By Dr Gideon Gono
We are all meeting under circumstances of grief and pain, united by our sorrow and desperate to pay our last respects to a man we all knew through his various acts of love, kindness, intellectual prowess, writing, teachings or through his principled, non-racial and fearless stance on many issues in society.
I stand before you all, not because I knew Eric more than anyone in here or because I was closer to him than anyone here. I certainly claim no much accolade. I stand before you all as a family friend. With Eric, we were brothers from different mothers and spent many hours together whenever we could. He was my mentor in many areas of personal and professional life.
Few men served so many with such unfailing commitment as was shown by Eric. Any fewer men will ever match the energy this man had, the passion and uprightness. The man we are gathered to bid farewell was not just as an economic counsellor, a board member to any companies but also a trustee of several family trusts and a man of incredible humility with an upright conscience.
If at all Eric erred in his economic thinking, he always erred on the side of the poor, the disadvantaged, on the side of business, the side of investors and the prosperity of Bulawayo. In Eric, I came across a man who loved his Bulawayo city, a man who was fiercely patriotic to his country and a man who hated any form of injustice regardless of who perpetrated it.
I was one of those who Eric would not tire in telling that it was in the early 60s that as a young chartered accountant, he challenged the white-minority regime of the time by calling out publicly for the ‘’whites in Rhodesia to end minority rule” and to declare that “white minority rule was not sustainable” at a time it was a taboo for a non-black man to say that.
As testified by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in their condolence message in today’s media, Eric went further to admit into his practice the first black person articled clerk to train as a chartered accountant in Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia, to the consternation and scorn of his colleagues in the profession who argued that such a move would lead to an over-supply of chartered accountants which in turn would adversely affect their privileged earnings and standing in society but he stood firm on his beliefs.
Today, Eric departs to the next world, leaving behind thousands and thousands of black men and women who owe their careers to such a gallantry and principled standing when it was easier to just shut up and swim with the tide of the time. Eric refused to accept skin colour as the basis of judging one’s character or abilities and I am convinced that there are many of you gathered here who have more eloquent testimonies to tell than I have been able to gather and witness over my 20 years of friendship with Eric.
Many a generation between 18 and mid-40s will also remember Eric as the famous High-School Quiz-master who would, with glasses hanging by his nose, gaze at you and bellow – “5 seconds left” – and you knew it was game over. Many an economist… my brothers Tony Hawkins, John Robertson, Daniel Ndlela, the late Danny Dube and many more, will not forget the intellectual roasting they received at Eric’s hands just as he didn’t mind them battering his chicks in their prescription of him as “rumblings of that accountant from Bulawayo”!
There could not have been a worse time for Eric to depart for Bulawayo industries than now when industry needed his services as a turnaround specialist and negotiator. He earned his title as the most frequent flier on Air Zimbabwe as he travelled every week in search of solutions between Bulawayo and Harare, often occupying the same seat, IC.
He would refuse to stay one day longer in Harare or anywhere else, believing that there was no better place on planet earth than Bulawayo regardless of its water challenges. His dream was to have the Bulawayo water problems solved one day. His membership of the Zambezi Water Project personified his wishes in that area and nothing would bring him greater joy from his new home than to see the speedy take-off and completion of Zambezi water project.
Well, I could go on and on, in typical Eric fashion and speak about his past until sunset but I shall resist the urge for such pleasure. As I sat with family and friends at Eric’s home last night, we got into typical Eric debates around his bar imagining what Eric could be doing in Heaven at this stage. Mark, Barry and Ruth had each their own versions of imagination so did I and two other friends.
In summary, “Eric was already busy asking God’s permission to revise his procedure manuals and rewriting Zimbabwe’s taxation laws,” said Barry. “No, no, no!” said Mark, “he is probably advising Him on corporate governance issues, pleading with God to outlaw all exchange control laws in the country!”
I disagreed with both and argued that He was busy urging God to bring back three zeros to every US dollar in our pockets and in our bank accounts till all the 24 zeros that I removed against his wishes are restored back to Zimbabweans, without changing the currency at this stage.
We all agreed that the workaholic Eric, who could only do with four hours of sleep from his young age, could be writing a user-friendly manual on Zimbabwe’s indigenisation and empowerment, devising a tool box on how to attract foreign direct investment after which he was probably going to negotiate for the supply of new ZESA transformers and advocating for the industrial revival of not just Bulawayo but all industries in Zimbabwe.
We were convinced that he would not forget his favorite airline, Air Zimbabwe, while pleading with God to turn us all into accountants pleading for the isolation and quarantining of all economist for a year while he runs the show from above. Ruth came in with the hypothesis that Eric was probably asking God to remove all forms of corruption, bigotry, political and racial intolerance as well as pleading for Zimbabweans to be prosperous.
Of course, we imagined Eric meeting and not taking his eyes off his wife Baileh and inviting his parents and longtime friends to the Jewish New-year’s dinner tonight without informing his wife how many people he has invited home! Such is the Eric we know and imagined.
To Raphi, you are lucky to have had a father for 50 years… and Mark, for 48 years. Barry, nothing gave your father greater joy in the last 46 years than having you around him. Ruth, you were dad’s only daughter! I refrain from giving out your age except that you remain his baby whatever age!
As for Naome, I am aware of the pain you must be feeling. You served the Bloch family since 1970 and for 44 years you have played mom, sister and keeper to both parents and children. You were there when Eric’s parents departed. You have been there to witness the departure of Baileh and Eric. No one takes for granted your own sadness over these departures and today Raphi, Mark, Barry and Ruth want you to know that they appreciate and love you.
They may be scattered in Israel, Scotland, Australia and England but home remains home and you are part of their history, present and they will take care of your future. To you all, I say treasure the beautiful memories you had with your father and rejoice at the prospects of reunion between your parents, grandparents, friends and God.
To Eric, go well my brother and yes, we could do with a few more zeroes to our multi currencies! You may want to know that I’m holding onto your unfinished, handwritten article for The Eric Bloch COLUMN entitled “Most Monetary Policies Were Positive”…and the last writing pad you had. I shall treasure both and see if I can do justice to your unfinished thoughts.
Dr Gideon Gono is the immediate past Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and was a friend to the Bloch family. He gave this speech at the Jewish Community Synagogue in Bulawayo at the funeral service of the late Eric Bloch.