I first encountered Professor Eliphas Mukonoweshuro in 1997 in the office of the Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Zimbabwe.
I knew nothing of the University then, save for what my brother Witness Zhangazha had taught and told me. And I was thoroughly intimidated by anyone who had the title Dr, let alone Professor before their names.
As it was, it was the duty of the dean of the faculty to sign an admission form for undergraduates before they went to get their university identity cards (we didn’t have to wear them around our necks like they do these days).
His office was smoke-filled, and I could hardly see him as he asked me my name and the programme that I was trying to sign up for. When I told him BSc Political and Administrative Studies, he grunted, and said it was a good degree programme. It was the first time I had heard anyone say that about my intended degree, let alone a professor.
What I did not know, however, was that the Professor was also a senior lecturer in the Department of Political and Administrative Studies at the same university, but I was too intimidated to ask him anything. My papers duly signed, I went to join the hustle and bustle that was the university identity card queue at the Great Hall.
It would be almost two years later that I would directly encounter Professor Mukonoweshuro in a meeting of the Senate of the University of Zimbabwe, albeit not as a mere undergraduate student but as the Students Executive Council (SEC) president.
This is not to say that the Professor had been absent from university life in between, but that he was no longer teaching undergraduate courses in the Department of Political and Administrative Studies.
But the Senate encounter with the Professor has stuck in my mind because, under the Graham Hill administration, the university was becoming extremely repressive and academic freedom was being severely curtailed.
As an ex-officio member of the Senate, I had asked for time to speak about academic freedom, the notorious use of “green bombers” and the threat of the arbitrary closure of the university.
Professor Hill was trying to have none of it, but Professor Mukonoweshuro insisted that the “student leader” be permitted to have his say and have “my say” I did.
After university I never expected a formal or informal encounter with the Professor until I heard that he was running for Member of Parliament on an MDC ticket.
I was pleasantly surprised by that because I had never made the Professor out as a politician. He didn’t win the first time he ran, due to factors that would include what the late Professor Masipula Sithole called the “margin of terror’’ .
Regardless, I began to meet Professor Mukonoweshuro at public meetings or in meetings where we would try and impress upon politicians the significance of media freedom among other issues.
These were bit-part meetings and we had little time to either reminisce or share new ideas.
It was not until towards the end of 2008 that I began to encounter the Professor much more regularly.
This was after he had become an MP for Gutu South and was secretary for international relations in the MDC. Incidentally he had also become the chairperson of the Department of Political Science as it was now called.
We met on odd days discussing some documents that he had asked me to go through and edit and I was trying to lobby him to ensure media reforms would be included in the negotiations that were being mediated by former South African President Thabo Mbeki (Professor Mukonoweshuro was part of the technical team to the MDC-T negotiators).
Needless to say, I was not successful in getting the sort of media reforms I sought in the Global Political Agreement (GPA).
The last time I had a one-on-one conversation with the Professor was a month or so before the signing of the GPA in September 2008.
We were outside MDC-T co-negotiator Elton Mangoma’s office in Milton Park and were discussing the whole process surrounding Mbeki’s mediation and whether the MDC-T would get what it wanted.
I gave some analysis as to what was most likely to happen and the Professor calmly nodded, while smoking his cigarette and said either way, things could only turn out for the better.
And then he asked, very casually as it were, why I didn’t consider working for the MDC-T. I politely refused to answer the question and we left it at that.
In March of the following year (2009), I was not surprised to learn that he had been appointed a Cabinet minister in the inclusive government. That he had the Public Service as his portfolio was something I did not expect, but I knew that he would be up to the challenge.
When he had a public spat with Finance minister Tendai Biti, I got a bit worried but as it turns out, it was just a public spat. I always considered his eventual disagreements with some of the civil service unions as “work in progress” because the Professor was one of the most conscientious men I knew. I knew he was negotiating with the comrades. We will never know how all of this would have turned out under his stewardship.
But after all is said and done, the country has lost a good man, a good intellectual, a good democrat, and a committed citizen. May his ancestors and God accept him, and may his soul rest in peace.