‘I could school Supa Mandiwanzira’

By Tafi Mhaka

I started out as a teacher at Sagambe Secondary School. It is located in a small village near Eastern Highlands Plantation in Honde Valley, Manicaland. The place is hot and humid and rainy and remote and situated near Mozambique. The terrain is rough and uneven and the roads are underdeveloped and few buses venture there.

ICT minister Supa Mandiwanzira
Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services Minister Supa Mandiwanzira

The villagers work in tea and coffee production for the most part and pick fresh leaves on a daily basis. This kind of work is laborious and repetitive and low paid.  A few well-off villagers own small-scale coffee and tea and banana plantations, and many young men and women who were born and raised in the village, live and work in South Africa.

This is the community I became a part of when I left university. I taught English and English Literature and handled football and athletics assignments. It was an exciting time for me and I had an eclectic mix of students and colleagues. It was the wild and hopeful summer of 1999.

When I arrived in Sagambe the then-deputy headmaster – Mr Munetsi – housed me in a small room located behind a general dealer shop. The room could barely accommodate a bed and primus stove and a few plastic buckets that I stored water in. The dark room had no running water nor electricity and I shared a pit latrine and an adjacent room that passed as a bathroom with two friendly teachers: Christopher and Farai.

The school had a surplus of financial needs and lacked academic resources and proper classroom facilities for all the pupils. However, nothing held us back from performing our requisite responsibilities.

We maintained a serious work ethic and level of professionalism that would have put senior and well-paid civil servants to shame. I never missed lessons and never slacked and thoroughly enjoyed my job. So I could school Supa Mandiwanzira on selfless public service.

I was young and well respected within the community. The mainly poor and uneducated fathers and mothers understood how well education could spark social mobility and backed all of the teachers without reservation.

I returned their blind faith in our abilities and mentored pupils and shared all the knowledge and personal resources that I could muster. I went the extra mile and established holiday classes for local and external students.

I drove and encouraged intelligent and needy students equally hard and made abundantly clear the value of education and discipline for all. I vacillated between a disciplinarian approach and big brother character while I demonstrated infinite possibilities and stoked immense pride in many a young mind.

Through social interactions with the community members I could tell that the parents wanted and expected much more from us than mere mentorship. So I built an alternative narrative that pupils could latch onto: I preached a story of fresh hope and potential success. So I could school Supa Mandiwanzira on the basic needs of underprivileged people.

Under my authority the English department achieved record passes in Ordinary level examinations that surprised all and sundry. Little did I know back then that I had mentored young men and women who would go on and become outstanding members of society in all facets of life. I worked hard out of love for humanity. (And, it was my civic duty.)

I found the cycle of life refreshingly wonderful and invigorating. I enjoyed the liberal conversations I indulged in with colleagues and acquaintances near the shops while listening to the falsetto sounds of Pengaudzoke and Nicholas Zakariah blaring from a loud radio and watching small scale farmers load bags of agricultural produce on to the top of a bus. We knew the bus drivers and shop owners by name and relished spending carefree moments in the scenic splendour of an evergreen environment.

We even enjoyed doing our laundry in Nyamukombe River. I appreciated the simplicity of life and loved journeying between Sagambe and Hauna and Zindi for fun on Saturdays and Sundays along with like-minded pals. We shared meals and lent each other money and help. We woke each other up at four in the morning so none of us missed the one and only bus in the morning whenever a 130 kilometre road trip to Mutare and breakfast by Wimpy beckoned.

I loved it all until the MDC held a small rally in the village and a relative of mine spoke there. Out of plain ignorance and warm heartedness: I introduced my nephew to the local Zanu-PF councillor – a man whom I considered a colleague. I taught his son private lessons on weekends and had had a reasonably sound relationship with him until that particular Sunday.

Not long after that rally in Sagambe had happened political tensions in the valley escalated and rumour had it I supported the MDC. The situation deteriorated to the extent where my personal safety became uncertain. So I departed without warning and went away for two weeks.

Yet I had done no wrong. I had attended the small MDC rally on a sunny Sunday afternoon along with many other people and held no membership card. And I had family and friends who supported the MDC. I had family and friends who supported Zanu-PF. So while I harboured opinions about politics I was largely apolitical in public. But I digress.

Pupils lost out on valuable lessons in my absence. This infuriated parents because the pupils had paid the price for the sad and wasteful exuberance exhibited by Councillor Dondo when he politicised my livelihood and subsequently endangered my life through his actions.

I only went back after promises had been made I would not be harmed and everybody who had denounced and threatened me claimed it was all a misunderstanding. But I knew those were blatant lies.

Word about teachers being intimidated and beaten up around Manicaland surfaced every week. As did reports of fatal political confrontations in neighbouring villages and this had spread fear throughout Honde valley. ‘Kill one and frighten everyone else’ appeared to be the plan at hand.

So life soured when I finally returned to work. But I worked hard as usual and did not inconvenience the students over the hellish experience I had been through. I fulfilled my professional obligations and proffered my all again. Yet I felt betrayed and undervalued and made plans to leave.

I had huge and universal dreams. So I upped and left without notice after two years and three months or so living and working in Sagambe. Within a month: I had the next best job in the world. But I always look back at when and how things went wrong then.

I remember when Mr Chikomba – a Sagambe School Development Association member and notorious businessman and village elder – warned that he would thrash any high school and primary school teachers who supported the MDC. He said this in a forum that had been addressed by the district education officer.

So I wonder whether Zimbabweans have an unequivocal appreciation of tolerance and freedom of expression and association. So yes – I could school Supa Mandiwanzira on the reprehensible mechanism of unwarranted harassment and misplaced morality.

Teachers have been unreasonably lampooned and vilified and manhandled in rural areas whenever local representatives need soft targets and elections loom. So I could school Mandiwanzira on how Zanu-PF officials play the blame game with breathtaking conviction.

Mandiwanzira reminds me of Mr Chikomba. His grandstanding over Econet and Ecocash remains a shameful affair and smacks of an election ploy. So I am reminded of Tonderai: an old high school friend who works for Econet.

Before he landed a job at Econet: he could not land a proper job in South Africa. Yet, because Mandiwanzira and his colleagues in cabinet have ruined the economy – Tonderai had left home in the first place. Now, Mandiwanzira has set his sights on destroying the only organisation that has brought Tonderai fresh life.

If Mandiwanzira has honest public sector concerns: he would handle complex commercial matters in the privacy of corporate boardrooms. If he truly has the welfare of the people in mind: he would realise that humanitarian and economic activities from corporate companies and overwhelmed individuals and economic exiles and NGOs have replaced the public sector roles and responsibilities surrendered by the government a long time ago. So I could school Supa Mandiwanzira on bad economic policy and incriminating innocent people.

I remember that Mandiwanzira threatened Pastor Evan Mawarire last year and attempted to ride roughshod over his civil liberties on Twitter like a rage-filled mini Idi Amin. Does Mandiwanzira understand that he is a civil servant and not Anthony Joshua? Suffice it to say that Mandiwanzira stands as an embarrassment to the founding libertarian and economic values of Zimbabwe.

He has lost the plot and the people whom he purportedly represents will suffer the brunt of his selfishness sooner than later. What ever happened to people who want to work for the wider benefit of the nation? Civil service should not be about political formations and maligning hardworking and incorruptible businessmen.

There is hardly a businessman like him who is not corrupt and beholden to strange and shady actors. There is hardly a businessperson like Strive Masiyiwa who remains humble and well thought of. There is hardly a business entity that captures the African imagination in the manner Econet Wireless has capably done all over Zimbabwe and Africa.

Mandiwanzira knows the very people who perpetuate poverty and inequity and corruption in Zimbabwe: he could start by looking in the mirror.