Despite his thoroughly professorial lifestyle, Sam was a lively figure who always made time for his family and a broad range of people. His immense contribution to scholarship, particularly on the thorny land question in Zimbabwe, remains outstanding. His tragic death following a road crash last year points to the fragility of life and to the need for Africa to celebrate its scholars while alive.
Tuesday 22 November marked one year since Professor Sam Moyo passed away tragically after a road accident while attending a conference in India. I first met Sam in early 1991, just a few months after I took up residence in Harare as director of the Inter Press Service (IPS) regional centre for Africa. Sam was then a research fellow at the University of Zimbabwe’s Institute of Development Studies and with Yemi Katerere had set up an NGO, the Zimbabwe Environment Research Organisation (ZERO).
Sam had heard about my arrival in Harare through our mutual Ghanaian friend, Dorothy Gordon, who was then working at UNDP in Lusaka, and had phoned to invite me to meet him for lunch. Our second meeting came a few days later when Sam visited me at my rented house in the Avenues, bringing with him a bag of food and a paper on the land question in Zimbabwe, which he asked me to help him edit urgently. That was the beginning of a relationship that resulted in marriage a year later and years of collaboration on research projects, background papers, books, policy briefings and journalistic articles.
After the birth of our daughter, Qondisile, we built an office extension at Domboshawa Road so that I could begin working from home. Sam’s eldest daughter Sibongile, 18, was in her final year at Eaglesvale School; Thabisile, 7, was living with her mother; and Samantha, 6, was living with Gogo Mavis, Sam’s beloved mother and used to come with her cousin Sithabile to spend weekends with Sam. I had married Sam as much because of his adorable daughters as because of his ideas on land reform. After the birth of Zandile in 1993, Samantha came to live with us.
During these years, Sam successfully completed his Ph.D. thesis at the University of Northumbria under Phil O’Keefe, with whom he collaborated intellectually on several projects, published his book The Land Question in Zimbabwe and was awarded an associate professorship at the University of Zimbabwe. Before long, Sam began working with Ibbo Mandaza as the director of the Southern African Regional Institute for Policy Studies (SARIPS) project under SAPES, the Southern African Political Economy Series.
The home office became the hub where Sam mentored a new generation of Zimbabwean scholars, including Nelson Marongwe, Prosper Matondi, Walter Chambati and Ndaba Nyoni. The mentoring extended to his own children. Sam’s busy travel schedule meant that he could not attend many school events but he did make time to teach his daughters discipline and decent values.
As they grew older, the mentoring was about their education and professional development and between school and university, Sibongile joined the ranks of home editors. Sam enjoyed travelling with his family and took us on many trips to Victoria Falls, Bulawayo, Great Zimbabwe, Lake Kariba, Hwange National Park, South Africa, Beira and Chobe National Park.
Family life was very important to Sam and every Sunday we visited Gogo (Sam’s loving mother, Mavis Moyo) and some of his siblings in Harare, Lindiwe and Phahla, or Rhey and Julie, or Mabhena and Winnie.
Outside Harare, Sam always looked for opportunities to visit Nkosana in London, Mike in Gweru, John and Sharon in Lusaka, Themba Maluleke in Johannesburg and Josh Nyoni who was practically a brother. Other regular family visits were to Gogo Khethiwe and Khulu Liberty Mhlanga, or to Auntie Sheila, or to the Mubis and Munyatis.
Frequent visitors to our home during that period included Ibbo and Diana Mandaza, whom we also visited frequently, Yemi and Jennifer Katerere, Josh and Rutendo Nyoni, Sekai and Jim Holland, Paul and Emmie Wade, Reggie Mugwara, the Mubi sisters, the Mungwati brothers, Julia Mundawarara and Chloe Paul, whom Sam always described as his soul mate.
There were also a great number of scholars, policy-makers and diplomats based all over the world, some of them Zimbabweans, who dropped in whenever they were in Harare. These included SK Moyo, Phil O’Keefe, Helge Rønning and Mette Maast, Mary Straker, Blair Rutherford and Amanda Hammer. Occasional Harare-based visitors included Carlos Lopes, who was then at UNDP.
From his youthful days as a student in Sierra Leone during the Rhodesian era and later as a teacher in Nigeria, Sam continued to nurture relationships with like-minded intellectuals with whom he had connected outside his home environment, such as with the Trinidadian scholar David Johnson whom he met in Nigeria.
A favourite joke of Sam’s about his Rhodesian exile years in Nigeria turned on a dispute with a Nigerian colleague, whose girlfriend started taking too much interest in Sam. Using the pidgin English that he learnt to master during his years in West Africa, Sam would imitate the aggrieved man as he expressed his bewilderment, while counting what he saw as Sam’s deficits on three fingers thus: “He no get money. He no get car. He no get country self!”
A welcome opportunity to connect with such scholars came during the Harare International Book Fair, which we attended each year during the vibrant era of the book fair. Among these were Nigerian scholars Tade Aina and Toye Olorin, Malawian professor Paul Tiyambe Zeleza and a host of South African scholars, including Archie Mafeje, with whom Sam developed close relationships over several decades.
Likewise, the engagement with CODESRIA was always pivotal and Sam valued deeply his relationship with scholars such as Thandika Mkandawire, Mahmood Mamdani and Adebayo Olukoshi. Among the feminist scholars with whom Sam engaged during the 1990s, Patricia McFadden, Micere Mugo, Elinor Batezat Sisulu, Ama Ata Aidoo, Zen Tedesse and Amina Mama were important figures.
During the early 1990s, Sam gave considerable support to the newly established Indigenous Business Development Centre (IBDC). He worked closely with IBDC leaders such as Chemist Siziba, John Mapondera and also initially Strive Masiyiwa, who left the IBDC to set up his private enterprise, Econet Wireless.
Though we collaborated on a series of research projects with development partners such as Irish Aid, NORAD and DANIDA, DfID, the ILO, UNDP and the Panos Institute, some led by me, for the most part Sam’s work from the 1980s until his untimely death last year was unwaveringly focused on the land question in Zimbabwe.
After the extreme politicisation of the land question from 1997 and the start of the Fast Track Land Reform programme in 2000, Sam courageously defended the idea that land reform was a necessary condition for Zimbabwe’s development beyond what had been achieved in the decade following independence in 1980. With Paris Yeros in 2005 he made the case that land reform was in fact resulting in structural and rural transformation. But much of Sam’s empirical research demonstrating that land reform had benefited small producers, and not only political elites, continued to be ignored by mainstream scholars, until Ian Scoones published research drawing similar conclusions.
The political complexity of the land question was revealed in 2008 when Mamdani’s reference to the findings by Sam and Scoones as explaining Mugabe’s popularity in some quarters prompted a vituperative debate in the London Review of Books. A group of 33 academics calling themselves “Concerned Africa Scholars” published a letter of protest focusing on human rights issues and casting a shadow on Sam’s scholarship.
Among the 33, most of them from the US and Europe, Sam was deeply wounded to find his friend and fellow pan-Africanist, Caribbean professor Horace Campbell. However, Trinidadian scholar David Johnson came to Sam’s defence in a brilliant demolition piece accusing the group of self-acclaimed “deep thinkers” of “blanks and hubris”. Johnson berated the group for their lack of substance, observing that: “A scholar who has expended as much energy and intellect as Sam Moyo in attempting to understand the land question in Zimbabwe deserves better treatment from his detractors.”
It was a mark of Sam’s integrity as an independent scholar that despite his strong position on the economic imperative for increasing the landholdings of peasants, his expertise was sought by all parties in Zimbabwe’s conflict over land. From time to time we received invitations to attend State House dinners, which Sam scrupulously ignored. He wanted at all cost to avoid giving grist to any notion that his support for land reform was related to any form of ruling party patronage. Such integrity ensured that his expertise was sought not only by the ruling ZANU-PF party, but also by organisations representing both communal farmers and commercial farmers, as well as by donors.
Sam developed an intriguing relationship with the World Bank through its land expert in Harare, Rogier van den Brink. Rogier and his wife Natasha Mukherjee would visit us often at home and the two men would engage in sometimes fierce theoretical and policy debates over land reform. Despite the vigorous arguments, the two never stopped meeting to try and influence each other’s position, though it may be noted that Sam remained uncompromising in his defence of the A1 land reform policy, under which land was alienated from European settlers to communal farmers across Zimbabwe. Despite this stand, interestingly, at the time of Sam’s untimely death, the World Bank was reportedly in the process of appointing Sam to a high-level panel on land reform.
After setting up the African Institute of Agrarian Studies (AIAS) in the early 2000s, Sam broadened the focus of his work from Southern Africa to a more Pan-African outlook. This coincided with his deeper engagement with CODESRIA, as vice president and subsequently president. Sam’s work on the land question gradually became more directed to the Global South as he began working closely from the mid-2000s with Brazilian scholar Paris Yeros. This work culminated with the launch of the Agrarian South network and journal, through which Sam began working with Gyekye Tanoh of Third World Network in Ghana and Dzodzi Tsikata, now president of CODESRIA and newly appointed director of the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana, while he also became engaged with prominent scholars and activists from the Indian sub-continent, including Praveen Jha. Brazilian academics Paris Yeros and Marcelo Rosa survived the tragic accident that took away Sam’s life.
Sam and I enjoyed a fruitful marital and intellectual collaboration throughout the 1990s. Though our marriage ran aground in the 2000s, we remained great friends, regularly in touch over our mutual interests, primarily the children. Sam continued to take interest in my research, occasionally borrowing books from my library on economic history. I also continued to follow his interest in the land question and to reference his work in my own research.
One of the last workshops in which Sam was deeply involved took place in Accra in July last year. Sam made a joint presentation with our daughter Qondi that was a source of deep satisfaction for both of them. At the time of Sam’s untimely death, Qondi was working under her father’s guidance to turn their presentation into a joint paper for publication.
Despite Sam’s thoroughly professorial lifestyle, he always made time for people and his kindness was legendary. He always extended a helping hand and would never reject any plea for assistance. There were weekend invitations for almost everyone he met and at Christmas he would invite development partners who had not been able to make it home. His kindness and dynamism ensured that there were always people in our home, including many enduring friends.
He loved people in the greatest sense and that love was returned in equal measure, as shown by the outpouring of emotions following his fatal accident on 20 November 2015 and shocking death two days later.
In terms of his intellectual capacity, ideological outlook and extraordinary sociability, Sam shared traits with the late Nigerian Pan-Africanist and former secretary general of the Pan-African Movement, Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem. In April 2009, Sam visited Nairobi, where I was based, as a director for an international organisation, with my daughters Qondi and Zandi. Tajudeen was also based in Nairobi and, by chance with his two daughters Aida and Ayesha came from London at the same time to spend the holidays with their father. The seven of us ended up driving to Mombasa for the Easter break. While the four girls and I concentrated on water sports, Sam and Tajudeen were locked in marathon intellectual and comradely debates on the problem of African underdevelopment.
Just a month later, Tajudeen was to die in tragic circumstances, thrown from his vehicle while on the airport road bound for Kigali to meet the Rwandan President. Sam’s death last year in a similarly tragic road accident while on a Global South mission in India points poignantly to the fragility of life in the developing world, and the important need for Africa to celebrate its scholars in life, and not only in death.
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