‘Dr Mzee’ defied the odds to become a luminary
THE late Vice President, Dr Simon Muzenda, a key figure in the pre and postindependence periods of Zimbabwe’s history, was born in a peasant family in Gutu district in Masvingo Province on October 28, 1922.
He died 13 years ago, about a month before his 81st birthday.
Dr Muzenda, also known as the Soul of the Nation, had three brothers and a sister.
He was brought up by his grandmother, tending cattle in the rural areas until he was 14.
He later started his primary education at Nyamande in the same district then proceeded to Gokomere Mission, a Roman Catholic-run institution near Masvingo.
Young Simon later moved to Domboshava where he did his Standard Six after which he trained as a teacher, one of the few professions open to blacks during the colonial era.
He taught at Empandeni Mission near Plumtree in Matabeleland South for four years.
Not satisfied with his modest qualifications and teaching job, young Muzenda left the country for South Africa’s Marianhill College, where he attained a diploma in carpentry.
He spent two years teaching carpentry at Mayville in Durban at the Mazenod Catholic School.
At the same time he was corresponding for his National Senior Certificate.
Later he returned home and married Maud in Masvingo and shortly after their marriage, the couple moved to Bulawayo where Dr Muzenda landed a job as a clerk at a plywood factory.
He changed employers when he joined Furniture Factories and later Wilfred Mart.
Around that time he developed an interest in politics.
He had an illustrious political career which saw him holding senior posts in a number of the early political parties such as the Voice Association, National Democratic Party, Zimbabwe African People’s Union and Zimbabwe African National Union and later Zanu-PF.
He played a significant role in the formation of the Voice Association and fittingly became its secretary general in 1953.
He worked with the late nationalist Benjamin Burombo, then president of Voice Association. They both helped put up a strong fight against draconian colonial laws such as the Native Land Husbandry Act.
In 1961 when the NDP was formed, he was elected chairman of the Mvuma branch before he became its organising secretary. But soon the colonial regime of the day banned the NDP.
Dr Muzenda, together with other nationalists such as the late Vice President Dr Joshua Nkomo then formed Zapu.
He got the post of administrative secretary of Fort Victoria (now Masvingo) branch. His political activism predictably got him into trouble with the colonial regimes.
As a result, he was arrested and detained on several occasions.
He was detained at Wha Wha, Sikombela and Gokwe prisons and later the Harare Maximum Prison in 1965.
For six years he was kept in colonial jails with several other freedom fighters until he was released in November 1971.
During his time in detention, Dr Muzenda studied several academic subjects.
He attained a diploma in economics and another one on the British constitution.
At one point, Dr Muzenda was arrested in Zvishavane after he publicly recited a poem, Nehanda Nyakasikana which was almost a national anthem for blacks at the time.