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Go well gentle giant of Hwedza; A tribute to Mukoma Dewa Mavhinga

Go well gentle giant of Hwedza; A tribute to Mukoma Dewa Mavhinga

By Pride Mkono

Life is vanity. The grim reaper is always lurking in the shadows even as we laugh abundantly at the happy moments of life or as we celebrate milestones and hug good byes with hope to meet again. The grim reaper scoffs at the misery of our hope. A hope, that like a candle light in the wind can be snuffed out in an instant. For as it lurks in the shadows it knows it will strike and scatter all our earthly plans, which we mere mortals stack in our minds.

And strike the grim reaper did.

I last spoke to a friend and comrade who became family a fortnight ago and our conversation was uncharacteristically short.

“Mukoma how are you,” I inquired?

“I am well my brother just pressed with end of year reports. Speaking of which as per our last conversation, I want you to assist me with a report,” he responded in his usual courteous manner.

“Aaaah that is well my brother, tombowanawo chimari pa Xmas apa zvinhu zvakaoma (may get money for Christmas, things are tough),” I replied with a smile.

He went on to briefly tell me about what to expect in the assignment and then said he had a Zoom engagement which he had to attend. We parted with a promise that he would call back and, on our follow, up chat some days later we agreed to have our usual long call over the weekend. This weekend!

I was waiting for the call; a call that never came. That will never come. I am devasted.

What came through was news that my brother Dewa Mavhinga, a prominent human rights defender, had succumbed to the deadly pandemic which has brought so much anguish across the over the last two years. I was gutted. I felt numb as I realized how close the grim reaper always is. That he strikes when you least expect and robs you of the best when you need them most. What with the country sliding towards elections which are likely to be what Dewa called ‘a poisoned chalice.’

I have known Mukoma Dewa Mavhinga for more than a decade. He was a gentle and approachable comrade who helped me hone my activism and leadership from 2009 when I was at University of Zimbabwe, holding my hand through the labyrinth of our civic society. We clicked from the first time we met and until his death he was one person I could confide in and talk to about almost anything. “How is my Mainini,” he would inquire with his gentle laughter as he asked about my love life. He believed in and loved family. We became family.

A generous man with a kind heart, Dewa would bail me out when the going was tough. Being a Human Rights Defender and activist is a thankless undertaking. The state brutalizes you on one hand and fellow comrades may label and shun you but Dewa welcomed everyone with open and warm arms.
When the internal contradictions in our democratic struggles got hearted up, Mukoma Dewa would admonish that we must ‘always engage constructively.’ He believed that while we could disagree; we should do so without becoming enemies. What wisdom! Wisdom gone too soon.

When he joined Human Rights Watch, he immediately got to work and started to assist many of us who regularly fell victim to state brutality. He particularly played an instrumental role in ensuring that violations which occurred during the peak periods of social movements protests, led by #Tajamuka and #ThisFlag, received coverage. He also ensured that all victimized comrades got support to be able to find a footing after months of incarceration at Chikurubi Maximum Prison in 2016. Who shall fill those shoes in the wake of intensified state repression?

A committed human rights practitioner, Mukoma Dewa would even assist then war veterans’ leaders Victor Matemandada and Douglas Mahiya when they were under siege from Mugabe’s regime. He believed in the human rights of everyone including those who ordinarily denied him his. A true patriot.

We would follow the dramatic coup events in 2017 together at Holiday Inn and he unreservedly condemned the military coup at a time when it was not fashionable. Mukoma Dewa was a candid man.

In 2018; before I left for the Mandela Washington Fellowship, he would gift me with a stylish traveler’s bag and some pocket money. A true brother who looked out for all his younger brothers.

In 2019 when denizens of the State security machinery were after my life after the January protests, Mukoma Dewa would come to my aid and indeed that of dozens of other activists. He provided sanctuary and solidarity when life was at its toughest and the regime wanted blood. Later the same year, he would visit me and offer me personal solidarity following my surgical procedure while in South Africa. “Life is short my brother, the best we can do is to be there for each other,” he advised.

A month or so ago, on one of our regular calls, I told him of a job opportunity that had arisen for me within our sector. I solicited advise on how to go about the process and he was very supportive, encouraging me to go ahead and explore this new way of contributing to the struggle. I shall take up your advice Mukoma.

After receiving the shocking news of his untimely death, the entire relationship I had with him flashed before me. I realized the gravity of what I had lost. Nothing can replace people like Dewa Mavhinga. I take solace in knowing that even as he breathed his last; he was content with his contribution. This is being echoed by thousands of condolences from individuals he shared his amazing life with from all over the world and from all walks of life.

Yet millions more may never know that this gentle giant who beamed their issues to prominence has rested. Through his work he touched so many across SADC. From the cobalt mines in DRC, to the oil fields of Cabinda in Angola, to the slams of Alexandra in South Africa and the villages of Cabo Delgado, Mozambique; Dewa told the human rights story of the region.

To my brother Edgar, Maiguru, the little ones and the entire family; thank you for sharing Dewa Mavhinga with us. He is a hero and patriot of this country. Find strength in that he contributed immensely towards a better world for all.

The gentle giant from the shadows of the majestic Hwedza mountain is gone. I have lost a brother. The struggle for democracy has been robbed. Go well Mukoma Dewa. Zororai murugare Moyo. We shall continue to fight for a society that respects human rights; which is what you fought for until you breathed your last. As you always implored, “rovai basa vakomana ndimi vanhu vacho.”

Its Aluta Continua!!!!

Pride Mkono is a human rights defender and social justice activist. He was close to and worked with Dewa Mavhinga during his life.