Prof Mur­wira is no mad sci­en­tist

The de­ter­mined ru­ral boy read him­self to the Uni­ver­sity of Zimbabwe, where he grad­u­ated with up­per sec­ond class Honours in Geog­ra­phy in 1994, tak­ing the Book Prize and the Geo­graph­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion of Zimbabwe Book Prize along with him.

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - FEATURE - Sharon Mun­jen­jema

SCI­ENCE con­tin­ues to push the bound­aries of re­al­ity, and in­creas­ingly the dis­tinc­tion be­tween sci­ence and fic­tion is get­ting hazier as the en­ve­lope is pushed fur­ther. The fact/fic­tion di­chotomy is some­thing that sci­en­tists al­ways seek, and in that quest Higher and Ter­tiary Ed­u­ca­tion, Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy Min­is­ter Pro­fes­sor Amon Mur­wira is no dif­fer­ent.

Con­sider the cyn­i­cism from some quar­ters that greeted his re­cent launch of the Zimbabwe Na­tional Geo-spa­tial and Space Agency (Zin­gasa). It doesn’t faze him. “When you do some­thing, there are al­ways peo­ple who will like what you do and those who won’t. Re­spect both,” says Prof Mur­wirwa.

That project has taken off and Prof Mur­wira is con­fi­dent that the data Zin­gasa will mine will be cen­tral to Zimbabwe’s sci­ence-based de­vel­op­ment am­bi­tions.

With that de­bate shelved, Prof Mur­wira is now onto uni­ver­sity towns state-of-the-art re­search in­sti­tu­tions that will lure seek­ers of knowl­edge from the re­gion and be­yond.

He is also spear­head­ing a mas­sive coal-to-diesel project, skills en­hance­ment, and some­thing to do with pota­toes and the sta­ple diet that we will not talk about now un­til the min­is­ter him­self is ready to launch it.

But who is this man who was re­cently plucked from the world of academia to head a min­istry whose po­ten­tial his pre­de­ces­sors have failed to both ap­pre­ci­ate and un­lock?

Early Life

Well, Prof Mur­wirwa was born in 1970 to par­ents who eked a liv­ing from the un­yeild­ing com­mu­nal lands of Nzuwa vil­lage in Gutu. He was the only boy in a fam­ily of five. His fa­ther died when he was nine, and young Amon - in be­tween herd­ing cat­tle and goats - went to Shum­ba­yarerwa Pri­mary, and then Rafemoyo Sec­ondary and Gutu High schools.

Prof Mur­wira will tell you about the pain of walk­ing 16km to school ev­ery day, and the strain of study­ing by the dim glow of a paraf­fin lamp by night.

But that did not break him. It made him.

He scored six A’s at O-Level - a his­toric feat at his school.

“I grew up in a world of pos­si­bil­ity against ad­ver­sity. From an early age, I un­der­stood that it was all about team work. I saw Zimbabwe be­ing built with bare hands in the first 10 years af­ter In­de­pen­dence and it shaped the way I now look at the world.

“This was to later in­flu­ence the way I think now. If I got here af­ter all those hur­dles, what can stop Zimbabwe from achiev­ing any­thing right now? It’s all pos­si­ble!”

The de­ter­mined ru­ral boy read him­self to the Uni­ver­sity of Zimbabwe, where he grad­u­ated with up­per sec­ond class Honours in Geog­ra­phy in 1994, tak­ing the Book Prize and the Geo­graph­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion of Zimbabwe Book Prize along with him.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing, he taught at Chiri­choga Sec­ondary School in Ne­mamwa, Masvingo.

That was to be the only job he was to ever ap­ply for.

As the only Geog­ra­phy teacher at the school, the 24-year-old tu­tored more than 700 pupils for the next months.

“With an honours de­gree, I was (lured to) Victoria High School, but my head­mas­ter wasn’t amused.”

In March, at a sports event at Ndarama Sec­ondary School, the ed­u­ca­tion re­gional direc­tor ap­proached him and he was in­stantly trans­ferred to Victoria High, where taught A-Level pupils.

And as he was set­tling into that job, a phone call came through from the then Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment, head­hunt­ing him to join their nat­u­ral re­sources de­part­ment.

The caveat: he had to go through an in­ter­view first. Need­less to say, he aced the in­ter­view and be­came a pro­vin­cial ecol­o­gist in Mashona­land East.

The Great Be­yond

In 1995, the min­istry sent him to Canada to study satel­lites, and his head and heart were turned for­ever.

“It was my first time to board a plane and it was a 20-hour jour­ney. The jour­ney was fan­tas­tic, but the food was not good. Those days I was used to sadza only. My stom­ach was up­set the whole jour­ney,” he says with his trade­mark boom­ing laugh.

From 1995 to 1998, he was in be­tween Zimbabwe to Canada, un­til a new as­sign­ment came.

The UZ asked him to study Satel­lite Re­mote Sens­ing and In­for­ma­tion Geo­graph­i­cal Sciences at Master’s level in The Nether­lands on a schol­ar­ship.

He grad­u­ated with a dis­tinc­tion in 2000 and com­pleted his PhD in 2003, and the fol­low­ing year he was back in Zimbabwe lec­tur­ing at the UZ.

En­ter Pol­i­tics

Of all the amaz­ing things that had hap­pened to this ru­ral boy who now stud­ied both space and what lies be­neath the Earth, a most un­ex­pected thing hap­pened on a Thurs­day evening in Novem­ber 2017.

While nap­ping at his Harare home, Prof Mur­wira re­ceived a phone call from his neph­ews.

“They re­ferred to me as ‘honourable’, ndikati murikuti chii? Zvikanzi tari­sai panews. I woke up and tuned on the news. And I heard it on my own.”

Pres­i­dent Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa had picked him as his Min­is­ter of Higher and Ter­tiary Ed­u­ca­tion, Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy De­vel­op­ment.

The next Mon­day he was sworn in as a Cab­i­net min­is­ter. It wasn’t sci­ence fic­tion.

“I re­call re­ceiv­ing a phone call from Govern­ment of­fices a few days be­fore and be­ing asked if I could be avail­able for na­tional duty. As a per­son who has served in a num­ber of boards, this is usu­ally how we are called to such po­si­tions and I thought this was one of those. But be­com­ing min­is­ter - I never dreamt that!”

Pres­i­dent Mnan­gagwa has de­scribed Prof Mur­wira as a hard-worker. The min­is­ter has given no in­di­ca­tion that the Pres­i­dent is wrong.

Prof Mur­wira

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