12 April 2003

Zimbabwe: Masipula Sithole: a True Democrat

The ancient Greeks defined true happiness as "the full use of one's intellectual ability along lines of excellence".

Professor Masipula Sithole (Mas, Sipu) was an expression of true happiness and he exuded true happiness through his intellect, his incisive humour and his kindness.

We despair at the loss of such an icon of a man at such a premature age and during these auspicious times in our country.

We equally despair at the loss of an eminent academic, a clever political commentator, an astute analyst, a deon of democracy and fair play and a humane individual.

Masipula possessed a rare gift of intellectual political humour. His humour was incisive, infectious, thought-provoking and in retrospect, almost obvious. Above all, Mas was an honest man. I once asked him what if some of the individuals that he mentioned in his book Struggles within the Struggle in relation to Herbert Chitepo's death, challenged him.

Mas said to me: "Babamunini, if I am telling lies, let those people say so. So far no one has said anything directly to me about it."

"Are you not afraid of what might happen to you?" I enquired further, and he replied that, "yes, of course I am afraid. It is only natural to fear for one's safety. But, my love for the truth and for liberty, far outweighs my fear of death".

Incidentally, Mas picked the title of the book Struggles within Struggles from a conversation he had with Herbert Chitepo in 1974 when Chitepo was talking about struggles within Zanu.

At the launch of his other book, Public Eye, a collection of his articles, Mas teasingly remarked that, in fact, it was Lupi Mushayakarara who started the Public Eye column, but she did not write a book.

At the same occasion his brother, the late Ndabaningi, mentioned that at home, the Professor is called Sipu. Mas then cautioned some of his students who were in the audience that if they ever called him Sipu, they would all fail their examinations.

When he was running for Harare City Council, his contender boasted that he was going to beat a Professor. Mas commented that "physically, yes, he may beat me, but not in the council elections".

While he was a candidate for councillorship, he was at the same time carrying out research, on voter characteristics.

He would say that there was no conflict of interest in doing that, because he was employing a method called "Participatory Research". Mas often quoted that: "Practice without theory is blind and theory without practice is empty". Masipula was not partisan. He was there when Zanu had its first congress in Gweru in 1964, when his brother Ndaba was unanimously elected president.

He was there when Zanu PF won the elections at independence in 1980. He was there when Zimbabwe Unity Movement, led by Edgar Tekere was launched.

He was there when the National Constitutional Assembly was formed. He was there when the MDC was launched.

In the recent past, some of his critics, who could not measure up to his constructive criticisms of some government policies, ignorantly simplified everything by labelling him a member of the opposition.

However, he was not just a "middle of the road man". As he often pointed out, "Surely, I am not that dull. A person who stays in the middle of the road, will sooner or later, be run over by a vehicle".

Some men look at the world and see things the way they are and ask why. Others look at the world and see things the way they are not and ask why not. Mas was the latter.

Professor Masipula was a pleasant person to be with. He has left us a legacy of love for democracy and fair play. Despite the despair and the pain of losing him, I am glad he came along and that we shared many happy moments together. He enriched our lives and we are the wiser. We will never forget to remember him. May your soul rest in eternal peace, Babamukuru.

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