In Dewa Mavhinga ‘we have lost a gentle, honest, principled human being’
By Gladys Kudzaishe Hlatywayo
It is 0115 hrs and I can’t sleep. More than 24 hours have passed since the tragic loss of one of Zimbabwe’s finest sons, a dear brother and Human Rights Defender par excellence – Dewa Mavhinga . At the time of this tragedy, he carried the lofty role of being the Southern Africa Director at Human Rights Watch.
I had hoped it would be a terrible dream and I would soon wake up from it. I attended a Twitter Space hosted by the young and brilliant Cde Treasure Basopo on the day we lost my brother Dewa, but the pain was so unbearable, I could not say anything. I was gutted and could not speak. The most painful goodbyes are the ones that are left unsaid and never explained! It was just too sudden and he was just too young and so full of life to die!
We had many plans for the future! We hoped to celebrate a new Zimbabwe together. But it is God’s case with no prospects for an appeal!
Like many comrades, I will have to go through the various stages of grief until I learn to live with it. It will not be easy. I’m still in denial! It does not make sense to me.
In life, there are those siblings that God gives you, and there are those you choose for yourself. I am grateful for the many siblings I have chosen for myself throughout my journey as an activist, but Dewa was just too special a brother.
I first heard about Dewa in 2004 when I became interested in student politics during my undergraduate studies at University of Zimbabwe. His name was one of those that our immediate predecessors would often drop on us for inspiration.
I then had the privilege of meeting Dewa in person in circumstances that personified his lived experience as an activist. It was at a Social Forum, then a budding platform and convening determined to present an alternative development paradigm to the chocking excesses of neoliberalism.
The event was convened by the indomitable ZIMCODD, where he worked as a then fledgling Program Officer engaging at the nexus of debt, the law and human rights. His commitment to economic justice was self evident.
In typical deference to protocol, he addressed me as Secretary General and congratulated me for a resounding victory in the Student Representative Council.
I thanked him and shared some of the great stories that I heard of his legacy and tenure as President of the University of Zimbabwe Students Representative Council and how we were inspired to continue fighting for academic freedoms, autonomy of the University and pro student policies.
I was immediately struck by his humility and and evident interest in what I had to offer, adjusting himself to my level in order to make me comfortable, in the meantime constantly referring to me by my new title. It was reassuring and made me feel that I could engage him.
It is the gift of some inspirational leaders, that when you speak to them they change the dynamic. You start getting the sense that perhaps you are important.
I later had the fortune of working with him up close, at Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition , a civic platform engaging with pro democracy questions of the day. He headed the South Africa office.
Dewa’s commitment to the cause for a democratic Zimbabwe was phenomenal! He was a highly driven professional who pursued his goals and dreams with utmost determination, a relentless focus of both long term goals and short terms wins. His integrity and empathy towards suffering people and victims of brutality was trade mark . He led the Crisis South Africa Office with distinction, opening new frontiers and uncharted terrains for the organization to advance its regional advocacy work and spread its tentacles.
I remember on many regional engagements after a tough and packed day, many of us opted to unwind whilst sipping on some fine waters (to borrow from Dr Phillan Zamchiya ). He would sit with us in a bar but with his laptop and working ( He also did not drink alcohol) He was a workaholic who had such an amazing passion for his work.
I later served as a Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition Board member under his leadership as Board Chairperson and we again worked together very well.
As the Southern Africa Director for Human Rights Watch, an international human rights organisation of note, his last place of work before his untimely death, Dewa worked tirelessly to advance human rights in the SADC region and beyond.
A lawyer by training, his discipline, clarity of thought and evidence based advocacy on regional and international platforms was exceptional. He had mastery for detail, numbers of victims, days of the month , times when events happened and remembering places and relevant sections of international law to back up his evidence.
In more than 15 years professional life, I have met very few people as genuinely committed to the pursuit of human rights as was my brother Dewa.
With Dewa, it was so apparent that it was never about a pay cheque but about dedication, altruism and genuine desire for the well being of others.
Throughout the years, we became very close friends. Dewa was a loving and caring brother who always made it a point to check on me. He was a dependable brother who was always there when you needed him. He had a great sense of community and often went out of his, far beyond the call of duty, to help his fellow comrades.
He was an unquestionable human rights defender. I remember how he was deeply concerned by the ill health and deaths of Tafadzwa Mkandi and Wellington Zindi.
On the 18th of September 2021, I went to the famous Hwirisha (If you followed Dewa on Facebook, you obviously know about his captivating Hwirisha stories that were meticulously narrated in rich vernacular) for the burial of the mother of a dear comrade sister and had the opportunity to visit Dewa Mavhinga’s rural home.
I met his lovely mum and she packed some goodies for us including some groundnuts from her field. I could see where Mukoma Dewa’s gentle and loving character came from. I also learnt of the amazing community work Mukoma Dewa was involved in under the Hwirisha Trust.
We have lost a gentle, honest, principled human being and an irreplaceable and resolute Human Rights Defender! Without trying to cast aspersions, I feel strongly that we owe it to our dear comrade to ensure an independent autopsy is done to ascertain the cause of his death given the not so clear circumstances. It is the least that we can do in defense of his rights even in death and in honor of the many years he spent protecting the rights of others.
I am struggling at a personal level to accept what happened and an independent autopsy will give me closure and aid my healing process.
I am also aware that many comrades feel the same way and have a lot of unanswered questions.
I will forever miss his wise counsel, his support and encouragement.
You made a huge mark in this world; you fought a good fight! Yours was a short purposeful and impactful life Moyondizvo! Your Legacy shall live on!
May the Lord comfort his lovely wife Fiona, his four children , his mother and his siblings.
Till we meet again Dewa, Rest in Power my dearest brother, my comrade, my President, my Chairman!
Your Sister Comrade Glado
Gladys Kudzaishe Hlatywayo is the opposition MDC Alliance Secretary for International Relations