Nathan Shamuyarira was a man who dedicated his life to the emancipation and unity of both his native Zimbabwe and the African continent. In various capacities – as activist, politician, academic and professional – he consistently served with his characteristic generosity, incorruptibility and commitment.
Few people in Zimbabwe know or care to acknowledge that the country has lost one of its most outstanding persons of global stature. There are not many in Zimbabwe who qualify for this level of exaltation. The politics of Zimbabwe have been so mired in division and controversy ever since its independence, with the result that few Zimbabwean politicians can expect a dispassionate assessment by his/her own compatriots. This is true also of the late Nathan Shamuyarira. A couple of generations down the road a fair assessment might be made of this great son of Zimbabwe and Africa.
I first met Nathan some time in 1965 or 1966. He was then doing his post-graduate studies in political science at Princeton University in the United States, and I was teaching at the Makerere University. He was active in the liberation struggle for Zimbabwe and in this context he visited East Africa. We met in Nairobi. He brought me a copy of his Crisis in Rhodesia, then the only authentic account of the country from an African perspective.
Nathan wanted me to join a project with which he was associated at Princeton. Initiated by Professor Saul Mendlovitz, it was called World Orders Model Project (WOMP). It sought to promote ‘World Peace through World Law’. Its underlying philosophy was that world peace could only be attained on the basis of an international constitutional order. WOMP had among its members and associates, Professor Richard Falk of Princeton (currently, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Palestinian occupied territories); Professor Ali Mazrui (my senior colleague at Makerere); Professor Rajni Kothari and Vandana Shiva (well known academics and social activists from India); Yoshikazu Sakamoto (a Peace Activist from Japan); Professor Johan Galtung (a renowned Norwegian peace activist); Carl von Weiszäcker (German physicist and philosopher famous for his campaign against nuclear weapons); and of course Professor Shamuyarira. Nathan and I used to meet with these highly motivated internationalists almost annually from late 1960s to mid-1980s in WOMP conferences. Slowly, however, Nathan got more and more engaged in the liberation struggle.
In 1973 I joined the University of Dar es Salaam (UDS). I found Nathan already there. He had joined in 1970, but had taken time off to help in the liberation movement, and had rejoined UDS in 1973. Many of us at the campus professed Marxism, but Nathan, although sympathetic to Marxism, eschewed any form of dogmatism, focused as he was on the liberation of his country and on national unity (he was then trying to unite ZANU and ZAPU). He was very close to Hashim Mbita, Executive Secretary of the Organisation for African Unity (OAU) Liberation Committee. He had also close relations with the liberation movements from Angola, Mozambique and South Africa who had found in Tanzania a safe haven to fight for their countries’ liberation under the protection of Julius Nyerere. Nathan was a Pan-Africanist to the core, and was responsible for organising several conferences on the campus on the liberation struggles. He himself taught a course on the subject. President Yoweri Museveni was one of his students. Nathan was highly respected at the campus by all, whatever their ideological pursuits. He had an aura of authority, aided by his magisterial size, Nathan Shamuyariraa deep baritone voice, and a disciplined, mature presence.
The Department of Political Science of which Nathan and I were members was headed by another great Pan-African, Professor Anthony Rweyemamu. Anthony was particularly concerned about the lack of African literature on the subject. The social sciences literature was dominated by the writings on Africa by non-Africans. He wanted to “Africanise” this. He and Nathan were the co-founders of the African Association of Political Science (AAPS) whose mission was to challenge and change the prevailing pedagogy of the social sciences to reflect the African context and conditions. Anthony was its founding Chairman/President followed by Nathan. At the same time, Nathan was also the Chief Editor of African Review, a journal of the department.
We both left the University in 1979 – Nathan on his way to Mozambique as the forces of liberation were trouncing Ian Smith’s troops, and I to Uganda as the combined forces of Ugandan guerrillas and Tanzanian armed forces trounced Amin’s troops. In 1980, with Zimbabwe liberated, Nathan was in Harare in government. I was in the government of the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF). In May 1980 a military coup overthrew our government, and I found myself in my second exile in Nairobi. Nathan took time off from his busy government commitments to visit me and my wife. He asked us to move to Harare, which we did in 1982.
It was not surprising that Nathan became Zimbabwe’s first Minister of Information. He was the first African editor of the Daily News in colonial Rhodesia in the 1950s, and one of the best. It was equally not surprising that he was later to become Zimbabwe’s Foreign Minister. He was already well-known to several Heads of State in Africa and also globally. I sometimes travelled with him on his missions; I found that he enjoyed the same kind of veneration and respect from his colleagues as he did in Dar es Salaam. He was, arguably, one the most outstanding Foreign Ministers Africa has ever had.
For best part of the 1990s Nathan was Minister of Trade and Industry. Internal to the country, he was very sympathetic to the cause of the workers and supported the trade union movement. Externally, he quickly got embroiled in the negotiations at the World Trade Organisation. I accompanied him to the WTO’s first Ministerial session in Singapore in 1996. We were shocked at the manner in which the big players, led by the US and Europe, simply sidelined Africa. Deals were made affecting them without their participation; and yet, these so-called ‘consensus-based agreements’ were legally binding on Africa. On returning to Harare, Nathan encouraged me to form a non-governmental organisation to help train Zimbabwean trade negotiators. The Ministry trade experts were then trained by British aid funded programs. This ‘training’ was deliberately designed to facilitate free trade market liberalism; it served western, not African, interests. We agreed with Nathan that we needed to offer an alternative training that would serve African interests. We also agreed that it should be a regional, and not just, national body. This gave birth to the Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI) of which Nathan was its Chairman and I its Executive Director. When, later, he stepped down as Chairman, I stepped into his shoes. SEATINI still exists with offices in Harare, Kampala and Nairobi.
For the last nearly forty years I worked closely with Nathan, and shared many mutual confidences. About these I might write another day. But on two issues I might share my knowledge of him. One relates to the controversial Gukurahundi and the near civil war situation in Matabeleland in the 1980s. I used to work in the rural area those days, closely with Mai Sithembiso Nyoni, the founder and Director of the Organization of Rural Associations for Progress (ORAP). I witnessed some of the horrendous events of the time in the rural areas of southern Zimbabwe. I talked about these with Nathan. I can say with knowledge that as Information Minister at the time he found himself in a difficult situation. He tended to blame the South African aided ‘Super ZAPU’ for the crisis in Matabeleland and for the breakdown of the ZANU-ZAPU unity. At the same time he deeply regretted the disintegration of this unity; he had been working closely with Joshua Nkomo in the 1970s and later with Robert Mugabe. Sadly, a process of healing has not taken place to date in Zimbabwe, like to some extent it has in South Africa and Rwanda.
The second matter relates to the adoption by the government of the International Monetary Fund (IMF)-imposed Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) in 1991. Nathan opposed it and challenged Finance Minister Chidzero who had been pushing for its adoption. Fay Chung (then Minister of Education) resigned on that issue. But Nathan came under pressure from the party, and he reluctantly stayed on. In 2000 he decided finally to resign. In his valedictory message he expressed the hope that people of his generation might follow his example, and leave politics to the next generation. Alas, none of his colleagues took up his challenge.
Nobody is perfect. Nathan came to it as near as any human being who is caught up in the hustle and bustle of the politics of liberation struggle. He was a magnificent human being, generous to a fault with his money and his time. He never turned down a family person or a friend in need. He was incorruptible; he wilfully sought neither riches nor power. He was a well respected academic, a strong nationalist, and a committed Pan-Africanist.
This would be his abiding legacy to future generations who, I hope, would see this man from the eyes of History and not from the controversies of today.
* Yash Tandon is Senior Adviser and Distinguished Scholar, South Centre, Geneva
* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR/S AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM
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