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Nathan Mukoyi: a community hero of our time

By Collin Chiwanza

Highly envied by peers and educing a deep feeling of reverence from students, alumni, teachers and parents, record-breaking St Faith’s High School headmaster Mr Moses Nathan Mukoyi calls time on his illustrious 42-year career this Friday, February 15 2019.

Mr Moses Nathan Mukoyi
Mr Moses Nathan Mukoyi

For the soft-spoken and affable teacher, this is the end of one arduous but ultimately successful and fulfilling journey, and the beginning of another one that presents a chance to explore new frontiers in retirement.

Having first spent 13 years at the famed St Augustine’s School (Tsambe) before being transferred in 1990 to St Faith’s in Rusape, where he would have a distinguished 28-year sojourn as teacher and headmaster, Mr Mukoyi is certainly not withdrawing into oblivion.

“I hope, God willing, to focus on reading and writing, some horticulture and consultancy, as well as enjoying opportunities for reflection,” he says with an air of satisfaction.

While he is poised for a thoroughly deserved rest after transforming St Faith’s into arguably the country’s best-performing school in public examinations in the past decade, news of his imminent departure would have naturally been dispiriting to those who are associated with the school.

With the school now searching high and low for an able successor, the National Association of Secondary Heads (NASH) is also in a quandary as it needs to elect a new secretary-general.

Humble and meticulous, Mr Mukoyi’s continued push for excellence throughout his tenure was never an unrealistic demand. He often led by example.

He was a distinguished student in his own right during his six years at St Augustine’s, where he scored 14 Advanced Level points way back in 1973 to become the best- performing candidate at the school and one of the best in the country.

At the time, the country only had one university.

Back then, only two ‘A’ level points would secure someone a place at the University of Rhodesia (now University of Zimbabwe), from where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English first class degree in 1977.

Years later, he obtained a Master’s degree in Education.

From university, he took up a teaching post at his former school, St Augustine’s High School, in 1978, where he taught English and swiftly rose through the ranks to become the deputy headmaster and also head of the English department.

“As deputy head at St Augustine’s, I was privileged to work with someone I have always regarded as my mentor, the late Father Kebble Prosser, who was the school principal.

“I have a very high regard for him because he had very strong moral values. He had a very strong passion for hard work, justice and fairness.”

In 1990, Mr Mukoyi was thrown into the proverbial deep end.

He was transferred from the prestigious St Augustine’s to St. Faith’s, which was going through some turbulent times.

“Initially, I was not happy with the transfer because I felt I was being moved from a very prestigious school to a school that was going through a bad patch, with a reputation for indiscipline and low pass rates.

“When I got to St. Faith’s, I realised that the students had a passion for learning and reading. They realised I had something to offer and we started working hard together and we saw the performance improving.”

After inculcating a strong reading culture, the next step was to embark on a head-hunting exercise to carefully select passionate teachers who took work as a vocation despite the low remuneration.

This was achieved with help from the Ministry of Education.

The adoption of a new set of institutional values revolving around the principles of discipline, honesty and hard work saw the school starting to achieve good results, which progressively became excellent before they became phenomenal.

With the dramatic improvement in results, the school started talking about 15 points as the quintessence of achievement for “A” level students.

“We have never looked back. In the November 2018 Advanced Level public examinations, we had 43 students with 15 points and 20 students who scored 20 points or more.

“There is now an institutionalised success momentum built on a threesome combination of dedicated students with an incredible reading culture, supportive parents and passionate teachers,” said Mr Mukoyi.

A lot of misconceptions about the school have, however, led to some people casting aspersions on its achievements.

“Misconception number one is that we are a boys-only school. We have female day-scholars from surrounding communities.

“There is also the mistaken belief that we only enrol the best Grade 7 students, but nothing could be further from the truth as we are compelled to take a number of male and female students from surrounding areas; some of them with up to 20 units at Grade 7.

“We only have an enrolment capacity of 120 students. What happens at the schools that take the thousands of other students with five units?”

Then there is the issue of potential cheating in public examinations.

“When we started recording exceptional results, we were secretly placed under investigation by the authorities over several years and I am happy to say that we were found to have administered the examination process with utmost integrity,” said Mr Mukoyi.

As the performance of his students began to shoot to national prominence, the 1990s saw him scaling new career heights which culminated in him becoming a chief examiner with the Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council (Zimsec), then known as the Examinations Branch.

“I then became part of the first group of Cambridge-trained examiners during the localisation of the exams.”

Mr Mukoyi, however, concedes that it has not all been plain sailing.

“St Faith’s is not a congregation of saints, we have errant students who sometimes misbehave, but those students must be helped and we teach them that discipline and hard work are very important values in life.”

The school is also seriously resource-starved and has poor infrastructure. This is largely attributable to the low tuition fees paid by parents.

Also, despite biting resource constraints, the students are routinely taught to adapt.

“Our sports facilities are not good compared to other schools, but we have produced great sportsmen. We have no computers, but a lot of our students are pursuing computer science at university level.

“I once came across one of my former students who was teaching horse riding in Victoria Falls, but there are no horses at St Faith’s. Some of them have become very powerful politicians, but we don’t teach politics at St. Faith’s. I find that very amazing as a headmaster.”

Amazingly techno-savvy for his age, Mr Mukoyi has used cyberspace to create a vast network of connections across borders and the racial divide.

And he has used the connections to mobilise assistance for his school, including scholarships for students to study abroad.

Looking back at his remarkable career, one of his greatest regrets is not being able to inculcate in his students a culture that they should actively and consciously consider ploughing back to the school.

“With the number of influential and powerful former students we have in various spheres, we would have benefited much more from their contributions and reached more milestones.”

He says post-retirement, he will dedicate most of his time to reading, charity work through the Lions’ Club, farming on his five-hectare plot just outside Rusape and, of course, spending time with his wife Mrs Dorcas Mukoyi and the rest of the family.

“I was recently reading a rather quaint book which seems to suggest that after retirement, one can reactivate the learning process to forestall atrophy of intellectual powers by exploring new frontiers,” said the gifted orator.

Despite his great achievements, he remains humble and is quick to acknowledge the efforts of his colleagues, students, parents and other stakeholders.

He is an admirer of Victorian-era English art critic and social thinker, John Ruskin, who once said: “I believe that the first test of a truly great man is his humility.”

Fare thee well great teacher!

l Collin Chiwanza is a former student of St. Faith’s High School. He writes in his personal capacity. Sunday Mail