I first met Nixon “Mao” Nyikadzino sometime in 1996.
At that time, we were both students at the University of Zimbabwe. Mao and I soon discovered that we had one thing in common: we were both passionate about student activism.
I had arrived earlier than him in March 1995.
By the end of that year, I had somehow, almost miraculously, managed to get elected as the secretary-general of the entire university students’ body.
This political miracle happened less than eight months after I was first oriented into student politics.
So, when Mao (pictured below) and his generation arrived at the University of Zimbabwe in early 1996, I was already busy finding my feet as one of the rising prominent student leaders at the university.
The politically minded Mao took to student politics as a duck does to water. It was his natural place of personal comfort and satiation.
In April 1996, an unexpected twist of events saw me being appointed acting president of the students’ union.
It was during those days that I set up my own Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) whose role was to take up all the matters affecting the students’ union that necessitated a strategic militant approach.
It happened that Mao was among the militant students who immediately found prominence in that particular RCC. One other student who quickly established himself as one of the most active and influential members of the RCC was none other than the late Learnmore Judah Jongwe.
At that time, he was my classmate at the Faculty of Law. He had actually played a key role in my election campaign team during the previous year.
As a result, Jongwe had grown closer to me as one of my emerging political allies.
In the few months that followed, both Mao and Jongwe played a crucial role in helping me to establish myself as the new leader of the entire students’ body.
In July 1996, they both helped me organise students’ demonstrations that eventually led to my suspension together with Jongwe, Tirivanhu Chitongo, who was the acting vice-president at that time.
We were suspended for about one or two months before being reinstated to the university. Once we got back to campus, our budding political partnership was soon put under a severe test.
Both Jongwe and myself set our eyes on winning the presidential elections that were scheduled for October 1996.
It is happened that while we were preparing to contest against each other, Mao was eventually forced to make a difficult choice as to which political horse to back exactly. In the end, Mao threw all his weight fully behind Jongwe.
It was during the presidential elections campaign period that Mao rose to real prominence as one of Jongwe’s key campaign managers and strategists.
After the presidential elections that were won by Jongwe, Mao continued to work closely with our administration.
He soon established himself as the commander of our new RCC.
In particular, Mao was our key partner when we conducted a series of demonstrations against the very unpopular so-called 50% fees policy sometime in 1997.
This was also at the same time he assumed a second nickname and became known as the “General”.
I do remember vividly how he used to say that as the “General”, he had his own version of the alphabet. In his own version, the first letter was “strategy”.
Mao also used to say that as the “General”, his unique role was to wait for the politicians to finish all the semantics and rhetoric first; once they were done, he would then intervene with the practical strategy for the students’ union to have a successful demonstration.
His popular mantra was simple: “The General knows how!”
As such, throughout the entire tenure of the Jongwe presidency, Mao remained our close ally.
Once our term of office came to its end, Mao decided to run for the presidency.
In the end, he succeeded me directly as the next vice-president of the students’ body after losing out to Gabriel “Marechera” Shumba.
Beyond his days as a student leader on campus, Mao continued his activism and soon became a prominent civil society leader.
Some of the organisations he worked closely with included the National Constitutional Assembly and the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition. In fact, he worked for Crisis at both of their offices in Harare and Johannesburg.
It so happened that after many years of serving as a prominent civil society leader that in 2018, Mao assumed a totally different trajectory on the national agenda.
Mao rose to national prominence after he emerged as the new secretary-general of the re-constituted MDC-T led by Thokozani Khupe.
For the next 2 years, Mao played his role diligently in the most difficult of political and administrative circumstances.
However, his role as the secretary-general was eventually disrupted by the implications of the so-called Supreme Court “Corona” judgment.
During the political confusion that arose from the controversial judgment, Mao initially played a crucial role in the public domain.
His stance was mainly to insist that the Corona judgment did not directly affect the MDC-T leadership that had been elected at the Bulawayo congress in 2018.
At one stage, he even wrote his own version of the now notorious “recall letters” to the Speaker of Parliament but it was totally ignored in favour of the ones written by Douglas Mwonzora.
As the months of fierce opposition political contestation trudged on, Mao eventually took a back seat and almost disappeared totally from the public domain.
It is in that context that I met him by chance at one of the hotels in Harare. I was so happy to meet my dearest political brother after a very long time.
What made our encounter more special was the fact that we met during the same week that we were commemorating the 18th anniversary of the death of our mutual brother, Jongwe.
Naturally, part of our conversation focused a lot on our shared legacy as former prominent student leaders together with the late Jongwe.
During our reminiscences we did agree on one particular thing, that we still both had a responsibility to honour the memory of our late political brother Jongwe by continuing to actively participate in defining the development agenda of our beautiful motherland.
Jongwe always dreamt of a new peaceful, prosperous and democratic Zimbabwe. Sadly, he tragically passed away without realising his lifelong dream.
It is also sad and indeed very disappointing to note that 18 years after he passed away, the situation in Zimbabwe has actually moved from bad to worse.
Democracy remains a political mirage in Zimbabwe.
It is not yet uhuru.
As the student movement back in the late 1990s we prided ourselves as the ‘Voice of the Voiceless” on behalf of the long-suffering millions of Zimbabweans.
We knew that as students, we were strategically placed to represent or articulate both the political and socio-economic aspirations of the marginalised majorities.
At his articulate best, the late Jongwe used to remark: “The fact that we were born poor was not due to the failure of our own parents. Neither was it due to our grandparents. But it was due to a specific accident of history that officially began in September 1890 when Cecil John Rhodes helped to establish yet another British colony. Under the colonial administration, poverty was systematically established as a guaranteed heritage for all the unborn generations that included us. We neither applied to be born poor, nor did our parents fill registration forms applying for poverty for our families.”
As such, Jongwe used to assert that it was the responsibility of our own generation to continue the struggle for the political and socio-economic emancipation of the Zimbabwean masses.
He used to say that while the racist colonial administration was now gone, the struggle remained far from over since it had clearly been hijacked by the unscrupulous remnants of the original nationalist movement.
Under the dictatorship of Robert Mugabe, Zanu PF had long ceased to be a revolutionary people’s movement. Instead, Zanu PF had devolved from being the liberator of yesteryear to become today’s oppressor.
It was thus the patriotic duty and national obligation for both the youths and students to rise up and stand up to the fascist whims of the Mugabe-led dictatorship that continued to oppress the Zimbabwean masses.
And so, 18 years since he tragically passed away, it remains our responsibility to continue waging the unfinished struggle that our departed political brother left behind in October 2002.
It thus remained the unfulfilled task and challenge for both Mao and myself to continue to actively participate in the ongoing struggle for a new peaceful, prosperous and democratic Zimbabwe.
As the late Jongwe would have loved to aptly put it: the struggle remains our birthright!
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