A hero of many talents
PHINIAS Mogorosi Makhurane was a giant in terms of his contributions to society, and is very difficult to encapsulate in a mere obituary.
He was simple and highly approachable while at the same time full of help and advice.
Truly a Zimbabwean, he was at home in Gwanda, his home area, in Mberengwa, Masvingo, Harare and let alone Bulawayo and communicated fluently in Shona, Ndebele, Sotho, Tswana and Venda.
We shared the same faith of Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe, similarly heavy rural background.
I first shared teaching responsibilities with him in 1965/6, when our former principal at Chegato Secondary School, Mr Tore Bergman, offered us temporary employment and he taught physics while I taught history.
Our students who included July Moyo, the current Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, Dr Jorum Gumbo, Minister of Energy and Power Development, Dr Philip Bhebe, Lecturer in Education at Midlands State University and several others in other walks of life.
They still cherish fondly their memorable encounters with their two inspiring young energetic teachers.
He was ahead of me as he was then waiting to fly off to Sheffield University, UK, for his Masters and PhD in Solid State Physics while I was still to complete my BA at the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland, before following him to do my PhD in Imperial History at the University of London.
Our intellectual odysseys for a while did not intersect as he first taught at the University of Zambia from 1968 to early 1974, while my own academic wanderings took me through the University of Rhodesia, Princeton University and University of Sierra Leone.
Happily he landed his post at the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland based at the then emergent Botswana College in 1974, while I joined the same institution but based in Swaziland in 1975.
The three Governments envisaged a situation whereby the colleges in Swaziland and Botswana would gradually develop to fully fledged universities over time.
In the meantime, however, they would teach only Part I of the degree programmes and then transfer the students to Lesotho to finish their Part II, especially in science programmes.
The setting of examinations, their marking, moderation and consideration by both faculties and senate were all centralised and members of staff commuted across to South Africa for their meetings.
While the University communities at the three Pic: Dennis Mudzamiri campuses appeared happy with the arrangements, governments were unhappy and the upshot of it was Lesotho’s nationalisation of the local campus and most of the University assets and records, leaving Swaziland and Botswana to cope with the completion of Part II degree programmes of their students.
As Prof Makhurane admits in his biography, the Botswana and Swaziland situation gave us our first experience in setting up universities, which would be handy when he would be asked to come up with the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) and I with the Midlands State University.
He was Dean of Science and I was first Deputy Dean and later Dean of Humanities on the Swaziland Campus.
We learned how to set up degree programmes, to plan for their requisite human and infrastructural resources – so that by 1978/79 we had almost attained our goals of building the two universities, although they continued to operate as colleges.
Meanwhile, Makhurane moved from teaching to full time university administration as Deputy Rector until he left Botswana to become Vice Principal and Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe in 1981.
Professor Makhurane was a farsighted thinker in the country and the first to express the need for the expansion of our university education in order to cope with the increased output of A-Level school leavers in post-independence Zimbabwe.
He aired his views through his Vice Chancellor Professor Walter Kamba in 1981.
But the issue was only taken up seriously by Government in 1989 when it set up the Williams Commission, which recommended a second university with a science bias to be built in Bulawayo.
Prof Makhurane, first as its Foundation Committee Chair and later as its Founding Vice Chancellor brought to bear his enormous experience as a higher education architect and delivered to the nation the monumental and magnificent NUST.
It stands there today as his indelible legacy on the intellectual heritage of our nation.
Prof Makhurane was a man of many parts and should be remembered not just for what he did in higher education.
When he was teaching at the University of Zambia he was appointed Representative of the International University Exchange Fund which was based in Geneva and raised funds in Scandinavian countries and Holland. He was given wide powers in the administration of the Fund, which largely catered for students coming from non-independent Southern African countries, especially from Rhodesia, South Africa and South West Africa (Namibia). The students were considered refugees. The difficult category involved children of parents who had migrated into neighbouring independent countries and had become naturalised in those countries.
Unfortunately their children were not automatically granted local citizenships and therefore were excluded from university grants of their host countries.
Prof Makhurane came to the aid of such students by including them in his wide definition of refugees.
Indeed that was how our President, Dr ED Mnangagwa, benefited from an IEUF scholarship when he did his Law studies at the University of Zambia.
There are many Zimbabweans, South Africans and Namibians who today occupy strategic positions in those countries who benefited from Prof Makhurane’s administration of IEUF.
Prof Makhurane was a Zimbabwean nationalist to the core and was fiercely loyal to the Zapu and to Dr Joshua Nkomo.
We were fortunate to have him based in Botswana at that moment in the history of our struggle, when Botswana played both the host and transit hub of our people escaping the wrath of the colonial regime as well as going to Zambia and Mozambique to join the struggle.
The advantage we enjoyed was that Prof Makhurane was not only personally close to the powers that be in Botswana, he had cousins in the presidency of that country.
Those cousins were regular dining and drinking company of his so that issues of Zimbabwe refugees were quite close to the ear of the President.
Each time I drove to Gaborone from Swaziland, Dumiso Dabengwa from ZAPU, based in Zambia, would be at Prof Makhurane’s house, of course with weighty issues destined for the Botswana authorities.
It did not matter whether one was Shona, Ndebele or ZANU or ZAPU, all were welcome in Makhurane’s house and all received help.
I must illustrate the late professor’s ardent loyalty to the late Vice-President Joshua Nkomo.
Soon after the publication of the late Vice-President’s story of his life, I sat with Prof Makhurane and made the observation that the old man had not appreciated the strategic importance of twining the gun with politics which had turned the tide of mass support in Zimbabwe from Zapu to Zanu during the war.
I can’t remember how exactly I put it; perhaps I must have put it clumsily, most untypical of me.
The Professor’s reaction was almost violent – most uncharacteristic of him, especially towards me.
I quickly saw that I had touched a raw nerve and dumped the subject as quickly as I had started it.
Phinias was a man of integrity who cared about both personal appearance as well as his standing in society. He was always decently and smartly turned up. He was married to a most loving and caring Lydia, who always made all of us Phinias’ friends and colleagues most welcome in her well maintained and managed house.
Their four children, one girl and three boys, are wonderful and respectful.
His watch word, indicating the conscious circumspection of an upright mind, always was, “uzaphuma emaphepheni”, meaning you will come out in the papers and of course newspapers are not interested in good things — they don’t sell. Scandals are the stuff they call news worthy. If you had an upright life the papers kept away from you.
He was wonderful, rich in sound philosophy and joyous company.
Whenever I was lost in the process of building MSU I would phone, even at night to ask my special friend for clues and he would oblige.
The nation has indeed accorded him the most fitting status of National Hero.
I thank Zanu-PF and His Excellency the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe for the honour.
Hamba kahle qhawe lamaqhawe — Phinias Mogorosi Makhurane!!!
May your soul rest in peace.
ZANU-PF National Spokesperson Ambassador Simon Khaya Moyo lays a wreath at the grave of National Hero Professor Phinias Makhurane in Gungwe, Gwanda yesterday —