By Violet Gonda
28 January 2013
Scores of people from all walks of life continue to pay tribute to one of Zimbabwe’s most prominent political affairs commentators, UZ lecturer Professor John Makumbe, who passed away in Harare on Sunday after suffering a heart attack, aged 63.
In civil society Makumbe was known as a fearless and courageous leader who tutored Zimbabweans to stand up for their beliefs and principles and exhibit moral courage in their pursuit for a better Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said he did so with, “humour, empathy and non-violence, qualities which exhibit the true nature of his leadership and serve as an example to all.”
Historian Diana Mitchell said: “I join all other admirers of John Makumbe in mourning his death and testifying to his greatness of spirit. Above all, in the serious and often forbidding climate of politics in Zimbabwe he brought us the greatest gift of all – the gift of laughter. He was able to make us laugh when we would have cried. Dear John, rest in peace. You will not be forgotten.”
The Combined Harare Residents Associations said he was a champion of good governance, human rights and a foot soldier who fought for the rights of the marginalized especially the albino community. “Throughout his entire life, he made great strides towards the realization of a better Zimbabwe with good leadership that respects the will of the people.”
For those working in the media Makumbe was invaluable for providing reliable, well informed comments, that were not only relevant to the situation but funny as well. He was always a joy to talk to, even with a deadline looming and telephone problems. He will be greatly missed by the staff here at SW Radio Africa who relied on him for his wisdom and sometimes called him just for inspiration.
In one comment on SW Radio Africa, Makumbe said this about President Mugabe around the time of the 2008 elections and run off: “90 days will give Robert Mugabe a lot of time to plan and manipulate the electoral process; it will also give him time to deploy the war veterans, the ZANU PF militia, the soldiers, and the CIO back into the field to whip up support. Above all it will give him time to rest. We understand he is really very tired after campaigning for the past 3-4 weeks; he is very tired. The man is 84 years old, here sometimes we say 84,000 years because here we talk mainly in thousands, but he’s 84 years old and he gets tired so he needed 3 months to do it again and that will be a real violation of the law.”
He was also not afraid to put his name to any story, no matter how controversial or sensitive it was. Commenting on reports of serious corruption in the MDC-T, Makumbe told SW Radio Africa:
“Many people again fail to realise that all of us in Zimbabwe are a product of a very corrupt regime called the Rhodesia Front. The Ian Smith regime was corrupt to the core; it was succeeded by the Robert Mugabe regime, the Zanu-PF regime which is corrupt to the core. The corruption in the MDC is a fraction of the corruption in Zanu-PF, but we are all victims of these regimes so corruption has almost become a culture. It would be naivety on anyone’s part to think that the MDC comprises only saints who are not touched by these things.”
When asked to comment on reports of divisions between MDC-T Secretary General Tendai Biti and the party president Morgan Tsvangirai, Makumbe said:
“I have heard lots of that. You know one thing Violet you will find in political parlance is that they say if you leave two Zimbabweans on the moon overnight, when you get back to the moon the following day you will find that they will have formed three political parties! Zimbabweans are very good at drawing lines, drawing factions here and there… a lot of it is imagined rather than real.”
When robotics scientist Professor Arthur Mutambara first joined politics, Makumbe jokingly said Mutambara (who is now Deputy Prime Minister) would be useful if he used his experience to invent new counting machines that could handle the huge piles of Zimbabwean dollars.
Commenting on the obscure new United People’s Party in 2006, Makumbe told the Financial Gazette: “There is a real danger that if UPP doesn’t work hard between now and 2008 to attract numbers it will end up like the Ndande, Ndinde and Ndous.” Journalist Kumbirai Mafunda said Makumbe was referring to other fringe political parties that have emerged in the past but failed to garner any meaningful support.
Mafunda said Makumbe was a man who was always available at any time and would tell it like it is.
Tony Reeler, who worked with Makumbe on many NGO projects, said: “I remember John sitting in the Sheraton with a group of us waiting to see the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers, and the Zimbabwe Government delegation walking out of the meeting, led by John Nkomo. They greeted John – mainly because he had deliberately placed his chair close to their path and the watching cameras – and he responded by alternatively showing the closed fist and the open hand, and saying loudly, “which team are you”? Everyone laughed, even the Government delegation, but whom else in Zimbabwe in 2000 would have dared tease ZANU PF in that way.
The outspoken critic of Mugabe and ZANU PF announced late last year he was taking a break from teaching so he could “walk the walk” and contest in the parliamentary election for the MDC-T, in polls expected this year.
Makumbe said he was venturing into politics because “the way this country has been misgoverned, any idiot can do better if they take over from ZANU-PF.”
Critics of his style accused him of being a spin doctor for the MDC-T and being partisan in his analysis, but Makumbe, made no apologies for having an opinion.
“It is fiction to think that academics are neutral politically. There is always a preferred side, particularly in a country like Zimbabwe where you actually have a highly polarized society. Whether people admit it or not everyone is either ZANU PF or MDC-T.”
Rest in peace professor, we will miss you.