By Daniel Molokele| No matter whatever else happens in my life; I doubt that I will ever forget my very first personal encounter with our recently deceased Zimbabwean icon and legend, Alex Tawanda Magaisa.
It must have been on one of those sunny and lazy mornings at the Faculty of Law at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) sometime during the early part October 1995.
It was actually during the morning after the results of the candidate nomination process for the Students Representative Council (SRC) number one elections had been formally promulgated during the previous day.
During those days, the UZ had a dual electoral system that was used to elect its 15-member SRC. Firstly, the presidential elections were held separately and produced the SRC’s top two leaders; the President and the Vice President. Then a week later after the presidential elections, all students were given another opportunity to vote again. This time they would be voting under the so-called SRC number one elections.
It was in fact this particular election, that was used to elect the other 13 members of the SRC. It was a popularity contest that also traditionally was used to appoint the first winning candidate as the next Secretary General of the students union.
As perhaps, the most politically super-charged faculty in the entire campus, it was not such a big surprise that most law students were having some animated conversations, if not debates about the outcome or implications of the nomination process for that particular year.
One of the interesting stories that was most definitely trending that morning was the fact that the list of 55 candidates for the 1995-96 SRC number one elections had produced a surprise candidate from the faculty of law.
However, it was the second-year law students who had produced the highest number of candidates that year, who were the most fascinated and enthused by this little-known surprise candidate.
I remember while basking under the glorious shine of the African sun, some of the second years had asked my first-year classmates to help them to identity me. Honestly speaking up to the nomination process, I had not done anything of real significance to warrant me being well known at the UZ, beyond my own classmates
I had been admitted at the faculty of law during the earlier part of that same year, in March. As such, I was still to a large extent a really green-horned freshman especially when it came to the issues around the next generation of student leaders.
The rather curious second-year law students who approached me spoke to me in a rather wry manner. Worse still, I could even sense an air of snobbery some of them. They obviously thought I was a clueless novice who had no idea whatsoever about the UZ electoral system. They most certainly expected me to be among the worst losers in the race. In their considered view, I was seen simply as a misguided upstart who was going to lose the race dismally.
Among the second-years who mobbed me was none other than the great Alex Tawanda Magaisa himself.
I vividly recall as to how he remained behind when his bemused classmates walked away from me. He seemed to be keener to understand me more and was very interested to find out more about my political credentials. I did manage to explain to him as to how I was a special candidate that was being sponsored by an alliance for Christian students fellowships as led by the UZ Christian Union and the then Students Chaplain Dr. Sebastian Bakare.
He had this sort of empathic demeanour that was mostly punctuated by this enchanting smile as he spoke to me. In the end, he patted me on the back and wished me the best of success in the forthcoming elections. He then calmly walked away from me.
After he left me. I was left very impressed by his obviously genuine humane spirit. He really managed to make a lasting impression to me as a selfless and generous person who was somehow always willing to serve and affirm all those around him.
A few weeks later the SRC number one elections were eventually held. But an even bigger surprise awaited the faculty of law. A rare thing happened; all our candidates failed to make it into the top 13.
Well, almost all.
Traditionally the faculty of law not only had a several good number of members in every SRC, but also tended to have someone making it to the most influential positions in the SRC.
For example, the previous SRC for 1994-95 had managed to have Brian Kagoro as its Vice President and Tinomudaishe Chinyoka as its Secretary General. Added to that, Chinyoka had also previously served as the President for the 1993-94 SRC.
But I do digress.
As alluded to, the dismal performance of our candidates grossly shocked our faculty of law. While most law students were desperately trying to make sense of the results; news started to filter through that the overall winner among the 55 candidates was actually the very same least fancied law student.
Not only that, a day later it was also announced that he had also been appointed as the next Secretary General of the UZ students’ union; still in his first year at the university.
It was then then that some of the second-year students that had earlier on mocked one of their own, were then forced to eat a lot of humble pie and congratulate him as the new Secretary General of the UZ students’ union.
It was also during that time; that the great Alex Magaisa had his second personal encounter with me.
However, this time, he not only heartily congratulated me but also took some time to offer his free and unsolicited advice to me. Further, he availed himself to freely give me advice whenever I felt that I needed some political guidance. He then wished me the best of success in my new career as a students leader
My impression of Alex during those first two personal encounters in 1995 actually served as a permanent character template for hos approach towards our relationship until he passed away recently.
I also remember that he was one of the people who approached me and offered me his personal supposed when I became the Acting President of the UZ students’ union in April 1996.
This then led to me approaching him and requesting him to be part of the Constitutional review Committee that I had set up as part of the fulfillment of one of my key electoral campaign promises. During my campaign, I had openly advocated for a total overhaul of the UZ students’ union constitution so as to promote a new culture of transparency and accountability in the local students movement
The Constitutional review Committee met during the next study vacation and proposed a series of far-reaching changes, One of which, was the dualization of the SRC into two counter-balancing entities. The Committee proposed for the setting up of a new faculty-based representative structure that would act more like a Parliament known as the Students Representative Assembly (SRA).
Added to that, the Committee proposed for the setting up of the Students Executive Committee (SEC) that had a reduced number of 10 members. Another radical proposal was the introduction of a sabbatical President. This meant that once a student was elected as the new President, they would take a total break from their academic studies for a year in order to enable them to focus on managing or leading the students’ body politic.
I vividly recall as to how Alex distinguished himself as a Constitutional Review Committee member. He actively participated throughout the constitutional review process. He was one of the Committee members who was actively questioning and interrogating every new suggested proposal. By the time the Committee came up with its proposed draft Constitution he had already managed to establish himself not as a credible opinion maker but also as one of the undisputed moral leaders of the Committee
The constitutional review process experience also went a long way into establishing ‘mukoma Alex’ as one of my most consistent allies in my political career.
Later on, Mukoma Alex, was always there to support me in the various initiatives that I was actively part of.
I do remember that during my tenure as the international Coordinator of the Global Zimbabwe Forum (GZF) between 2007 and 2010, Mukoma Alex agreed to help me to actively set up the United Kingdom chapter for the GZF.
He also supported me when he was part of the Office of the Prime Minister, during the all-inclusive government when I came up with the Zimbabwe Diaspora Education Support Initiative (ZDESI)
Mukoma Alex was one of the key people I approached for advice in the early part of 2017 when I was approached to return to Zimbabwe and run for political office in my hometown of Whange. He was very supportive of my bold decision to leave South Africa and return home to launch my political career as a parliamentarian.
Once I was successfully elected as the new Member of Parliament for Whange central constituency; Mukoma Alex heartily congratulated me and once again offered himself to act as an advisor to me.
He was also one of the first people to congratulate me when he heard that I had been appointed as the new Chairperson for the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee for Tertiary and Higher Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development in September 2018.
As if it was not enough, Mukoma Alex openly supported me and contributed financially when I stood up to campaign for the office of the Secretary General of the MDC Alliance during the May 2019 Congress that was held in Gweru.
In the last few years, Mukoma Alex has also actively supported me in the various solidarity initiative that I have been coordinating
In particular, Mukoma Alex actively contributed financially to the Madzokere and Maengahama Solidarity movement and also to the Makomborero Haruzvishe solidarity initiative last year.
However, it was with regards to my late political brother Learnmore Jongwe legacy solidarity initiative that Mukoma Alex was at his supportive best. Over time he proved himself to be one of the most consistent financial contributors to the Jongwe legacy.
Added to that, he would never miss any available opportunity express his admiration about my enduring and consistent loyalty and commitment towards the Jongwe legacy. He always emphasized to me as to how he was always inspired by my rather unusual ability to remain true to my friendship with Jongwe despite the fierce attacks I had always sustained from his arms of critics along the way.
Suffice for me to say that, the last financial contribution that I got from Mukoma Alex was sent to me during the mid-part of March this year. He was one of the people who responded to an appeal to my personal networks for financial support after I was deployed to actively support out Tsholotsho South by-elections candidate Tapson Nganunu Sibanda during the 26th March 2022 by-elections.
As such Iwas so shocked when I first heard about his passing away. My initial response was to pray and hope that it was the typical fake news that we have now grown accustomed to in the social media. But as more and more reliable sources started to confirm the sad news, it then eventually dawned on me that the Great Alex Magaisa was actually gone forever.
The pain of me losing him, was made even more devastating due to the fact that I was still recovering from the irreplaceable loss of Dewa Mavhinga who was also a key player in the fight for a peaceful and truly democratic Zimbabwe.
In the final analysis, I would like to take this opportunity to honour, celebrate and totally appreciate Alex Magaisa for the life journey that he shared with me starting in 1995 during our faculty of law days. He was indeed a very positive influence in my life.
Personally, he is definitely an irreplaceable loss for me. I will really miss his ability to advise me freely and wholeheartedly without necessarily expecting anything in return from me.
Having said that, I really need to underscore the point that Mukoma Alex is not just a personal loss to me but to many other millions of people across the world who depended a lot on him.
In particular, most Zimbabweans had grown to value and appreciate him immensely in recent years, mainly due to his ability to explain the most complex legal and political matters in the most simple and basic terms.
Indeed, I have no doubt that so many millions of people out there will now struggle a lot to adapt to a new life without the evergreen Big Saturday Read (BSR)
Mukoma Alex definitely ran his good race and also fought his good fight. He was an example of a most patriotic Zimbabwean that we could ever have as a nation. He did not just give his best for the good of his nation but also gave his all. His everything. I have no doubt that by all accounts and definition, Mukoma Alex certainly qualified to be honoured as a true national hero.
He was indeed, Alex the Great Zimbabwean.
May his patriotic soul rest in peace now and forevermore. Amen.