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Alex T. Magaisa: An Intellectual Par Excellence

By Vivid Gwede

In theorising about leadership, Plato suggested that for justice to reign in the Republic, it must be ruled by philosopher kings, or either kings become philosophers or philosophers become kings.

Yet in real life, often philosophers and rulers exist separately, the former to give counsel to the throne and the latter an ear to wise counsel.

Like Alex Magaisa, who passed on, Sunday, June 5, philosophers today either exist in proximity to the court or away from it.

Close to it like Alex’s tenure as the advisor to the late former Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, they shape the outcomes of leadership towards justice in the Republic.

And away from the throne, in the case of the so-called Second Republic, philosophers like Alex become an inconvenience to it.

In the words of Proverbs, 1 vs 20 -22 (New International Version): “Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; on top of the wall, she cries out, at the city gates she makes her speech: how long will you who are simple love your simple ways?

“How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?”

As the Biblical passage is aptly titled ‘Wisdom’s Rebuke’, Alex’s pen was wisdom’s rebuke to the political throne.

If Alex’s life were a tragedy, it would have been that wisdom cried at the gates and no one took heed and wherever he is might say now: “I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you.”

But no – not Alex – he loved his country where his rural Njanja and its wise elders belong and would be greatly saddened if disaster struck his country to which he bequeathed a legacy of sublime thought.

When Alex became a thought leader, some of us were still in high school.

With a small circle of friends, we would spend our spare time, which usually meant late afternoons, in the great library at Gokomere High School.

We would be pouring over the daily newspapers, the Daily News, and the Herald, but especially the former, and the weekly Financial Gazette.

It was then that the violence of the onset of the land reform program and the 2000 and 2002 elections filled our young hearts with disbelief and a foreboding about the future even though we understood land was part of the goals of the first and second Chimurenga.

These were also the days when the 2000 Constitutional Referendum’s ‘No Vote’ and the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had stirred people’s imagination towards mounting a challenge to the regime’s increasingly intransigent rule.

It was also then that we drank from gourd of prolific writings by the likes of Alex Magaisa, Bill Saidi, Masola Wadabudabu, and Professor John Makumbe as well as Professor Masiphula Sithole.

From these formative political years in which the likes of Alex were instrumental, it is not surprising that I got elected to the Student Representative Council at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) towards the end of my first year.

Since it was the nascent days of the internet and online publishing was not yet widespread, with a writing passion having been set off, I would write articles, and print photocopies that I would paste on the University’s noticeboards.

Thus, Alex’s passing on represents the attrition of a generation of intellectuals like professors, John Makumbe and Masipula Sithole whose influence was profound.

But Alex Magaisa’s greatest influence, as a philosopher in proximity to the throne, was during the Government of National Unity - GNU (2009-2013)’s constitution-making process as an advisor to the then Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

That Tsvangirai appointed Magaisa his advisor and Chief of Staff when he was in his thirties with the likes of Nelson Chamisa and Thamsanqa Mahlangu in ministerial positions showed his belief in a young generation.

Magaisa remained an inspirational public intellectual in the Zimbabwean media space even after the GNU had ended, as he revealed, even as he struggled with a terminal ailment.

He showed how the power of a good narrative helped understand some of the complex matters of political life with his Big Saturday Read (BSR) blogs, where “When Mamvura drove the bus” and “The Regime and its enablers” stood out.

Apart from his political and legal acumen, he was a storyteller who summoned for contemporary times contours of village wisdom.

He leaves not only a trove of intellectual works – which hopefully will inspire younger generations as his earlier works did to us all those years ago – but also a gentlemanly intellect.

For Musaigwa’s was a great pen, here a small one has paid homage.

Good night son of Njanja!

Vivid Gwede is a pro-democracy civic leader and former student leader with over a decade working with civil society on the themes of democracy, governance, human rights, and social justice. He is a 2016 Mandela Washington Fellow and former Mandela Washington Fellowship Regional Advisory Board (RAB) Member for Southern Africa region.


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