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The Learnmore Jongwe saga continued – Part 2 – Response to Tino Chinyoka

By Brighton Mutebuka

It is a universally acknowledged truth that if you write concerning an important figure or historical event, you have to be ready to deal with not only criticism, but well-contested competing narratives. I fully welcome such developments, as they inculcate in our people a culture of civilised, mature and rigorous debate.

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

One such competing narrative came from Tino Chinyoka’s article, which has made a response instructive. (See – In defence of Learnmore Jongwe, a lawyer and human being: a reply to Brighton Mutebuka)

From the outset, I must make it clear that my classmates are behind me, and the facts I speak are known to them and coming from some of them though it is clear that, as the face of the articles, I will take the flak that comes with such a course of action.

I can assure you that a lot of them have expressed relief that this version of events has been brought to the public’s attention. I must also say that I am greatly encouraged that some of Jongwe’s friends have written to me privately to state things that they saw at the time but are afraid to say for fear of vilification.

I also received some calls, some of which I will remember for as long as I live. As it turns out, I am not afraid of being unpopular, particularly when it comes to matters of principle.

Before I delve into the subject matter, I want to make it unequivocally clear that contrary to what Chinyoka has said in his article, I am not related to Morgan Tsvangirai beyond sharing the same totem and the same ancestral heritage.

We have never met personally and I do not want him or the public at large to be misled in relation to this. I am not sure why it was relevant or appropriate for Tino to mention this issue as whatever disagreements we may have should be and are, certainly on my part, based on merit and reasoned, critical analysis, not personal trivia.

I am sure that in this day and age, most Zimbabweans are acutely aware that having the same totem counts for very little in life within the context of interpersonal relationships. In fact, whilst I have never been a member of any Zimbabwean political party, I recall Tino Chinyoka previously being said to be a member of the MDC Wakefield branch (making him politically closer to Morgan Tsvangirai than me), before discarding it and joining Zanu PF UK, his current political home – but this is beside the matter.

I can also confirm that, concerning what I wrote in my previous article in relation to Rutendo’s friend, I meant to say “Furthermore, I have no reason to believe that the marriage is “not” a happy and fulfilling one.” I therefore omitted “not”, which I think is very clear from the context of the statement.

I also wish to make it publicly clear that the State Publisher, The Chronicle effectively stole my work and published it without my permission, which is a clear breach of Copyright Law. As must be clear to everyone, Tino included, they altered it to suit a narrow particular political agenda, a fate that has befallen many colleagues, including Alex Magaisa (who was kind enough to share some counsel with me regarding this).

I contacted Mduduzi Mathuthu the Editor, asking for clarification. He is a personal friend so I was rather surprised that he would be party to such shameful pilfering of intellectual material. His response was that he was away and the decision was made by one of the four Duty Editors.

He also went on to say: “Secondly it’s a story with a few quotes from your piece. I also believe it was published by at least two news websites which makes it a public document”, giving the example of one Nathaniel Manheru as a reference point, stating that: “Once Manheru publishes in the Herald journalists can quote him without reference to him, that’s how I understand this …”

Needless to say, I was most unimpressed by his response but I will leave it there. The key point is that I am confident that most Zimbabweans are aware that the state media is a de facto propaganda mouthpiece of the current government, something that I was acutely aware of when I wrote my article.

It is the reason why I made reference to the brutality of the regime as I thought that this would make the article ill-suited to their agenda. Incidentally, this partly vindicates why I and my classmates have been reluctant to come forward in this saga – the concern that our heartily felt grief would be exploited for political purposes.

Finally, I have taken note of references to the need to exercise discretion and respect the interests of the surviving child. I will acknowledge that I am partial to such an enterprise. However, this is to be balanced against the current state of affairs where there is effectively one narrative that is in the public domain and thus easily accessible, which vilifies her mother.

In addition to this, I note that recently, Rutendo’s brother also commented in the press pertaining to the family’s continued grief. Most importantly, I and my classmates lost a dear friend in brutal circumstances just before we graduated. We have never properly mourned her. Her grace and dignity has been repeatedly tainted particularly each time that there are commemorations to glorify Jongwe’s life.

Only if it were possible to share with you some of the pain and guilt that so many of my colleagues have alluded to feeling in their written messages to me, even after so many years, you would understand our combined sense of loss.

We never received any counselling when this event occurred. We were just left to our own devices and built our own coping mechanisms along the way so of course, this issue is “personal” to us, and we have got a right to be emotional about it and are proud if this radiates through these articles.

As the written messages and telephone calls I have received from some of Learnmore’s friends in the MDC would show, it is clear that some of them have also struggled for some time with the emotional and psychological challenges arising from this saga. In light of this, having weighed everything in the balance, I am satisfied that the public interest imperative justifies that this matter be revisited one more time.

Response to Tino’s Article

  • I will not be dismissive of Chinyoka’s account of the Learnmore Jongwe that he knows. However, I take the view that such an account is within the ambit of the Jongwe that I described in my article and the “3D dimensions” that I alluded to. This is what I stated about Jongwe: “It was impossible not to as he was funny, highly intelligent, easy going, (had) a sense of presence and (was) highly engaging …….. including his unimpeachable role in shaping modern Zimbabwe’s recent political history …”
  • I also said this of him – “But this also does not mean that Learnmore Jongwe should not be mourned by those with such a disposition. It only means that they have to do so honestly, embracing his brilliance as a skilled legal and political operator of a very rare breed whilst juxtaposing this with his obsessive, controlling and violent tendencies.” [Emphasis Added]. I argue that in the circumstances, that is representative of an attempt to achieve balance and fairness.
  • Tino clearly wrote the article in support of his protégé, forever burdened by an understandable desire to defend his legacy. He sought to carefully navigate the delicate line between appearing to preserve Learnmore’s legacy and steering clear of being perceived to be attacking Rutendo through subtle use of terms such as “Mai Tawana” and generally appearing to write positively about her as a cold and calculated attempt to be seen as being objective and neutral. He nearly achieved this task …
  • I will argue that Chinyoka’s article is “one dimensional, i.e. it is only limited to the interaction that he had with Jongwe within a certain, defined context. The fundamental departure point is that whilst I am acknowledging Jongwe’s positive attributes and counterbalancing them against the highly negative ones that were recounted by Rutendo, not just to me but to other classmates, Chinyoka has sought to re-emphasise the former and outrightly refused or neglected to engage with the latter, effectively rendering his article a populist, fawning exercise.
  • Chinyoka has opined that: “Jongwe never said that his wife was unfaithful. Others said it…” I respectfully suggest that Chinyoka’s account is fundamentally flawed and amounts to a distortion of the facts, committed either deliberately or recklessly or both.
  • This is because, Learnmore “speaks from the grave”, as his account can be easily verified through the “warned and cautioned statement” that he submitted in response to the criminal charges that he faced, and which he submitted in support of his various bail applications.
  • It is also freely accessible from the Supreme Court Judgment of his bail application. Here is a link to that Judgment: http://www.zimlii.org/zw/judgment/supreme-court/2002/62. It was also widely reported in newspapers at the time. That account effectively forms the core of Jongwe’s narrative. This fundamental omission is enough to undermine what appears to be Tino’s disingenuous attempts to create a chasm between Jongwe and the defence that he put forward in his case. This is important as it is an objectively verifiable part of this discourse and thus cannot be attributed to any act on my part, Rutendo’s or my colleagues.
  • Tino has also falsely or incorrectly suggested that I said in my article that Rutendo “gyrated with other man” whilst Jongwe was watching. I am not sure what the motive of injecting this falsehood in his narrative is but a cursory look at my article will clearly establish this as an embellishment.
  • Tino also argues that there was never a risk that I could be accused of being a Zanu PF apologist and bases his argument on the fact that this was because Rutendo’s death was not of a political nature, clearly missing the point (or disingenuous again?) that I was making, which was that because of Jongwe’s stature in the opposition movement, the matter itself was seized upon by both the State media and the “independent” or “private press” and turned into a political one. In fact, The Chronicle article that Tino refers to clearly vindicates such a paradigm.
  • Most importantly however, unlike Tino, who is basing his arguments on hypothetical situations in respect of Rutendo, I am basing what I am stating on what she said to her classmates, prior to her death. I find Tino’s use of the term of the term “Mai Tawana” contrived and a subtle attempt to mislead the public into thinking that he was closer to her than was the case – thus suggesting him as a potentially neutral and constructive figure when in essence he is effectively a Greek bearing gifts.

New Evidence

  • Indeed one of the last people to see Rutendo is our classmate, Jacqueline Makoni. I spoke to her yesterday and exchanged written correspondence with her. She actually saw her on the very last day that she lived. It is not clear from Chinyoka’s article whether he is arguing that his relationship with Rutendo was such that it would have been possible for her to disclose to him the events that she disclosed to her classmates.
  • Whilst I am open to the idea that there are potentially other narratives to this issue, I do not sense that from Tino and other people who support Jongwe. I again attribute this to the reluctance to see Jongwe in any other light, other than that he was projected in prior to Rutendo’s death, a development which is perfectly understandable given that he represented the very anti-thesis of a repressive regime. In other words, the majority of those who support the opposition movement are unable and or unwilling to accept a course of events which will effectively hands a “victory” of some sort to Zanu PF, whilst tainting their avowed hero.
  • Chinyoka’s article has rightly referred to Rutendo being an intelligent young woman. However, it does not address why such an intelligent young woman did not have a job at the time of her death, notwithstanding her intelligence, having a maid and the fact that virtually all of her colleagues were already attached to firms at that point.
  • The real reason is that, Jongwe felt threatened by the independence of thought that this brought, and was insecure about her finding work and meeting other people away from him. He wanted her to be an ordinary, simple housewife reduced to partaking in ordinary chores. As part of his controlling nature, he had prohibited Rutendo from seeking employment stating that as he himself was gainfully employed, she did not need to do so as he would provide for her. Rutendo’s account was that he would provide groceries and indeed look after the family but would not give her any cash to run errands.
  • I am also reasonably certain that Tino, like so many people is also not aware that Rutendo’s Dissertation, which can be easily sourced from the UZ Law School Library, is about domestic violence or if he is, he probably feels that it is mere coincidence that she chose to make this delicate subject the focus of her Dissertation. She actually undertook this enterprise as a therapeutic exercise. The savage machinations from Jongwe meant that Rutendo was effectively reduced to a pale shadow of her former self, with her self-esteem and dignity effectively torn into smithereens.
  • Prior to commencing divorce proceedings through Muskwe & Associates, Rutendo had struggled to find a firm to instruct, for reasons that I wrote in my first article. She also did not have the money to do so. Jongwe had also calculated that this would be his “trump card”, and would effectively render any such action an exercise in futility. This forms part of the reason why it was a huge shock to him to discover that she had been able to surmount this obstacle. Unbeknown to him, this was only made possible through the benevolent action of the firm’s decision to act on credit following representations made on her behalf by her friend, Jackie.
  • She had sought to have Jackie acting for her, however, as previously disclosed, this was not possible for several reasons. Firstly, Jackie had not yet been formally registered at the High Court as a Legal Practitioner, (which is a pre-requisite in Zimbabwe for one to practise as such). Secondly, even if she had been, there would have been ethical difficulties arising from this. It is actually Jackie that formally introduced her to the next available lawyer at the firm, who went on to deal with her case, and in respect of whom Jongwe made false allegations of adultery.
  • As can be seen, Jackie’s account is consistent with what I wrote in my first article and which many of our colleagues are aware of – which is that prior to the marriage, Rutendo expressly stated that she did not want to marry Learnmore because of his abusive tendencies. She had disclosed being pushed out of a moving vehicle and had horrific injuries consistent with this, which we all witnessed. I think our then Dean of the Faculty of Law was informed about this. Furthermore UZ colleagues such as Dr Khanyisela Moyo and Innocent Chofamba Sithole have also publicly confirmed being aware of this.
  • She had also disclosed that at some point, Jongwe hid a knife under her pillow and threatened to kill her if she ever left him. The account that I disclosed concerning the innocent intervention of senior MDC officials (wanting to preserve a young marriage and likely unaware of the true state of affairs) was confirmed to me by more than one person previously involved with the MDC at this time in telephone calls that followed publication of my article. This was also inadvertently revealed by a prominent MDC figure during the wedding, whilst handing over a present to the newlyweds. Video footage of the wedding should confirm this.
  • Contrary to Jongwe’s narrative, prior to her death, Rutendo had been to Muskwe & Associates several times. Her case notes should confirm this. On each of those occasions, Jongwe would follow her. On one such occasion, whilst walking with Jackie in Harare’s city centre, Rutendo alerted her to this and asked her to look at a figure walking a short distance from them holding a newspaper to his face as part of an elaborate attempt at subterfuge! Rutendo proceeded to call him on his mobile phone and, on attempting to answer the call, the paper fell to the pavement, effectively rumbling him! Rutendo also disclosed that Jongwe had on other occasions paid street kids to follow her. They would take turns to call him to update him using the old “PTC” phone booths. Jackie and one of our colleagues, Chido Masiya also disclosed that they had been previously expressly threatened by Jongwe.
  • It is Jackie’s account that on the day that Rutendo died, Jongwe followed her as usual. He approached the Reception at Muskwe & Associates and asked to see his wife. He was told that she was in Consultation with a Lawyer. He proceeded to Jackie’s Office, which was next to that of the Lawyer that she was seeing. Jackie has stated that the Principal’s Office Policy was clear – namely that of open, unlocked doors all the time.
  • He asked where Rutendo was and was told. He then barged into the room where the Consultation was taking place, which was in clear view of Jackie. It is then that the discovery was made that divorce proceedings had commenced against him. He tried to protest and issued some threats – suggesting that his wife was being influenced to divorce him. He was calmly asked to go downstairs, after being reminded that as a Lawyer himself he was expected to know better. He went downstairs and stood in the foyer, overlooking the Reception.
  • He asked the Reception Staff to call the Lawyer attending on Rutendo and asked that she be released from that Consultation but his request was denied. He went outside the office, called the Reception again using a South African sim card – with a South African number. He fooled them. They answered and transferred the call. His request was denied again. At that point, it was decided that there was no point in proceeding with the matter. Rutendo left and joined him outside.
  • They drove home where Rutendo then met her fate. At the scene, there was never any accusation of infidelity. If such had taken place, there would have been a massive fracas, and the Principal of the firm would have been made aware. This was simply invented afterwards.

The Significance Of The Chidyausiku Judgment

  • Chinyoka misunderstood the reference to Chidyausiku’s judgment. One would have thought that the reference to “rightly or wrongly” in my article meant it was clear that I was not focusing on the merits of the decision. Rather, I was focusing on its significance in relation to Jongwe’s state of mind and the potential impact that this had on the cause of his death. In particular, in the political and legal realities of the Zimbabwean landscape, it is difficult to see what hope of escaping the death penalty Jongwe would retain when the most senior Judge of the court of final arbiter in the land had dismissed the central premise of his case.
  • This is what Chidyausiku said, see: http://www.zimlii.org/zw/judgment/supreme-court/2002/62: “For the above reasons I am satisfied that the evidence against the appellant is overwhelming and the prospects of conviction for an offence involving the death of the deceased is a virtual certainty. I am also satisfied that the prospects of the appellant receiving a long prison term or even the death sentence, if convicted of murder, are real.” Whatever the theoretical framework of the law relating to bail is, the legal reality is that the Chief Justice had already made a clear pronouncement on the matter which Jongwe knew (and Chinyoka ought to know) was unlikely to be departed from by a Junior Court or Judge.

Evidence Received Through Facebook Messages & Phone Calls From Jongwe’s Friend(s) Following Publication Of The First Article

  • I am even more convinced that suicide is more likely than not following a telephone call from a friend of mine who was at the heart of the MDC at the time and was involved in persuading Jongwe to return to Harare from Zhombe. He disclosed that after finally persuading him to hand himself over to the Police, they travelled in separate vehicles back to Harare. At some point, the colleague who was travelling with them called and told them that Jongwe had escaped from him after they had made a brief stop at Jongwe’s prompting (he had been sent to get some drinks) – so the mission had to start all over again!
  • This friend and two other friends disclosed that Jongwe himself felt broken when he was at Remand Prison, and bitterly complained that he felt that the MDC leadership had abandoned him, as none of them had been to visit him. All of these sources repeatedly requested anonymity, fearing reprisals / backlash or ostracisation.

Messages From Some of Rutendo’s Classmates Following Publication Of the Article

  • In the end, I will leave you all with some of the words that were written in Facebook messages sent to me by some of my colleagues (even after all these years), and I dedicate this to them and wish them all a sense of healing and closure, as this is what prompted these articles: “Thank you so much Brighton for writing that story. I have always wished someone out there could tell the story but felt I could not do it for obvious reasons ….. On diverse occasions she said to me as if prophetically Jongwe achandiuraya, (Jongwe will kill me one day). I can support not lead. I decided to inbox and not comment on the platform … the truth must be told but I prefer to be on the sidelines,” “Hi Brighton. Thank you for the article on the Jongwe tragedy. It’s a balanced piece, and personally helps me towards closure.. a very raw issue in my psyche still, I realise. It goes a long way in putting ‘right’ the correct memory of Rutendo. Am sure the entire LLB class appreciates this good start towards that.” “Shamwari wakabaya dede nemukanwa, ini ndaitotyawo kuitanga but felt exactly as you put it. vanhu ve MDC havasi rational.” (You have hit the nail on the head. I was also terrified of starting this issue. MDC members are devoid of rationality.) “She confided a lot of things. She suffered domestic violence herself, even as a girlfriend.” “We discussed at length namadam, in fact she read your post first and told me about it, and we both agreed. We may have to step forward in defence.

Conclusion

  • The above will also put paid to any notion that I have deliberately engineered falsehoods to tarnish Learnmore Jongwe’s image as some have suggested. It will also clearly lay bare what is at stake and the fact that I have merely acted as a voice not only to Rutendo, but to many of my colleagues who are behind the scenes and are rightly reluctant to step forward! I am fully aware of the significance of what I have written. I could never have taken it lightly. I do not derive any benefit from it. In fact, I have been insulted, ridiculed, derided and called all manner of names. But I am sure if you all knew Rutendo you would have felt compelled to persist as we did. I believe that, with the effluxion of time, the political temperatures in Zimbabwe will calm down sufficiently to enable Zimbabweans to take a sober look at this episode and take appropriate lessons from it, free from vested political interests. I will draw a line. This is the End. The rest will be left to posterity.

Brighton Mutebuka is a Lawyer based in the UK. He writes this article in his personal capacity. Copyright protected. © 2015.