Title: Reflections of an Old Man
Author: Valentine Nyagweta
Publisher: Self (2017)
VALENTINE Nhamoinesu Nyagweta may not be prominent outside the corridors of the civil service or diplomatic circles in Zimbabwe, but his experience before his retirement offers some interesting and sometimes colourful insights into these arenas — making his book a handy tool for those called by duty to walk the same corridors.
By Phillip Chidavaenzi
Nyagweta worked as a civil servant, diplomat and also had a stint working for Parliament before his retirement.
In this 2017 memoir, Nyagweta traces his life back to early childhood and even beyond, demonstrating how extra-ordinary life experiences can turn ordinary people into valuable gems for their country, often contributing to its development even away from the madding crowd.
To his credit, the author shares insights both into his personal and public life, detailing the critical role he played in shaping the politics as well as civil and diplomatic services of Zimbabwe over many years.
The memoirs are in many ways transcendental. They cover Nyagweta’s life as an innocent village boy, a student, a desperate jobless school leaver in the then Rhodesia, a refugee, teacher, civil servant and diplomat.
They also provide a cinematic view of his personal life as well as how his family, culture and traditions moulded him into the man he eventually became.
The author relates his life story in a colourful, critical and often humorous way.
The other interesting dimension to this book is that Nyagweta opens the door and welcomes us into culture and traditions of the Manyika people in eastern Zimbabwe where he belongs.
This includes the ethnic gender dynamics such as division of labour in the household from an early age.
Nyagweta, however, demonstrates that through experience and observation, he established that gender was not a factor in how one could advance in life if opportunities are availed to them.
He writes: “I grew up in the traditional Manyika culture where boys were treated as being more important than girls. God, however, blessed my wife and I with four beautiful and intelligent daughters … if one invested wisely in their children, irrespective of gender, one was bound to get good rewards.” (pp3).
Beyond culture, the book can also qualify as a history offering. It provides a detailed and scintillating account of life in Rhodesia as experienced by Nyagweta.
It carries a moving portrayal of the brutalities of the 1970s liberation struggle through which Zimbabwe was birthed on ordinary villagers whose idyllic communal lives were decimated by the brutalities of war.
Nyagweta recollects how he was a beneficiary of collective village parenthood and how family relations were deeply valued among his people.
He throws together a colourful cast of family relations with intriguing personalities and character traits, including Sekuru Tawananga and Mbuya Madhishi.
The latter, despite her gender, is described as an authoritative figure and “the one centre of power” who kept the Nyagweta clan intact.
Nyagweta’s life, as narrated in the memoir, has not been short of mysterious experiences including a sudden deluge in the midst of summer after laughing at some baboons in Mt Nyangani and subsequently getting lost in the mountain.
He traces his journey in education until completion of his studies, followed by the challenges of securing employment.
The memoir also covers Nyagweta’s excursions in Botswana — a teaching stint after having first been denied a work permit, settling into a new culture, working like a horse, learning the Tswana language and an unforgettable first love.
Another foreign trip — this time to the United States — opened a new world to him.
This was where he met the woman that would become his wife.
In Chapter 8, aptly titled “The End of Bachelorhood”, Nyagweta recounts the love journey that would see him walking down the
Immediately after, he recounts his entry into the diplomatic world in a development would see him travel the world on various assignments: Geneva, Paris and London.
In this chapter, Nyagweta gives an honest account of some of the challenges experienced by Zimbabwe’s foreign missions.
What gives Nyagweta’s story another interesting dimension is that his wife also ends up in the diplomatic field, a rare occurrence among married couples.
Reflections of an Old Man is indeed a treasure trove of experience, information and knowledge particularly for those interested in how the civil service and diplomatic field function.