Remembering DR Tichafa Samuel Parirenyatwa

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Special Correspondent

DR Tichafa Samuel Parirenyatwa was born in Rusape, Manicaland, on July 17 1927, to Sophie and David Deme Parirenyatwa.
He was the third born in a family of eight, but unfortunately his two elder siblings had passed on in infancy rendering him the eldest survivor.
The doctor to be, grew up in Murehwa where his family had relocated to Matututu, 15 kilometres from Murehwa Centre three years after his birth in 1930.
His father, who had risen through sheer determination and hard work at night school from being a cook in the Rhodesia Governor’s residence to being a Methodist lay preacher and educationist of note had made this move to advance his teaching career and work in the Methodist Ministry.
At that time, schooling for Africans was very limited, but Tichafa Samuel rose from primary school to matriculation with the guidance of his father who had spotted that the young man had vast academic potential.
The academically astute Tichafa left Rhodesia to attend lessons at South Africa’s Adam’s College and the famous Fort Hare University which played host to many nationalist leaders from both Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) and South Africa.
He was admitted to the University of Witwatersrand where he passed with flying colours to claim his medical degree in 1957 and claim the distinction of being Rhodesia’s first African Medical doctor.
While in South Africa, Dr Parirenyatwa had his first contact with nationalist politics when he participated in defiance campaigns against various pieces of apartheid legislation under the auspices of the African National Congress Youth league (ANCYL).
He was also instrumental in the elevation of Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Luthuli to the post of party president of the ANC in 1952.
Dr Parirenyatwa’s deep sense of patriotism compelled him to return to Rhodesia so that he could deploy his newly acquired skills in the service of his people.
He did his ‘housemanship’ (internship) at Harare Central Hospital and Salisbury North Hospital under the tutelage of Professor Levy who interestingly also superintended the housemanship of Tichafa’s son David, who was also involved in politics and went on to become Health Minister, 24 years later.
Being the only African medical practitioner, he was under intense scrutiny by his white colleagues and consequently the bar was set much higher for him.
However, due to his expertise and dexterity, he won the admiration and respect of his colleagues for his skill in medicine.
His colleagues of the time like Dr Mossop and Dr N. Baker who are now eminent physicians still speak glowingly of the late Dr Parirenyatwa and pay tribute to his qualities and abilities.
As word of his prowess spread across the country, the doctor became a celebrity of sorts, but still found time in his busy schedule for social engagements such as addressing events, opening schools and being guest of honour at various functions. He was a keen follower of boxing and soccer while a ballroom dancer of repute as well as a tennis player, a sport which he also coached.
From Harare (Salisbury then), he was deployed to Kezi in Matabeleland.
There was backlash from the white people when in 1959 he was appointed medical officer-in-charge of Antelope Mine Hospital in Matabeleland as some of the local white farmers were horrified.
During his era, racial tensions were rising between the whites and the black people. A group of white people wrote to the Chronicle in protest, the inference not quite spelt out, but nonetheless clear that it was unacceptable to have a black man attending to their wives.
Facts, however, are stubborn and the fact of the matter was that Dr Parirenyatwa was an astute physician of the highest calibre and once the close knit white community of antelope mine got to know this, they soon were even seen to invite him to their homes where he performed his duties with aplomb.
When he resigned from government service in 1961 to go into politics full time, there was another letter to the Chronicle from local white farmers.
They were wholeheartedly thanking him for his services and the inference not quite spelled out but nonetheless clear was that a future without Parirenyatwa at Antelope Mine Hospital was bleak beyond words for the farmers and their wives. During his time in Matabeleland he found time to contribute to medical journals including a celebrated article on the deficiency disease Pellagra which was far ahead of its time.
Dr Parirenyatwa had always had a burning desire to serve his people and despite his exploits in the health services sector, he wanted broader benefits for his countrymen hence he wanted to be an active agent in the process of liberating Zimbabwe under the auspices of the National Democratic Party (NDP).
On December 8 1961, the NDP was proscribed by the by Edgar Whitehead’s racist government.
The nationalists who were by that time in revolutionary overdrive wasted no time in setting up a new organisation.
A mere nine days after the proscription of the NDP, on December 17 1961, the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) was born with Joshua Nkomo as its founding president and Tichafa Parirenyatwa as deputy president.
He had proved his mettle by laying the foundations of a party network from grassroots to national executive level.
He was instrumental in recruiting other educated Africans to the struggle roping in notable intellectuals such as Nathan Shamuyarira.
When questioned at a lunch meeting of the Rhodesian National Affairs Association how ZAPU intended to take control of the country, he enigmatically commented: “It would be done constitutionally, but not in Parliament.”
Sensing the threat that this young firebrand posed, the wicked Rhodesian security apparatus hatched a diabolical plot to eliminate the threat.
On August 14 1962, while on his way to a crucial party congress, he was ambushed and beaten to death by a contingent of eight men as narrated by his driver Danger Sibanda who survived the attack.
His car was then driven to a rail level crossing at Heaney Junction and was pushed into an oncoming train to make it appear like an accident.
His funeral was a somber affair with emotions running high.
The scores that attended were disheartened that their leader had been assassinated and it had been disguised as an accident.
As a fitting tribute to this fierce and fearless fighter for justice, equality and black majority rule, Andrew Fleming Hospital, the country’s largest health institution was renamed Parirenyatwa hospital and opened to all races after independence.
Further to that he was posthumously declared a national hero in 1984 and his remains are buried at the National Heroes Acre in Harare.
This man was truly great and in their book African Nationalist leaders in Rhodesia — Who’s Who, writers Robert Cary and Diana Mitchel described him as “a man of great breadth of mind coupled with the ability to persuade others on his view.
“He was meticulously honest in his handling of money matters, greatly loved by all members of his party.”
A true summary of this great man.

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