Professor Sam Moyo: An intellectual icon and a fine gentleman
By Alex. T Magaisa
This is a personal tribute I wrote on the night of Saturday 21 November 2015, upon receiving news of the death of Professor Sam Moyo, an intellectual icon and a fine gentleman. I first posted it on my Facebook page but thought it worthy to share on this blog:
I’m very sad tonight. Terribly sad. A friend wrote to inform me that we had lost a good man, that he was gone, never to return. We had lost a mutual friend, Professor Sam Moyo, eminent scholar and a great voice on land and agrarian issues in Zimbabwe and beyond. Those who knew him will testify to the greatness of his intellectual efforts.
His work transcended Zimbabwe. He dealt with a sensitive issues: land, long before many others had the courage to do so. And his analysis received wide acclaim and respect. He was no doubt, among Zimbabwe’s finest scholars, a great son who dedicated his life and research to this very important issue that continues to occupy us.
He was among those who researched and wrote on the subject long before the land revolution post-2000. He opened the eyes of many in Zimbabwe and around the world. He was widely respected across Africa and the world, for the excellence of his work. He was one of those scholars to whom title of “authority” was appropriate.
The news is that he died in a terrible car accident in India where he had travelled on work-related business. Prof Sam Moyo carried a wealthy CV – it seemed like he had seen and done it all. But this learned man was not just defined by his academic process.
He had a remarkable personality, a charming character. He was an amiable man who made everyone feel at home in his company. I remember the moments we shared – you wouldn’t even think he was a man of his stature. I must share one moment which gives a fair idea of who this man was and why I admired him greatly.
In 2006, I received a surprise invitation from the Transnational Institute, which is based in Amsterdam. They wanted a person, preferably a Zimbabwean scholar to give the inaugural lecture held in memory of Basker Vashee, their former long-time director, who had also hailed from Zimbabwe. They invited me to come and give the lecture. Totally out of the blues for me! They explained to me that I had been recommended by Professor Sam Moyo.
Apparently, Professor Sam Moyo had been selected to give the lecture, but for some reason that he could not control, he was unable to attend. So he had recommended that they invite me instead. They said they had not hesitated because they trusted Sam’s word – if Sam Moyo said get Alex, we had to come and get you, they said.
Such was the measure of trust and confidence that Sam Moyo enjoyed internationally. That added some pressure because then, I couldnt afford to disappoint the great Prof Sam Moyo, could I? That would be a betrayal!
But here is the point. Prof Sam Moyo and I had never actually met. I “knew” him through his great works on land, which I had relied upon in my own studies, as indeed many have done, and more will do for generations to come. But I had no idea that he knew me or my work, let alone that he held me in such high regard as to recommend me to such a lofty station. I was just a little guy starting out in academia. It was truly humbling.
And so I went to Amsterdam and gave the lecture. I shall dig it up – it’s probably there on the TNI website. Afterwards, he wrote thanking and congratulating me for the lecture, which apparently had been very well-received.
I was pleased that I had lived up to his estimation, that I had not disappointed him. It was very humbling. I had always respected the man for his work but now my respect extended to a whole new personal level. Thus our personal relationship commenced. He was now a friend, too.
Over the course of time we would meet in various circles. We would sit, drink and talk together, like peers. Beatrice Mtetwa, eminent lawyer and also a friend was his partner and those connections meant our paths crossed more often when I was working in Zimbabwe two years ago.
I recall meeting at a particularly difficult time when Beatrice and some my work colleagues were incarcerated before the elections in 2013. Beatrice had been representing them when she too was arrested and detained. With a few drinks and tobacco to calm wrecked nerves, we sat into the night as we discussed the predicament and what needed to be done. Those were difficult days.
Many will write about his work. And there are many because he mentored a lot of young prople. This was the man who picked out a young man (myself) in a distant land and recommended him for an important occasion, to stand in his shoes, without needing to know him personally.
He was a great human being. He did a great shift, and many will testify to the undoubted truthfulness of this. Like I said he is regarded as an authority in his area and rightly so. But for me, there is also the personal. I could write more. But all I can say right now is that he was a good man.
My condolences to Beatrice and the family they shared. This loss is profoundly personal and devastating to them. But to us, friends, colleagues, students, peers, we have also lost a great comrade and voice. Zimbabwe is poorer without this man, of that there is no doubt.
Nevertheless, if there is any scant consolation that can be salvaged in the midst of this tragedy, it is that his great wisdom will live long after him. If there was a place where names of eminent sons of the country were recorded and celebrated, Professor Sam Moyo’s would surely be among them. He would be more humble about it, but then again, that is the man he was. A great schoalr, but above all, a fine gentleman #RIPProfSamMoyo
Professor Sam Moyo was the executive director of the Institute of Agrarian Studies, which he founded.