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Never accept less than your destiny

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I did not know what to write about this week until I received two pieces of news. The first was the sudden passing away of Dr David Hatendi, a banker and a gentleman, in his sleep. I first met him when i was invited to give a motivational talk to the manager of MBCA Bank at their strategy retreat, many years ago. He was an intelligent man who had a taste for the finer things in life, with grace and not conspicuous consumption. He was also the first black Rhodes scholar and fully deserving of it. In a strange sort of coincidence one life was snuffed out as another came to light.

The second piece of news I received was a link to a report, six days earlier, on 14-year-old Chegutu whizz kid Maud Chifamba who had just finished her A Level examinations with grades good enough to get her into university. Coming from a family of very modest means, facing resistance and active discouragement from older students, this young inspiration lit a candle instead of cursing the darkness of elative poverty, cynicism and the economic crisis to potentially take the road less travelled by to success. She could have easily succumbed to the all familiar road of “woe is me” and kudakwashe to end up on the road to obscurity as just another faceless statistic.

Young Hatendi lost his father at the age of 14 and was raised along with his two sisters by his mother on her own. Maud lost her father at the age of five and has been supported by her brother, a food vendor. After finishing her primary school, she studied secondary school material from home because of financial problems before help came along for her “A” Levels. Is that not incredible?

I was in a hotel room in Nairobi a few years ago at a corporate citizenship conference when, in between breaks, I was doing what men do best, channel surfing. I came across an interview of Bernice King daughter of Martin Luther king, just in time to hear her say “never accept less than your destiny”. I immediately wrote it down in one of those bedside pads one finds in any self-respecting hotel (will they one day put take away ipads?) and constantly think of that phrase.

In an obituary, John Graham a close friend of Hatendi says his work “as the National Secretary of the Rhodes Trust arranging the selection of Rhodes scholars for Oxford University.(…)brought him into contact with young people who shared his aspiration of continuous learning throughout life”.

I can imagine a young Maud standing before a charmed Hatendi and being offered a scholarship. Perhaps the greatest tribute we can pay to him is to recognise the efforts of this young girl who has defied a difficult environment to produce the kind of results she has. Who knows had she come from a better and more enabling environment what “higher results would she have produced?

There is an opportunity here for the Rhodes Trust, Zimplats who have already played their part and every socially responsible company out there. If I were still running corporate affairs and marketing in the companies i used to work for, this would be a no brainer, but we do not want to do a guilt trip on anyone, but we do not want to a guilt trip anyone. I know that we can help a young lady to live up to he potential because she has displayed amazing tenacity in the face of adversity and has excellent results to show for it.

Every country loves an inspirational story. Zimbabwe deserves one and this is one. Let this 14-year-old remind us of what is possible for all Zimbabweans. The term whizz kid is misleading in a sense because it implies that the result is out of reach for the average Zimbabwean, but people who have been successful in their fields will tell you the result is more or less of the same.
You excel in what you love by doing it over and over again Malcom Gladwell once eloquently pointed out. As a former teacher, as a writer, motivational speaker and as a human being, I would like to add to my university of life experience by meeting with Maud, even if it is to buy her lunch, give her a book and listen to her for an hour. I know headmasters like Tim Middleton of Gateway School would perhaps want to bring her in to speak to the students, but who would take her on a speaking tour to Chitungwiza, Highfields, Mbare and Makokoba? We can all celebrate these young lass even if she never goes beyond this point. She must not just be another news item and should occupy as much space as Miss Zimbabwe and Big Brother. She must not become a political plaything, but she must certainly be mentioned in a certain Prime Minister or President’s speech.

Everywhere I go, Zimbabweans are respected and lauded for their education. Here is our new symbol and a reason for Zimbabweans to regain some much needed pride. Who will step forward and help this child live her best life not because she is uniquely special, but because of what she represents, hope. It will be a fitting tribute to David Hatendi and our tradition of learning.

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