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In defence of Learnmore Jongwe, a lawyer and human being: a reply to Brighton Mutebuka

By Tino Chinyoka

This is a reply to Brighton Mutebuka’s article “Revisiting the Learnmore Jongwe tragedy – Hero or Villain or a mere inconvenient truth?” published on Nehanda Radio on 15 November 2015. According to Brighton, he has intimate knowledge about the relationship between Learnmore and Rutendo, right from when these two ill-fated souls met until the very end.

The late Learnmore Jongwe and his wife Rutendo on their wedding day
The late Learnmore Jongwe and his wife Rutendo on their wedding day

This position allows him, indeed enjoins him, to give either an objective analysis or, to give Rutendo’s story. Despite the title, a reading of the article shows that it sets out only to do the latter, by slating Jongwe, but ends up doing neither.

First health warning: l know Brighton Mutebuka personally, and while we have worked together on occasion, l do not believe that he counts me among his friends. Plus the fact that l always seem to criticize his relative Morgan Tsvangirai means that that situation is not likely to change.

My hope is that he is able to separate the person from the views in this piece and see it for what it is: an attempt to give Jongwe a voice just as he tried to give Rutendo a voice. In this vein, l have tried hard to not personalise this reply, as doing so will not only do a disservice to my young brother Learnmore, but risk trivialising what is in fact a serious debate over a very very sad story.

We must always recall that Learnmore and Rutendo left a child in this world, who will no doubt read these debates and must be shielded from unhelpful characterisations of her parents. That last point, more than anything else, is in fact why l thought this reply was needed.

Second health warning: as is obvious from the foregoing, l regarded Jongwe as my young brother. In his first year at UZ, he approached me and stated that he wanted to follow in my footsteps and also become President of the UZ Students Union.

I took to him from that time. And when the time for him to run for office arrived, he came to where l was working and we wrote his manifesto together.

Later on we debated my refusal to go into the MDC at the outset (l thought Tsvangirai was a flawed leader that I would find hard to respect and that the party should embrace the Chidyausiku Constitutional Commission, and he thought Tsvangirai could be worked with despite his flaws).

We would drive to meetings together, and he had me addressing meetings in Marondera   and Chitungwiza. It was he that introduced me to the likes of Chamisa and Hwende, speaking very highly of them. Because Jongwe was like that: he was not consumed by jealousy or an inferiority complex. Small wonder why l do not recognise the petty, vindictive and insecure control freak that Brighton will have us believe he was.

Jongwe was a handsome, intelligent and articulate lawyer, working in one of the biggest law firms in the country. Having been President of the UZ Students Union, he was in the public eye. You would struggle to find many incredulous stares if you suggested that he was on a path to high national office.

Yet the picture one gets from Brighton’s piece is of a small person devoid of any confidence who clung on to this one woman because of her beauty. The very suggestion that the only thing that Rutendo brought to the table was her beauty is as insulting to her as it is to Jongwe. There is no shortage of beautiful women in Zimbabwe, especially for a man with Jongwe’s attributes. He saw in Rutendo more than what Brighton clearly saw, and he always made a point to praise her many qualities.

And when we drove together to different places, spending many hours out of Harare, I do not recall any of the telltale signs of a jealous and possessive spouse (constant phones calls to check if their partner was okay, if they had finished school, where they were at this time etc). Instead, he always seemed very secure in the knowledge that he had the high regard of a woman that he thought highly of, and was content.

Nor does the piece meant to give Rutendo’s side do her justice. She comes across as someone that married a man she did not love because of who he was. That is insulting to her memory.

According to Brighton, “In the end, she was dazzled and succumbed to Jongwe’s charms. She did not stand a chance as the likes of Jongwe, “Wiwa”, “Dombo”, Mguni, “Agenda” and others were pretty much high profile celebrities. We would see them on telly during a then ZTV programme called “Around Zimbabwe” and they also dominated the major papers of the day.”

I am sorry to say but that is, quite simply, not Mai Tawana. She was not some starry-eyed groupie capable of falling for any of these so-called celebrities. How can anyone say something as insensitive as this and yet claim to be giving Rutendo’s side of the story. You did not need to be in her presence for five minutes to know that she knew exactly who she was and would not be dazzled by anyone’s charms.

Lest we forget, Rutendo was at UZ studying law. That was a highly selective course taking only the best of the A level crop from the previous year. That suggests she was very intelligent. If she decided to marry Jongwe, it was because she wanted to marry Jongwe, not because of some spell from a perceived celebrity status.

And if she decided that she no longer wanted to go ahead with the marriage, then that marriage would not have taken place, I can tell you that. The suggestion that such an intelligent and confident person (note Brighton’s description of how she made Jongwe go to places where he did not want or would not have gone otherwise) would be bamboozled by a few former trade unionists or professors of questionable rectitude into marrying someone she did not want to marry is simply incredulous. What was in it for them?

What would have been so special about Jongwe marrying Rutendo that the MDC would deploy its high level leadership to make sure she married him despite her thoughts on the matter? And why would this highly intelligent, by all accounts very beautiful woman agree to such a marriage as if Jongwe was the only man she could get? It simply does not add up.

But perversely, it lends credence to another sinister lie: that she was having an affair. For surely if she was trapped in an unhappy marriage with a man that she did not love then logic says she would have sought comfort in the arms of another. I scarcely doubt that Brighton wanted to make that point, yet he does.

The finding of a negative in the fact that Jongwe would take his girlfriend to places that he would otherwise not go to is only possible when you have an axe to grind. How about ‘he was so considerate of his girlfriend’s interests that even when he derived no joy from nightclubbing, he would go when she wanted to go, but drew the line on dancing, choosing to ensconce himself in the corner and not caring who she danced with or for how long.’?

A man that watches his girlfriend gyrating with other man does not strike me as jealous. And that she did this enough for it to be memorable suggests that he did not give her grief afterwards: surely she was intelligent enough to not carry on if she knew that it got her in problems with Jongwe? I know many people that never drank, never smoked, and never danced but would have no problems dating people that do all three and going places with them. And likely Jongwe knew such people too, maybe even consulted them for advice on how to handle himself in such situations and valued their advice.

Did l mention Jongwe used to come to my office for advice during and after his time at UZ? That we wrote his campaign manifesto together? That we talked about everything and anything like two people with nothing to do but a lot of time to do it in? That we took pride in replying to people who called us ‘maSRB’ (for Strong Rural Background) with ‘No, it is actually VV-SRB’ (for Very, Very Strong Rural Background)? That he routinely made the trek from 3Gs where he worked all the way down to my offices just to chat?

The description of how Jongwe met Rutendo for the first time when he ‘stepped in’ and offered some help to the group where she was sat with others is very telling. You get from it that Jongwe was regarded by Brighton and the others as an intruder. That he went into this group and took away one of their own.

You get the impression of Jongwe swooping in like an eagle and plucking off this jewel from their midst (he came and dazzled her off) only to devour the chick so plucked. To then have one of the hens from whence she was plucked write an objective piece about her brief life with the said eagle is to invite one of the most predictable outcomes possible. Can the eagle emerge from that historiography looking innocent?

For good measure, Brighton adds this little nugget: “At around the same time, one of her friends started going out with one of Jongwe’s long-time friends.They went on to get married. I believe it unfair to mention his name but he is certainly a political player of note in Zim’s political arena and seems like a really good person. Furthermore, I have no reason to believe that the marriage is a happy and fulfilling one.”

So it is not just Jongwe that is a bad husband. His friends too. They are cut from the same cloth. How does Brighton know? And why the continual interest? Of what possible benefit to a story about Jongwe and Rutendo is this anecdote?

For the life of me l keep hoping that that last sentence erroneously omitted the word ‘not’, so that it should read “Furthermore, I have no reason to believe that the marriage is a happy and fulfilling one.” Any other explanation is just creepy.

The suggestion that “to “rescue” his “honour” and provide a credible narrative to justify his actions to a shell-shocked nation, Jongwe chose to spin a most inaccurate tale concerning how he had come to commit the dastardly act” is as false as it is unfounded. Exactly when did Jongwe do that? If others decided to spin their own explanations of what happened, how does that get to be blamed on Jongwe. When did he say, to anyone, all these things?

It seems to me that Brighton, while meaning well, has fallen victim to his grief to a point that he cannot but see fault in Jongwe. The image of some former classmate rutting away at Rutendo on some desk in some office only to be caught inflagrante delicto (in the act) by Jongwe is one of the most false narratives ever peddled by those that have nothing better to do than lie about the lives of people that are better than they are.

Jongwe never said that his wife was unfaithful. Others said it, to give themselves an explanation for what they had been convinced was Jongwe’s undeniable guilt. I suffer from no such affliction: as Jongwe was never convicted of any crime, I do not need to look for an explanation for what he did or did not do.

That means I do not need to have a narrative tarring Mai Tawana with the vile stories that people peddled. That Brighton (and to be fair, many others) accept the claims that Jongwe ever said these things as fact is unhelpful. Why not just accept that we do not know?

Yes, Jongwe was denied bail, but Brighton reads too much into the fact that the judge thought he would be convicted. As a lawyer, Brighton knows (or should know) that in deciding whether or not to grant bail, a judge must consider whether or not, on the face of it, the accused person is facing evidence on which a conviction was possible. This goes into a consideration of whether or not there would be an incentive to abscond.

The judge here thought that was the case. My argument is that had Jongwe not been betrayed by those that told him to hand himself over to the police, that had he had the benefit of competent Counsel, the easy counterargument to any presumption that a conviction was likely was the fact that he had handed himself in to the police. A person that hands himself over to the police is not a flight risk.

I do not know why Brighton should think that slating Jongwe would make him a Zanu PF apologist. The death of Rutendo was in all likelihood not a political crime (unless if she died at the hands of another).

The killing of Learnmore Judah Jongwe on the other hand, while in state custody, is a political issue. The tragedy in this whole thing is how people have bought onto the narrative woven by the ZRP and the AG’s office hook line and sinker. Yet these are institutions that the MDC routinely accuses of falsifying evidence and selective prosecutions.

In fact, far from being labelled a Zanu PF apologist, Brighton Mutebuka’s tale has now been quoted as “news” by the State media, with The Chronicle running a story on 17 November in which it calls the article ‘new evidence’. Makes you wonder about the rest of the ‘evidence’ against Jongwe doesn’t it? If they can spin anything as evidence, what chance did Jongwe have?

Something really, really bad happened at my young brother’s house that day, and we will never know what. I have received a lot of stick from people for even daring to suggest or ask: what if someone else stabbed her and Jongwe found her, but the truth is, we will never know what happened on that fateful day, or why. But we do know a few things, and it is important that we never lose sight of them:

  1. Rutendo and Jongwe left a child in this world. She will no doubt start accessing archives looking for answers about what happened to her parents. I think that those who claim to love Rutendo ought to remember that Rutendo’s daughter will derive no benefit from this demonising of her father. In the absence of real facts about what happened, carelessly painting her father as a sadistic killer driven to the brink by her mother’s loose morals is very unhelpful.
  1. Rutendo’s legacy will not benefit from people painting her as some victim that was dazzled by celebrity and succumbed to the allure of fame against the wishes of her heart.
  1. The ZRP has not exactly clothed itself in glory over the years, especially in cases involving opposition party officials. The politicisation of our police is a wider national tragedy that will need national solutions, but for the purposes of this case, l would be very reticent to accept everything that they have claimed regarding what happened on that fateful day.
  1. The death of Jongwe in state custody is a serious issue that ought to have been the subject of an independent judicial enquiry. Those of us who knew him simply do not buy that he killed himself. And a very close friend (to both Jongwe and l) who was in prison with him at the time saw nothing to suggest that Jongwe had decided to end his life.
  1. The role played by Welshman Ncube in getting Jongwe to hand himself over to the police on the promise that the party would help him with his defence then promptly abandoning him to find his own lawyer at his own expense is one of the many reasons why the Professor has not got many friends from among his former students. I am no psychiatrist but if Jongwe did in fact commit suicide, then l would think that this was influenced in no small part by this obvious betrayal, which saw his hapless lawyer file one bail application after another despite there being no change in circumstances. Without casting any aspersions on anyone, we were all very surprised at the choice of the lawyer, but then again the family had to work with what they could afford.
  1. Finding clues as to why Rutendo died from the couple’s relationship is an exercise is divination that no one is qualified to do. There is a prophet called TB Joshua who, after each significant world event, points out that he prophesied this before. Reading Brighton’s article one almost gets the sense that the author is suggesting that what happened was inevitable, that they all saw it coming. That is simply not true. Jongwe never tired of saying how happy he was in his marriage, and Rutendo was confident and intelligent enough a person to not stay in a loveless marriage. What happened was a tragedy, and if Jongwe did kill his wife, it was not something that was, as the article suggests, predictable. That his life was extinguished before he could say what happened is as much a tragedy as the death of his beloved wife.

Like l said, my views might be biased because l liked Jongwe, and considered him a brother. If l have, in this reply, painted Brighton or Rutendo in a negative way, such was not my intention. I will always believe that Jongwe and Rutendo loved one another, and that had their lives not been taken from us, they would have been wonderful parents to Tawana and very useful citizens with a huge chapter to write in our country’s history. But more pertinently, I daresay that they would have found the caricatures painted in Brighton Mutebuka’s story (for that is what it is) very tragic but completely unrelated to them.

May their Souls Rest in Peace.