‘I owe it to Alexander Kanengoni’

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By Munhamu Pekeshe

THIS week I am running around preparing for Unyetu Primary School’s first ever prize giving function.
Despite a sojourn that took me through several schools, including University of Zimbabwe and University of Cambridge, Unyetu Primary School remains my indisputable alma mater.
I dream of Unyetu primary with running water, flush toilets and a library in my lifetime. In my village in Unyetu, Munaro remains my hero.
This week, I reproduce a tribute to the late Alexander Kanengoni, without whom Unyetu would never have made it into national newspaper spaces.
To a large extend I owe my The Patriot columnist career to Alexander Kanengoni, not least because he gave me the name Pekeshe.
English troubled me throughout my school years.
I would probably have failed it at ‘O’-Level had it not been for my Form Three teacher Kwari.
He saw lots of sense in my broken English and kept encouraging me in my protracted struggle with the language.
Then about three years ago, I met Cde Pritchard Zhou CEO of the Zimbabwe Heritage Trust who, after a chat on Zimbabwean history and culture, set Kanengoni on me.
Kanengoni would not listen to my protestations about my poor command of English and today, over 200 articles later, I am a Kanengoni product.
In Kanengoni, I met a writing mentor who never tired in encouraging me.
It helped that he was a topnotch writer himself.
Long before our The Patriot meeting, he was already on the list of my favourite feature writers who include the late Tambayi Nyika, Bill Saidi, Isidore Guvamombe and Sekai Nzenza.
My most memorable Kanengoni read was a story on circumstances under which President Robert Mugabe’s jacket disappeared mysteriously at Villa Catandika in Mozambique, in a suspected case of clothes for illicit brew barter.
The short piece gave me treasurable insight into four of the comrades at the camp; President Mugabe, National Hero Edgar Tekere, Provincial Hero Caxton Mavhera and Alexander himself.
All in a flawless read.
Kanengoni, born in 1951, was a teacher, socialist, politician, soldier and writer, all rolled in one huge imposing soft hearted frame with an infectious laugh.
I received news of his tragic passing on with disbelief.
I had last spoken to him a few days before the 41st anniversary of the Herbert Chitepo assassination.
He wanted a copy of Chitepo’s 1958 epic poem, Soko Risina Musoro.
He never got to use it and I had hoped to discuss reasons thereof at our next meeting.
As I took down address details to the Kanengoni residence, more disbelief awaited me – the many digits, crescent this and finally Warren Park D!
For some reason, I thought he stayed in Shawasha Hills or thereabouts.
Surprised at my own surprise, I realised I was betraying my own materialistic/capitalistic tendencies.
These were the enemy vices that Kanengoni toiled against all his life and had earned him incarceration during the Vashandi ZANLA rebellion in Mozambique.
Kanengoni trained as a teacher at Kutama College and went on to teach in the then Salisbury (Harare).
He did not last long as a teacher, abandoning his young teaching career to join the liberation struggle in 1974.
He was part of a revolution-fired-up intelligentsia that sacrificed careers for Zimbabwe to be free.
Many others made a different choice; opting to enjoy the limited trinkets Smith threw their way.
Kanengoni’s choice reminds me of a story I have often written about my cousin Never’s own choice in late 1975.
My father never reconciled with the fact that our cousin, Never, had skipped a promising academic career to join ZANLA in Mozambique.
Never was a bursary student at St Augustine’s Mission in Penhalonga and had been expected to sail through his ‘MPC’ at ‘A’-Level.
He and others skipped the border weeks before their ‘A’ Level examinations in 1975.
My father, who was working in Mutare, had acted as Never’s guardian.
When father brought the news to the village, he wore a bereaving face.
He kept shaking his head in disbelief.
Never had betrayed a family that so much looked to the fruits from the genius they were investing in.
Never was the family academic standard.
Father gave a long stare to Munaro, a Grade Seven dropout or ‘home defender’ as we called them, driving his cattle a distance from where we were.
“Never should have left people like Munaro to join the war,” my father railed loudly and angrily.
As fate would have it, Munaro followed suit and joined the war in 1978.
Kanengoni trained at Morogoro, Tanzania, and was given command responsibilities as a political commissar.
Here he put to effective use his teacher training, political views and military training to help produce political ZANLA cadres who proved more than a match to Ian Smith’s mercenaries. When he got caught in the contradictions of the struggle, the ‘Vashandi Affair’, he never lost sight of the bigger picture for a free and prosperous Zimbabwe.
After Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, he went straight to the University of Zimbabwe and majored in English Literature.
In that he was among a minority of war veterans who realised sustainable welfare lay in taking up Government-initiated sound education and civilian training re-integration initiatives.
On completion of his University studies, Kanengoni joined the Ministry of Education and Culture in 1983 as project officer responsible for the education of ex-combatants and refugees.
He wanted the education benefit he had enjoyed to spread among his fellow wartime comrades.
The career choices he made cannot be separated from his deeply ingrained socialist Marxist political ideals.
In 1988, he joined the ZBC where he worked tirelessly to promote the right political orientation to a nation in transition from socialism ideals to the dictates of the Bretton Woods institutions.
He left the ZBC in 2002 to become a farmer and a part-time scribe. Later he became Deputy Editor of The Patriot.
Here he grew as a pen-totting political commissar to the nation. Kanengoni knew the pain of war and value of restorative justice, themes that echo in his writings in: Vicious Circle (1983), When the Rainbird Cries (1988), Echoing Silences (1997), a collection of short stories, Effortless Tears (1993) and Writing Still (2003).
At the Kanengoni funeral wake, I looked at Alex’s father and imagined the old man’s reaction to news of Alex joining the war in late 1974.
At least the old man could smile in sorrow, not because a Munaro joined the war or that Alex came back alive, but for having given Zimbabwe a patriotic political commissar and a rare political teacher and writer.

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