Farewell to Wilfred Mhanda
By Tony Reeler
Elaborating on Kant, Karl Popper, whom Wilf did not like much, he once said that when a man dies a universe dies, and you know this when you know that person. This seems wholly appropriate for Wilfred Mhanda, and, after all has been said about his remarkable contribution to the liberation of this country and the protection of our nascent democracy, we should not lose sight of the man himself.
Indomitable would be the first word that comes to mind when thinking about Wilf. Exuding a power that belied his tiny stature, he was indomitable in his pursuit of truth, and rigorous in his pursuit of the knowledge that could drive truth. Scientist and soldier, he made it a point of learning throughout his life, his bookshelf filled with philosophy, political science, books of all kinds that would help him develop personally and publicly.
As to the obvious evidence of his indomitable strength, just remember shaking hands with Wilf: that hard slap and grab, you always felt him there – he was making contact in no uncertain fashion.
Remember too his greatest strength and simultaneously his greatest weakness: his insistence on the truth and his utter failure to lie. Never the one to edit the truth and never to shirk the consequences, Wilf was never going to be an easy person. If he thought it, he said it, and, in the highly dissimulating socio-political climate that is Zimbabwean politics, he would inevitably be controversial: he didn’t court it, he didn’t do it for effect, but he did it because he thought it was right and he had a right to his opinion. This was why he was so publicly insistent about the values of the freedom fighters and what the uncompleted struggle was about.
His views would just burst out of him: when many would think carefully about what others might think about them, Wilf would just say it. I remember vividly Wilf telling a very senior Afro-American politician that he was a disgrace as a black man for saying that he would find it hard to publicly condemn Robert Mugabe. His outbursts were not always impetuous, but came from his endless thinking about the nation and its politics: his life from his earliest days was that of a patriot, always concerned about how the nation should serve the common man and his deep contempt for elitism.
He lived an immensely humble life, not for him the trappings of power and prestige. He needed none of these to be effective. Everyone will remember Wilf coming into meetings wearing one of his extraordinary caps. He did not care about what he looked like, and, no matter where he was, you immediately felt his bristling energy, tied up in that rock hard little body. Anyone who hugged or was hugged by Wilf encountered a rock!
He never bemoaned his lot in life: no whining from Wilf. You dealt with the problems and got on with sorting things out. That we would all agree that he was shamefully treated was of no real consequence to Wilf, and he merely continued the struggle for what he believed was right. In the two highly active phases of his political life – the Liberation War and the post-2000 crisis – there was a great consistency to his views, and his great courage gave strength to all around him. Civil society in the post-2000 crisis has been immeasurably strengthened that the “commander” stood amongst them with his steadfast positions on right and wrong in the Zimbabwean polity.
And so Comrade Dzino is gone, and his last struggle has ended, and he is at peace, but the lessons he tried to teach us by example remain and cannot be wished away by ignoring him. The failings that he saw around him can be seen by all, and perhaps are expressed so eloquently by T. S. Eliot:
“I see nothing quite conclusive in the art of temporal government,
But violence, duplicity and frequent malversation.
King rules or barons rule:
The strong man strongly and the weak man by caprice.
They have but one law, to seize the power and keep it, and the steadfast can manipulate the greed and lust of others,
The feeble is devoured by his own.”
(Murder in the Cathedral)