “Droughts have been pulling us back in terms of nutrition, but, in general, we are better off than we were a few years ago.”

Madzorera added: “There have been short-term interventions that have made an impact on survival and longevity in Zimbabwe. These include improvements in the health delivery system, near-universal access to HIV care and treat­ment as well as the all-out war on maternal and child mortality.”

Still, Zimbabwe has one of the world’s lowest life expectancy rates. According to the CIA World Factbook, Zimbabwe ranks 209 on a list of 223 nations arranged by life expectancy averages. Thirteen of the 14 states below Zimbabwe on the rankings are all located in Africa.