THIS week marks 14 years after the late Vice President, Dr Simon Vengesai Muzenda died at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals in Harare on September 20, 2003.
Dr Mzee, as he was affectionately by many people, died at the age of 81 about a month before he celebrated his birthday on October 28.
Dr Muzenda, who was born in Headman Ndawi’s area of Gutu, was brought up by his maternal grandmother who valued education so much that she ensured he would regularly attend a local school, Nyamandi Primary School.
An academically gifted child, Cde Muzenda was seconded for a teacher training course after attaining Standard Six, but acting on advice of his tutor, he travelled to South Africa’s Marianhill Mission in the Natal Province, where he trained as a carpentry teacher.
At the college, the late Dr Mzee developed political awareness from his alliance with fellow students that included a number of men who became prominent in black politics in the then apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia.
In 1950, he came back home and started working in a furniture factory in Bulawayo. The late Vice President became involved in politics with the late Benjamin Burombo, one of the first black activists to challenge Smith’s repressive and discriminatory laws.
In 1955, the late Dr Mzee, who was now married to a nurse, the late Mbuya Moudy, moved to Mvuma where he embarked on his own carpentry business while continuing his political activism until he became administrative secretary of Zimbabwe African National Union.
This attracted the ire of the Rhodesian security police which saw him being incarcerated at the then Salisbury (now Harare) Central Prison.
The late Dr Mzee is said to have described the prison cell as “a place of study” as he and other inmates embarked on their studies. He was briefly released in 1964 before being incarcerated after being found in possession of a firearm — a pistol.
He had been elected the Zanu deputy organising secretary and was actively involved in organising young blacks to go for military training in Tanzania, Zambia, the then Soviet Union and China.
As fate would have it, he was jailed yet again before being released under the Anglo-Rhodesia agreement in 1971.
Dr Mzee to many was an enigma, as his humility and down-to-earth character baffled many who didn’t expect a Vice President to be so humble.
He would fit in every situation and on weekends he visited the rural folk in his home area of Zvavahera, attending funeral gatherings and traditional ceremonies.
When home, he always wanted to be referred to as Sekuru Muzenda despite assuming the second highest leadership position on the land. Due to his humility, many made fun of him and to date a great number of Zimbabweans still think that Dr Mzee was not eloquent in English.
He was, however, the complete antithesis of what people thought he was. The man defied the odds, showing his dedication and commitment to taking back the country from the hands of the minority white people.
The late VP Muzenda contributed immensely to the struggle, including taking his four children to Mozambique to join other cadres in the liberation struggle.
Having been involved in political activism, chairing crucial meetings and taking part in the Lancaster House conference in 1979, clearly shows that Dr Mzee could communicate in English at all levels.
The late Dr Mzee was again not a victim of identity crisis as he could relate easily to his people in Masvingo.
He would speak his language in a hushed voice and was one of a few people who could address any gathering in his native language, Karanga, without diluting it with English words.
He did not see white people as superior beings as he advocated for equality and when it came to land, he was resolute and unapologetic.
He had self-belief as a true Zimbabwean and called for the fair distribution of land to the landless blacks arguing that white people had for long been depriving native people of their natural resources. He was down to earth that in his village of Zvavahera he would literally remove his Vice President’s jacket to join villagers in traditional dance.
He would also drink traditional beer from traditional pots (pfuko) exchanging with grey-bearded and snuff-sniffing folks in his rural home without any worry. Such was the man who became known as the Soul of the Nation and a pillar of strength for his party, Zanu-PF, and the country at large.
When he recited the poem “Nehanda Nyakasikana”, which was penned by the late Professor Solomon Mutsvairo, a lot of people marvelled at his work. It is now 14 years after Dr Mzee bid farewell to Zimbabwe but memories still linger on and the nation still cherishes his works.
The independence of Zimbabwe would not be complete without mention of Dr Mzee as he became the embodiment of the country’s struggle for independence.
Dr Muzenda and other heroes like Josiah Tongogara, Herbert Chitepo, Dr Joshua Nkomo, Joseph Musika and President Mugabe, brought Zimbabwe its cherished independence.
These are the leaders who unshackled the country from colonial bondage despite then Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Douglas Smith’s spirited efforts to thwart any move towards self-rule by the majority black people.
Dr Mzee and his family, including his wife Mbuya Moudy and his children, suffered persecution during the colonial days but remained resolute until the country achieved self-rule.
In remembrance of the splendid work done by the late Dr Mzee and his family in liberating Zimbabwe, Friends of Joshua Nkomo Trust has upgraded Mzenda’s family home in Masvingo’s Mucheke suburb to a heritage site.
Named KwaVaMuzenda Heritage Site, the home, built in 1896, is now a tourist attraction with different artifacts depicting the life of Dr Mzee, his tribulations during the war of liberation, his trade union activism in Bulawayo and a stint in South Africa where he worked as a carpentry lecturer.
Friends of Joshua Nkomo Trust creative director Rayban Sengwayo said Dr Mzee’s legacy would be cherished forever by Zimbabweans as he brought independence.
He said because of that, the late Vice President deserved to be remembered in a special way, hence coming up with the idea of a heritage site “in honour of the life of a gallant son of the soil”.
The upgrade was done in conjunction with Great Zimbabwe University. During the Muzenda Memorial Golf Tournament last year, Mbuya Moudy appealed to the City Fathers and Zanu-PF to have a statue erected in Masvingo City in honour of her late husband.
Villagers and party members in Zvavahera in Gutu have also called for the erection of a statue at Mpandawana Growth Point. — Post Reporter/Harare Bureau