An ode in memory of Chimusoro Sam Moyo

The feminist Bella Matabanadzho remembers Zimbabwean academic and activist Sam Moyo carrying his "intellectual smarts with so much ease."

Sam Moyo. Via Facebook.

An unimaginable loss has happened. Our phenomenal intellectual pan-African giant on land issues, Professor Sam Moyo, has died following injuries sustained during a terrible car accident in New Delhi, India. We are in disbelief. We are waiting for him to come home. We feel ripped apart with pain.

We grew up following you in our townships. We nicknamed you Sekuru “Chimusoro”, the one with the very big head. All our parents wanted us to be exactly like you. At the end of every school term, you would come home with a report card full of number ones. Your arms would be laden with trophies and certificates for best student in this subject; outstanding record in that.

Your mother, Gogo Mavis Moyo’s face would beam with enough joy to light up the whole continent. She was a woman of her own accolades, a pioneer black female broadcaster at a time when radio was segregated by racism. But somehow your achievements made her glow in the way that only a mother can do.

We always marveled at the shiny silver cups with your name on them. Playfully, you would fill them with cherry plum juice and serve us to drink along with candy cakes. The pink icing would crease between our fingers. Domestic chores, serving those around you, never bothered you. You had such a deep sense of the hospitality of food, and the power of sharing drinks with those you loved, that we always felt welcome to your side. You were our great tree that bore so much fruit. Yes we would laugh, but you would steer us to talk about the thing that mattered most to you; and even if we did not know it then, to us. How to fully reclaim the land that was stolen by the colonial forces.

Throughout your life, you carried your intellectual smarts with so much ease. In your later years, when your trophies had turned to degrees, you would seek us out so we could sit in your seminars. At that time I think you were at the Zimbabwe Institute of Development Studies (ZIDS). Later on you moved to SAPES and taught the SARIPS Masters Program with radical feminists like Dr. Patricia Mcfadden you made our brains sweat. In the beginning we would all look at each other unable to write down some of the big words and theories you used.  And yet you persisted. Sharing your knowledge with us, crafting an epistemology around land and agrarian rights. Together you showed us why land was a critical resource for women to have ownership and control over.

When we tried to call you Prof, you would smile and say, “vafana vangu, ndinonzi Sam – my youngsters, I am just Sam.” It didn’t matter that you had “eaten many books” as the saying used to go. You would listen to our elementary theories, nurture us with love and suggest, “let’s write a policy brief on this subject. That’s how we will change the world.”

You lent your brilliance to the environmental think tank Zero, pulled us into the Senegal based Codesria and introduced us to people who wore Dashiki shirts as a form of political expression. People whose papers you had photocopied for us to read. This was before computers. It was the time of type-writers. Your scrawl was impossible to decipher, but we knew that if we didn’t figure out your handwriting, there would be trouble. You could not abide intellectual laziness.

On Boodle Road, in Harare’s Eastlea suburb you set up the African Institute of Agrarian Studies (AIAS). It was nothing short of a bold move. This was Zimbabwe in the early 2000s when land invasions were at their apex. Nothing could deter you. Not physical threats, nor slurs to your name. And who can forget the raid of your home office in Borrowdale. You put your ubiquitous cigarette to your mouth and shock your head. “why did they have to mess my papers up? I had order here.” I would look at the piles and piles of papers you had and wonder what kind of order you meant. Your office was a project for a near freak.

Last year, we danced until dawn in your front garden. Your lawn groaned underfoot of our stampede. It was your 60th birthday party. Food, music, friends and land politics. The delicious chocolate cake was a creative meme of your desk. Cellphone, books on land with the spine carrying your name. And of course your friends from all over the world filled your yard. Or Skype feed.

By your side was your sweetheart and partner, the top human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa. We marveled at how possible it was for two wonderful, strong and brilliant human beings to love each other so much. It made us feel good to see you dancing. It was as if no one else was around as you smiled at each other and twirled each other to Hugh Masekela’s trumpet. Power couples that publicly show each other affection and validation are so very rare in our activist civil society worlds. We were hoping for a huge international African wedding and had decided we were going to be in the bridal party. I don’t know how we will comfort you Beatrice. I don’t know how we will comfort Gogo Moyo. How will we hold Sibongile and her sisters?

On the days I forgot to call to check on you, you would ring. And demand our company. “Is Nancy (Kachingwe) around? Where is Saru? Let me make you Oxtail. Bring your over friends.” You always offered your home to us, whether you were there or not. You were our shade. Cajoling us into studying further. Promising to supervise doctorates.

Thank you for giving us so much of you Sekuru Chimusoro. Siyabonga Moyondizvo. We will forever carry you in our hearts. Broken as they are by your untimely and devastatingly painful death. Alone, so far away from the homeland you fought so hard and so long for.

I was raised in the black working class townships of Pelandaba, Bulawayo and Highfields, Harare. That’s where I met Sam Moyo. I was mentored by Sam’s mother, Mrs Mavis Moyo, who was amongst the cohort of first black women journalists in Zimbabwe and is a co-founder of the federation of African Media Women (FAMWZ). Famwz pioneered the Radio through development venture which enabled women across Zimbabwe to share their life experiences through radio. My parents were affiliated with the movements that supported Liberation nationalists for Zimbabwe’s independence from colonial oppression.  I was defended by Beatrice Mtetwa, Sam’s partner, during my court case in 2006/7 when as a Trustee of Radio Voice of the People, I, together with other Trustees and staff were persecuted for their collective press freedoms activism.

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