Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Philani Zamchiya: Who is Who in Zim

Philani Zamchiya (ZINASU president 2003-2005)                                               

This week we focus on an enigmatic student leader, popularly known as Zams, Mutape or Pres1 or more recently Dr President. This man is called Phillan Zamchiya and was born in Zimbabwe just after the country gained its political independence from colonial rule. He attended primary education at Mutema Primary school in the rural hinterlands of Chipinge.

According to the Who’s Who in Southern Africa edition, at the age of seven he would clandestinely attend ZANU NDONGA political rallies against the then popular Presidency of Robert Mugabe. At completion of primary school Pres1 made a feat by qualifying and enrolling for his secondary education at the prestigious St Augustine’s Mission School in Mutare (popularly known as kwa Tsambe) from a little known rural primary school.

At KwaTsambe he had a love-hate relationship with authorities and could not be enrolled for Advanced Level studies. He again found himself back in the rural hinterland at Chikore High School. Former students at Chikore interviewed, describe him as a natural leader who led many clubs and still won every academic prize at every term and year end.

One of his former teachers now lecturer at Mutare Polytechnic says he was by far way ahead of his classmates and that once he was committed in something he was a difficult man to push. In year 2000 he joined the then prestigious University of Zimbabwe (UZ) where he chose to study and completed a Bachelors degree, against all odds as acknowledged by the Students Solidarity Trust (SST).

Phillan Zamchiya was a naturalized political activist, whose activism started from day one at the university, marking a long protracted life that culminated in his most popular election as the President of the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) on the 29th of March 2003 at the 4th ZINASU Bi-Annual Congress in Njube Bulawayo.

His executive comprised the following comrades, Deputy President Cde Jabusile Shumba (MSU), Secretary General Cde Emmanuel Samundombe (old GZU, now defunct), Treasurer General Cde Jimmy Wilford (Chinhoyi University), Secretary for Education and Research Cde Biko Mutsaurwa (Belvedere Teachers College), Cde Marvelous Kumalo Sports Secretary (Mutare Teachers College, Franco Makwangudze Legal Affairs NUST). 

Within his first 100 days in office he had helped organize students to march to the state house to force Mugabe out of power an operation dubbed Final Push on 2 June 2003. 

He also served in the board and committees of CASEP, ZESN, CRISIS COALITION, NCA and SST representing ZINASU. His fierce fight for academic freedoms, anti-privatization of education, a democratic people driven constitution and a new democratic Zimbabwe resulted in a record 18 detentions, incarcerations and arrests, various suspensions from studies and at one time he was deregistered from the university and he had to escape two state engineered assassination attempts on his life.

On 14 October 2004, on the eve of Morgan Tsvangirai’s treason trial, he was severely assaulted by state agents and left unconscious believed to be dead being accused of mobilizing students and Zimbabweans to protest against Morgan Tsvangirai’s treason charges (inserted pic of Zams recovering in hospital as a result of the attack).

During hospitalization members of the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) broke into the hospital to finish him off whilst he was on a life supporting machine and was saved by alert hospital security at Avenues Clinic in Harare. In early 2005 he was poisoned by state security agents during interrogations over allegations of organizing a demonstration for a people driven constitution.

He had spent seven days at the Avenues clinic and was then rescued and evacuated by Amnesty International to get medication in South Africa. One of the events that seem to linger in his memory is the murder of his then political advisor and classmate by members of the army as every time he addresses he recalls the red soil when he was burying Lameck Chemvura in Nyanga, Mutare (Chemvura was severely assaulted and thrown out of a moving train by members of the Zimbabwe National Army ZNA).

Consequently, as expressed by Itai Zimunya in his controversial pamphlet: Claiming our future, for security and health reasons, Zams could not attend the ZINASU 5th bi-annual congress but he returned to deliver a powerful speech at the 6th bi-annual congress where, like a true prophet, he forewarned delegates of the temptations to turn ZINASU into an Non Governmental Organization (NGO).

This man ranks as a gifted public speaker who once stopped attempts to hold a dubious ZINASU congress in Gweru through just but the power of his words. He mesmerized his audience at the colleges, at May Day rallies and even at the MDC rallies as he displayed his oratory theatrics and linguistics gymnastics. 

Phillan Zamchiya miraculously emerged from the torture and persecutions more committed. In 2007 he joined the prestigious PLAAS at the radical University of the Western Cape in South Africa to study for a two year MPhil degree where he graduated suma-cum-laude and was the best student by any standard in each and every subject he registered.

He was then nominated and selected in the Who‘s Who of southern Africa edition that featured the likes of Nelson Mandela, Graca Machel and Desmond Tutu. On a political level he continued to lobby the progressive youth movements of South Africa and was also responsible for lobbying South African Members of Parliament such as Jeremy Cronin and Barbara Hogan to support the Zimbabwe cause.

From there he has joined the globally respected University of Oxford in the United Kingdom where he is currently pursuing his PhD (doctorate) in Oxford’s Department of International Department since October 2009. This has led to some calling him Dr President.

Dr President is a revelation of the generation born after Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, an issue that has endeared as well as created enemies for Pres1 in the broader circles which he appears not to notice. It seems his personal friend is Washington Katema (former University of Zimbabwe Students Executive Council Treasurer). 

On the relationship front he is currently single. Trying to know more about him the only answer you get is, “I am an ordinary person,” and when asked about Oxford he says, “Oxford is just a place for ordinary people,” and if you insist he would say, “it’s us ordinary people who do the extraordinary.” And most students say all they need for President at the 7th bi-annual congress is an ordinary person who can take ZINASU extraordinaire. 

Like all his predecessors and successors, Zams is a non smoker but is an avid drinker of  Castle Lager, and when in Harare he likes hanging out with fellow comrades at his favorite bar, Pachedu Bar and Restraunt popularly known as ‘PS1,’ but he insisted that his favorite bar remains the KEG situated at the OR Tambo Airport South Africa. 

Profile Compiled and written by Cde Blessing Vava [National Spokesperson]