Obituary: Msika, a man of the truth

As Zimbabweans nurse their profound grief on the passing away of Vice-President Joseph Wilfred Msika and ponder over the significance of his lifetime of struggle ahead of his befitting burial at the National Heroes Acre on Monday, the abiding wisdom that death cancels everything but truth must be reverberating in the hearts and minds of those who worked with or knew him as the contagious embodiment of the truth in politics.


The late Vice-President Msika was so irrepressibly committed to the truth as an expression of intergenerational leadership that he personified it.  He talked and lived the truth with all the associated consequences.  There is nobody who worked with or under him, no matter how old or young, who did not experience or suffer the impact of Vice-President Msika’s quest for truth.

 

It is for this reason that, as a man of the truth, he was without doubt the conscience of the nation. He was a leader of immense stature and a very ordinary person at one and the same time. He connected with such ordinary pursuits as boxing and football in ways that are yet to be told.

One fact that stands out as towering as his stature in the history of the nationalist movement, something rather typical of leaders who are truth-driven, is that Vice-President Msika never exaggerated his capacity. 

He was always humble, ever ready and willing to learn even from people much younger and less experienced than himself.  But even so he was nevertheless very impatient and even ruthless with the “mafikizolos”, the textbook politicians — sometimes called the “young Turks” — who thought or behaved towards him like they knew everything when the contrary was self-evidently true.

The chief error of the “mafikizolos”, which Vice-President Msika never tired to point out, was that they naively took the mere formal fact of holding senior positions either in the Zanu PF hierarchy or the Cabinet to mean that they were “leaders”!   

Vice-President Msika could not stomach that impudence.  He used to be routinely vicious against it and would not mince his words when denouncing the evil.  This is because to him, being a youth was not a licence to willy nilly say or do anything and there was always more to leadership than just having high sounding formal educational credentials or holding a formal position.

  And in the same vein, and for the same reasons, Vice-President Msika was never one to take kindly to people who claimed entitlement by dint of having done this or that during the liberation struggle.  To him, the virtue of one’s past or future or stature was always a consequence of one’s present deed.

Equally compelling was Msika’s nationalism.  Many have been called nationalists but their record is a mixed tale of tribalism.  Not Msika, he was not a lip-service nationalist who takes on a national character when there is a crowd before him. 

As a man of the truth, he was one leader who was truly above tribalism.  He was at home with real everyday people on the ground anywhere in Matabeleland, in terms of both deeds and language, as he was anywhere in Mashonaland. In this regard, he was in a class all by himself as a paragon of profound nationalism troubled by the otherwise deep-seated scourge of tribalism in our country.

Against this backdrop, Vice-President Msika had an infectious management style which saw leadership less as a position and more as a disposition.  

This perhaps explains why, as is readily clear even from a cursory review of his leadership role in the history of the nationalist movement, Vice-President Msika did not seek high positions for their own sake even when opportunities came begging. 

It is as remarkable as it is instructive to note that he was one of the leading nationalist voices that invited the late Vice-President Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo to be the founding leader of the African National Congress in 1957.  Since then and up to his passing away on Wednesday, Vice-President Msika’s loyalty to Nkomo remained legendary.

Of course, the loyalty was not to the person of Nkomo but to the ideals and values of the liberation struggle first to politically free Zimbabwe from colonialism and later to economically empower Zimbabweans by ensuring that they have full control of their God-given natural resources.  

It is no exaggeration to say that the whole of Vice-President Msika’s adult life was about this struggle.  He did not have any other life.  He was not invited into that life by anyone. He just found himself naturally at the centre of the struggle and in the end the struggle made him while he made the struggle and in the process Msika made Zimbabwe.

Whatever freedoms some Zimbabweans might claim they do not have today, a claim which must be academic by definition, the fact is that they are able to make the claim as result of the lifetime sacrifice that Vice-President Msika made.  He gave up everything for the sake of a free Zimbabwe.

The people who know this only too well are members of his family.  But there is no reason the rest of us cannot see it because it’s a reality that speaks for itself and which young Zimbabweans, especially, can ignore at their own existential peril from an identity point of view.

In the same way that young and future Americans cannot recall the history of the making of their country without reference to the likes of Thomas Jefferson, it will not be possible for anyone to tell a complete history of the making of a politically and economically independent Zimbabwe, with empowered citizens, without acknowledging the lifetime contribution made by Vice-President Msika.   

Those among us who sometimes suffer from the foolish temptation that the history of our country starts in 2000 have all the reasons to use the sad passing away of Vice- President Msika to revisit and understand the real and troubled history of our beloved country. 

While it can indeed be told from many perspectives based on the contributions of many illustrious sons and daughters of the revolution, some departed and others still with us, the perspective of the late Vice-President Msika is arguably the most compelling.

As President Robert Mugabe has said, people like Msika do not die: they live on indelibly anchored in our everlasting memories.

 

  • Jonathan Moyo is independent MP for Tsholotsho North.

BY JONATHAN MOYO

 

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