Academics called to action

LOCAL academics should harness their collective intellectual and academic skills to advance the country’s national development agenda and lift people out of poverty, President Mnangagwa has said.

Speaking at the burial of national hero Professor Ngwabi Bhebe at the National Heroes Acre yesterday, the President said the country, particularly the youth, should always take pride in being Zimbabwean and African.

Prof Bhebe, he said, was part of the nationalist academics who, despite their intellectual and academic prowess, never denigrated their country, but were resolute in defending what it stood for.

“I challenge our people, especially the youth, to always take pride in being Zimbabwean and being African, no matter how educated they are,” said the President.

“Our intellectual and academic prowess must be deployed to advance our national development agenda and to lift our people out of poverty. Nyika inovakwa, inotongwa, inonamatigwa nevene vayo/Ilizwe lakhiwa, libuswe, likhulekelwe ngabanikazi balo.”

Prof Bhebe, he said, played his part, together with nationalist academics based in regional universities, to prosecute the liberation struggle.

“Through the mobilisation of diplomatic support and material resources, he was part of a student corps that were instrumental in advancing the objectives of the liberation struggle under the banner of the Patriotic Front,” he said.

President Mnangagwa said some of Prof Bhebe’s contemporaries — who included national heroes Professor Phineas Makhurane, Dr Stanislaus Gorerazvo Mudenge and Professor Walter Kamba — “balanced their quest for academic excellence with the weighty obligation demanded of them before and after independence”.

Others who are part of this cast of intellectuals include distinguished public servants such as the former Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet Dr Misheck Sibanda and former Director-General of the President’s Department, Dr Elleck Mashingaidze.

“These and other renowned nationalist academics committed their time, skills and resources to the sustenance of our struggle for independence,” said the President.

“They never used their intellectual and academic prowess to denigrate our motherland. Vakaramba vari mugwara rekuda nekuremekedza nyika yedu. (They remained steadfast in upholding the country’s values).”

As the country works on attaining Vision 2030, President Mnangagwa added, the aspirations of nationalist academics of empowering and uplifting black people should be enshrined in the nation’s consciousness.

“As we march forward towards Vision 2030, the understanding of our rich history and literary works articulating our chosen development trajectory remain a material force,” he said.

“These must serve to advance nation-building and to accelerate our country’s modernisation and industrialisation for collective prosperity. In this regard, the academia is challenged to rise to the occasion.”

He also called on the private sector to partner with higher and tertiary institutions to accelerate socio-economic and cultural development.

“As a way of honouring our late national hero, Professor Bhebe, I urge the private sector to build synergies with our tertiary institutions so they become a catalyst for accelerated sustainable socio-economic and cultural development,” he said.

“We are privileged that the late national hero, Professor Bhebe, was a successful builder of mind-sets, institutions and a farmer who unflinchingly contributed to the cause of our nation. Taking a leaf from his illustrious life, I call upon all of us, descendants of Munhumutapa, to continue playing our part to develop our country.

“I commend the various milestones and successes across all sectors we have so far realised through unity, peace, hard honest work, focus, determination, love and harmony. This culture must be entrenched going into the future. This is the mind-set that the late national hero, Professor Bhebe, advanced.”

Professor Bhebe died on November 16 at Midlands Private Hospital after he succumbed to diabetes.

He was born on August 15, 1942 in Filabusi, Matabeleland South province.

Just after his birth, his parents relocated to Belingwe (now Mberengwa) in the Midlands province.

He enrolled at Mteki Primary and later transferred to Mnene Mission, where he did Standard Four to Six.

After completing secondary education at Chegato High School, Professor Bhebe became a temporary teacher in history.

In 1967, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Geography from the then University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland (UBLS).

He became part of the pioneering cohort of black Zimbabwean historians to acquire Doctor of Philosophy Degrees.

In 1972, he was awarded a PhD in Imperial History at the University of London.

In the same year, he was employed as a teaching assistant at the University of Rhodesia, despite the fact that he had better qualifications than other white lecturers.

Prof Bhebe also lectured history at Faurah Bay College in Sierra Leone in 1974 and later at UBLS, as well as the University of Zimbabwe from 1982.

He served as Professor of History at the University of Zimbabwe from 1988-1999.

He was the founding Vice Chancellor of Midlands State University in 1999.

The President said he, alongside Prof Bhebe, the late national hero Cde Richard Hove and later Cephas Msipa, had once worked together in conceptualising the establishment of Midlands State University.

“I remember the vigour and intensity of planning debates which usually took place through obstacles to author the founding Charter and the successful establishment of the institution,” President Mnangagwa said.

“As a result of the astute leadership of the late Prof Bhebe, MSU now occupies a place of pride among the national and regional higher education ecosystem, with thousands of distinguished alumni.”

Prof Bhebe was a researcher who published several books as well as articles in internationally referred journals.

He wrote “an insightful” biography on the late Vice President Simon Muzenda titled “Simon Vengai Muzenda and the Struggle and Liberation of Zimbabwe” (2004).

He also authored another biography on the late national hero, Benjamin Burombo.

In 1985, he published a portrait of the last Ndebele King titled “Lobengula”.

Prof Bhebe is survived by his wife, Dr Faith Bhebe, five children and nine grandchildren.

Vice Presidents Dr Constantino Chiwenga and Kembo Mohadi, Cabinet Ministers, service chiefs, senior Government officials and other dignitaries attended the burial.

Sunday Mail

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