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“Is there a divinity that shapes our ends?” – The life and times of Dewa Mavhinga

By Brighton “Dhambros” Mutebuka

Shura Regore Riye Mukoma, Dewa Mavhinga Kwanzi Afa!” Warning – This Tribute Requires Huge Reserves Of Mental Stamina!

How fragile the gift of life is! How jarring bereavement is! Fie on it! A gentle giant, one of Hwirisha’s greatest sons ran out of time and was laid to rest last Saturday in the underbelly of Chikomba District to join his ancestors in answer to nature’s eerie, timeless, abiding and inescapable “tug” of death, culminating in the engulfment of his whole village and beyond in a melancholic festival of despair and mourning.

R98 UZ School Of Law on attachment at the Harare Magistrates Court
R98 UZ School Of Law on attachment at the Harare Magistrates Court

The great paradox of life is that the same Sun that set on him is the same Sun that his distraught wife Fiona, 4 young children, siblings and the rest of his immediate family will wake up to in seasons to come to continue a course of life so scorched, cruelly, abruptly and unimaginably altered with a sense of horror and devastating finality that it has inevitably created what will always feel like a pervading and perpetual desert at the core of their souls, littered with anguish and deep valleys of emotional and psychological scarring which will always be in need of tempering and nourishment via the medium of requiems to ease the burden.

The story begins on a dreary and sombre afternoon on Saturday 11 December 2021 which will forever be deeply etched in my memory, in the annals of history of our UZ Law School Class, R98, Dewa Mavhinga’s family and the rest of the human rights movement in Zimbabwe and beyond for it marked the sudden and untimely demise of one of the greatest Zimbabweans of my generation in South Africa.

I was “shook” (rather than shaken) to the core of my bones by the dreadful news which arrived like a bolt out of the blue. I instantly went into a state of delirium and that is the galaxy that I have been orbiting since that dark day. This obituary was not meant to happen now, not for the affable and bubbly gentle giant Dewa “was” but such is the randomness of the ghastly swivel of the hand of death that it unleashes its hand indiscriminately and cold bloodedly like a work of art!

I have clothed “was” in quotation marks because while its grammatically and factually correct, it will forever loom as an aberration if viewed in juxtaposition to Dewa’s unrivalled legacy and indefatigable and peerless spirit amongst his erstwhile contemporaries which propels him into the hallowed realm of “the ages”.

The Collision Of Paths

Dewa’s path and mine collide at the UZ School of Law in February 1999 during the hustle and bustle of the Freshers’ Week. We were meant to have started our law degree a year earlier, but we were deprived of that opportunity after the University was closed following the violent Student demonstrations which rocked it and led to its closure for a year.

The convulsions which led to the closure were dramatically captured on prime time ZBC by the late dictator Robert Mugabe. In typical dismissive fashion, he tore into UZ Students whom he chided for having been unruly and reckless enough to liberate urea, ammonia and other related by-products into refrigerators! As we will see later, that closure and the reasons underpinning it were to have a profound effect on Dewa and the idealistic and ambitious agenda he would chart at the nascent stage of his Student activism journey.

At that time the atmosphere at UZ was electric and rarefied. The year long closure meant that there was an eagerness about us to make up for lost time. We were young men laden with testosterone and our class was teeming with a dizzying array of hungry, impatient, intelligent and ambitious young Students. Dewa was allocated “Rez” or accommodation in “Manfred” while I and others including Dewa’s fellow Sandringham classmate Trust “Kuleman” Mutowe were allocated it in “Baghdad” or New Complex 5 as it is officially known as in adjoining rooms.

R98 UZ School Of Law
R98 UZ School Of Law

The relevant frozen time capsule from that period reveals a Student leadership body that had prominent figures such as Fortune Mguni now Daniel Molokele, Job “Wiwa” Sikala and Tafadzwa “Dombo” Musekiwa amongst others while there were other equally magnetic but unheralded “cadres” such as “Agenda” or Garikai Chimuka, Dumisani and “Bolekaja” amongst others.  

The late Learnmore Judha Jongwe was part of the ZINASU leadership at national level. We were privileged enough to witness a lot of fiery, riveting, dramatic and awe inspiring “adumbrations” and “clarion calls” ahead of planned demos in a rarefied atmosphere at the Students Clinic “podium” on many a day. How nostalgic I get just reeling off that list of names reminiscing on that epoch making period in my young life! I promise you that my mind weaves in and out of that era like it was yesterday!

Dear reader, I must pause on reminiscing and switch into the reflective mode that bereavement and remembrance dutifully demands of me, and here it goes! I interacted with Dewa daily during our lectures and also after lectures during the entire 4 years that we were together.

Our initial interactions were shaped by post lecture interactions when he visited “Kuleman” in Baghdad with the rest of the Sandringham Brigade in tow, such as the late Mukandi and “Spragga” amongst others and as part of a “band of brothers” together with other colleagues when attending leading political, human rights and social functions of that era and boy were they not many?

Fate, happenstance, bubbling and sweltering anger, groundswell support for the inexorable, veritable and irresistible call for change to correct a revolution gone awry to meet glaring unfulfilled governance issues, a pervading coalescence towards a sense of historic mission and youthful enthusiasm  combined almost with the precision of clockwork to create the perfect storm which meant that we were at the right place at the right time to meet, embrace and ride the social and political waves that gave rise to the birth of the opposition MDC political party, the NCA and a plethora of other mediums predicated on agitating for unleashing the dialectics of toppling the status quo ante. The moment met us, and we rose to meet it too! Dewa belongs to that historic generation!

Over time, Dewa and some of my fellow classmates managed to forge a deep, solid, intimate and all-weather friendship which has lasted a lifetime, albeit a much shorter one than we had all envisaged. We will now delve into a snapshot of his rich journey and legacy and memorable highlights of his life and our interaction over the years and the various themes that have manifested themselves as life has ebbed and flowed.

Planting Season, Evolution & “Works”

My early impression of Dewa was of a humble, simple, authentic, selfless, slightly quiet, unassuming, hard working, intelligent, perceptive, intellectually rigorous, nyanduri werurimi rwaAmai, articulate, respectful, generous and blessed person with a raucous laugh. I never had the impression that his gait was forced or false. He could “elevate” the discussion through weaving in and out conversations effortlessly about any subject and he clearly had “range” or depth and a sense of presence.

Although a lot has been said about his spirituality and dedication to the Christian faith, my experience of interacting with him was that he did not foist this on others. He could come with you to a bar to have a drink and actively soak the ambience of whatever occasion he would find himself in. He relied less on oratory and more on dissection and authoritative recounting of facts and evidence. Evidence always counted more and provided clarity and finality.

He was able to extricate himself from the chains of the loyalty syndrome through embracing a fierce sense of independence regardless of the consequences, which meant that he ran the risk of alienation, marginalisation and condemnation arising from the raging ire of his exasperated and disbelieving comrades. In the end, he clang obstinately to his sanity, dignity and conviction and eventually managed to nudge his opponents to his side.

R98 UZ School Of Law
R98 UZ School Of Law

Logic was his weapon of choice and the tool by which he corralled and cajoled his opponents into submission via the art of the persuasion. He was always conscious to avoid the appearance of arrogance, being patronising, reductive or insulting in his work. He was also rigorous and meticulous to a tee.

There was also a sense of resilience and practised maturity well beyond his young innings, a sense of a well grounded and raised child aware of his place in the world. It could be argued that there was a sense of idealism vis-à-vis his fidelity to the allure of logic and fierce independence when juxtaposed with the rough and tumble of the vagaries of the art of politics on the African landscape.

Dewa rose like a phoenix from the proverbial “huruva” and refused to be denied when it came to reaching his full potential. He managed to overcome the very many and considerable conflagrations that were the hallmark of his young life and lasted well into his young adult life.

When the ugly and disembowelling storm that tragedy is confronted him through the death of his beloved high school friends in the form of Mutowe and Mukandi, he met it with a contradictory sense of stoicism, compassion, deep shock, loss, remembrance and, ultimately, resilience.

In addition to his faith, he also had an impressive and deep sense of responsibility, generosity and community towards his siblings, vazukuru and other extended family members and invested a great deal of industry and commitment into ensuring that their lives were also transformed.

Some of them tearfully recounted his generosity and how he literally transformed their lives during a service held in his memory at his house in Colchester. At the same occasion, vaDube powerfully sang hymns and recalled the immense commitment he showed to the Church and community here in the UK while muzukuru Felix Nganjo recalled the immense sense of respect he always showed even to those whom African protocol had elevated above him – even going to the extent of beckoning him over by using the honorific and almost unprecedented term: “iwe muzukuru huya kuno” as well as his unrivalled gift to bring family members together and commemorate important occasions under one roof which many will testify is no mean feat here in the diaspora!

The Power Of Networking

Early into our Student years, Dewa was one of the few in our class who, from the very instance, came across as if he had been at UZ for many years. He seemed to know quite a great deal of the senior Students, including luminaries such as my dear brother Alex Magaisa or “mukoma Alex” as he would call him. This is a huge resource that he taped into for the entirety of his life and to good effect as well. There is academic intelligence, but there is also social and emotional intelligence. Many had one or two of the attributes but he had all and a great deal many left in the tank!

Throughout his entire life, Dewa seemed to possess that rare gift of life that only a few people ever have, of being able to compartmentalise and regulate their conduct to suit surroundings, merging effortlessly with fellow villagers in Hwirisha, tucking in seamlessly with the Christian community in that serene environment and, where necessary embracing the required etiquette to hobnob with elite politicians and human rights leaders at high level summits while issuing communiques at SADC Summits in Maputo or Human Rights Conventions in Washington, London and other global platforms!  

The Dhambros Connection

A few weeks into our arrival at College, the late“Kuleman” Trust saMutowe came to the conclusion that as I was always apt to threaten to wreck havoc to those who crossed my path, huffed, puffed and threatened to carry that spirit into confrontational demos with Robert Mugabe’s “black boots” (while never quite coming anywhere near matching the rhetoric) and always concluded with “ndomuitira Dhambros” henceforth my nickname would be “Dhambros.” From that moment onwards til his very last day on planet earth, Dewa always called me “Dhambros” and Brighton died between the two of us. There was an amiability and fluidity to our relationship that I was deeply appreciative of to the very end.

He understood my complexities and I understood his. There was simplicity, authenticity and purpose. I was by no means his best friend or perhaps his closest but there was consistent solidity and intimacy out of reach of the corrosive traits of man’s greatest weaknesses. I am confident that barring but a few, virtually all of my classmates are more or less enamoured to that viewpoint. I was humbled when he took time from his precious schedule to visit me in my own home.

I was consistently equally humbled when he sought my counsel and assistance when confronted with challenges in his field and when he felt called upon to assist the vulnerable and helpless that came his end. I am regretful of the fact that I was not always able to help but such is life. I also lent heavily on him on a great deal of occasions in respect of preparing expert opinions on complex human rights subjects. The focus of his work was global while mine was narrower and focused on the individual. We complemented each other very well in our respective genres.

Whenever he appeared on the global stage and was given access to a global audience via the medium of TV, I had the novel feeling of being left impressed anew on every single occasion with his grasp of detail, his clarity, delivery and unparalleled fearlessness. As we would say in UBA parlance while at UZ, “ayi seva” or “kutaura zvine mutsindo!”

He was one of the very few who walked with me shoulder to shoulder when I wrote a controversial article on one of our legendary colleagues a few years ago, a cherished favour I had no problems replicating. He also had no qualms trusting me with deeply sensitive personal issues that I will take to the grave with me as he had total confidence in my ability to keep schtum about it to the very end!

The “In Re Illicita Versari Assignment”

During our first year, we were given a problem type assignment in Criminal Law by our Lecturer, Professor Geoff Feltoe. We tucked into it with gusto. I did a bit of brainstorming with Dewa and a few other lads. I thought I had done more than enough to ace it but how wrong I was! When we finally received our marks, I got 7 out of 10 and Dewa had 9.5 out of 10.

Not used to defeat, I was keen to find out where I had got it wrong. Dewa was generous enough to share his paper. I quickly discovered that Dewa had achieved supremacy through citing an exhaustive array of journals and a greater range of case law to buttress his points even in those early days while mine were threadbare albeit the reasoning was sound. It was an unforgettable lesson in dedication to research that I have carried with me even to this day in my line of work thanks to Dewa!

The Run For The SRA Presidency

A confession is apt straight away! Of all the impressions I had made of Dewa, successfully running for the SRA Presidency was never one of them. It is simply an act I never saw coming or thought could be on the cards. I never thought that he was cut out for the rough and tumble of Student politics. How wrong I was as it turned out!

In only our second year, we had two exceptional candidates for the SRA from our class who were diametrically different. On one side was Courage Shumba. Courage was a formidable opponent. He was savvy, charismatic, a larger-than-life character, a die-hard UBA, (a term of reference used to denote membership to a theoretical, notorious all male UZ membership body) and had real momentum in the run up to the elections. In any other year, he would have won!

It was a competitive, exciting and dramatic contest executed in good spirit. Dewa was strong on strategy. He executed an impeccable ground game drawing upon mobilising normally scarcely recognised voters from the Scripture Union / Student Christian Movement to power through as a surprising but convincing winner and scoring a major upset in the process!

Amongst other things, his campaign smartly referenced the closure that I referred to earlier and the tremendous inconveniences this had caused Students and proposed a fundamental shift in strategy to Student politics through emphasising the use of “the force of logic” rather than the prevailing status quo which was decisively grounded in the use of militancy – which was a huge risk strategy wise.

His campaign ran a mature, civil, inspirational, radical and ground-breaking campaign, proposing to prosecute a less confrontational tone. That is leadership and the scale of that achievement should never be underestimated for it embodied the highest levels of chutzpah or the audacity of hope! His election to that lofty post was not as inevitable as a simple recounting of history perhaps fortuitously entails. In my book, it is as impressive as his ascendancy to the Human Rights Watch regional leadership position and lasting as long as he did there as they do not suffer any fools in those corridors!

Dewa Plucks A Flower From The Garden

In our second year, Dewa came across a beautiful rose by the name of Fiona Muchembere. Fiona was short, graceful, petit, reserved, shy, equally intelligent and carried herself with a sense of faith, mission and resolve.  She also radiated a combined sense of humility, delicate naivety and vulnerability about her.

The above attributes provided the perfect backdrop to a lasting love story predicated on devotion to timeless old school values of love, resilience in the face of adversity and commitment to each other, allowing their low-key relationship to flourish unhindered.

Navigating their own challenges like any normal marriage, that relationship delivered resoundingly, two human rights lawyers from humble origins dedicated to the cause of uplifting the lives of millions of vulnerable fellow human beings sharing stories mirroring their own, scaling the heights of their professions and reaching the apex and being blessed with 4 beautiful and amazing children Gamu, Mufaro, Hondo and Makaita, the youngest who is only 2 years old! How unfair that their journey has been brought to an abrupt and premature end!

The Ibbo Mandaza “Wealth Redistribution Scheme!”

During our third year, we encountered a golden opportunity to earn what at the time was an enormous amount of money. Dr Ibbo Mandaza’s SAPES Trust was running a Wills & Inheritance Research in conjunction with the Ministry of Justice. It was worth a whopping Z$37k at the time but there was a catch! It was only open to Final Year Students.

Dewa had always known that I had an eye for hustling! In my second year I was one of only a few in my class who had a paid part time job in the City Centre, I had also started selling cell phones and sim cards even though I knew very little about them, and I was also sourcing fashionable / trendy female jeans which had been rejected by manufacturers from Simon Mazorodze Road and reselling them at UZ for a tidy profit.

He approached me and was cheekily looking for a partner in crime. “Dhambros!” he beckoned me over by the Faculty Steps. “Paita chibhanzi!” That’s all I wanted to hear. We resolved that it would be a mistake to let our colleagues know as it would create a greater risk of being rumbled.

I devised a plan which was rather blatant. We were to call the bluff of the Fourth & Final Year Students by unashamedly pretending to be part of their class. And so we went to Belgravia, Dewa asking, “Dhambros une shuwa here neplan yako iyi?” and me reassuring him along the way.

To cut a long story short, we attended the SAPES Belgravia offices meeting, masqueraded brazenly with no one brave enough to call our bluff. We signed up, received orientation on deployment, a half down and the rest upon our return.

I had one of the scariest and most exciting rides of my life as I was deployed deep in Chikombedzi in Chiredzi amongst the Shangaan people and Mkwasine Estates where I had to contend with introducing myself to CIOs and navigating marauding War Veterans at the time. Dewa was deployed in his own Chikomba District if I am not mistaken. It was without doubt one of the greatest experiences of our time.

Upon our return to College, Dewa disclosed all about our “experience” to the late Trust Mutowe! Trust declared that my “Dhambros” moniker would be temporarily shelved and replaced by “Don King” to pay homage to the chicanery and reflect the brazen and unprecedented daring feat that we had carried out and demanded that “kule man nyaya yacho inoda kunwirwa!” It’s a story we never tired of sharing many a time.

Sex Education On Steroids – Adults Only Reading

One afternoon after a Clinical Skills Lecture I and my colleagues received one of the greatest fortuitous lessons on sexual health from Dewa in front of New Complex 1 while seating in its vicinity and taking in a milder version of the mythical Zimbabwean Savanna sun.

Running against the flow of the conversation on the subject, Dewa suddenly and without warning unfurled this Atlas like sexual health book. It was laden with images of human beings of our heritage plagued with various sexual ailments. They were all in colour. I had never encountered anything coming near matching it up to that point and that still stands today.

It is still as vivid today as it was on that day and – strangely enough, we had occasion to discuss this very delicate subject in our class WhatsApp group with Dewa and other colleagues last year and there was consensus that – that profound impact still stands today.

For the first time in my life and those of my colleagues, we came face to face with pictures of genital warts, herpes, female organs totally obscured with “cauliflower”, male genital organs sliced in sections, kaposi sarcoma lesions etc and we were all shocked into embracing the primacy of taking ultimate responsibility over our sexual health.

It is one of the greatest and most effective lessons that we have ever received on sexual health from anyone and has contributed immensely on the informed decisions that I and my friends have made on sexual health matters over the course of our lives, all thanks to Dewa! It is something that is unforgettable and that you cannot unsee once you have seen it! One has to remember that at the time in question, Aids was a great scourge and was prone to wrecking ball prone to wreaking havoc and decimating my generation! And now to think we have survived that great pandemic and are now faced with succumbing to Covid-19! The cruel irony of it!

Epiphany or Premonition Via Facebook Post? – For Whom The Bell Tolls – Conclusion

His eerie and haunting Facebook Post pauses the question about whether or not he had an epiphany that the ancestors had become jealous and impatient and now sought to enrich their realm through wrenching his soul from us.

Fiona’s heart-breaking account of her desperate plea to her stricken and reluctant husband to urgently make way to Hospital is heart wrenching and equally haunting. She had the insight about the danger he was in from Covid-19 which he did not have yet his Facebook post suggests that he felt “darkness” descending.

There was a desperate paralysis and misalignment of stars in the moment of his greatest hour of need. Dewa proved to be even tantalisingly out of the grasp of his distraught young brother Edgar, who is a medical doctor. All of them sought to beckon him to seek medical help but to no avail.

The inevitable question that I am then moved to ask is, “is there a “divinity” that shapes our ends?” Are our stars of life aligned in such a fashion that fate unleashed at birth collides with the choices we make to create a pre-ordained destiny whose course we are unable to alter notwithstanding our best efforts?

Or perhaps we sometimes create our own “destiny” through the choices that we sometimes make whether by omission or commission? Or is it both, one or the other or none of the above? Does it even matter when the outcome is the same for everyone? If there is a divinity attached to it, can the clock not sometimes be delayed to spare the likes of Dewa’s 2 year old daughter Makaita from experiencing such devastating and overwhelming loss as to virtually wipe out precious memories created and shared by virtue of being too young to remember them? And to think that Dewa only managed to live in his new house in Colchester for barely a year prior to his demise! How just is that? I am unable to answer these profound and timeless questions.

I am comforted by the fact that while Dewa has lived a short life, it is a hugely rich and impactful one. When all is said and done, it is not the length of life that matters but its quality and how impactful it is to humanity. From the humble origins of Hwirisha, he was able to strut his stuff and project his talent on the global stage.

He showed immense courage to assume the role of being the voice of millions of the voiceless, embarking on a dangerous and forlorn journey of seeking to hold a ruthless and dangerous regime to account on many occasions at great risk of personal harm. Many a time, he was threatened, vilified and targeted for his work. Yet he persisted still to the very end! There can be no greater courage shown by mankind.

Hailing from Hwirisha and through sheer force of will catapulting himself to the world stage, he left an indelible imprint on human rights discourse and on the timeless cause of humanity to break from the bondage of tyranny, poverty, disease and other social ills of our time. He shall never be forgotten. The ancestors will now lay claim to him, and he also becomes one for the ages. He shall live through Hwirisha Trust. He shall live through Fiona, Gamu, Mufaro, Hondo, Makaita, his mother and his siblings. He shall live through his classmates. He shall live through the homage that his colleagues in the Student movement, Human Rights bodies and many Zimbabweans will continue to pay to his rich and lasting legacy kusvikira riini nariini.

RIP Dewa. Yours Forever “Dhambros”!

Brighton Mutebuka, LLBS [UZ], LLM [Leeds], PGCERT Sports Law & Practice [DMU/BASL], Director / Solicitor / Principal Immigration Lawyer, Mutebuka & Co Immigration Lawyers. He is a former classmate and friend of Dewa Mavhinga.