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Sikhanyiso Ndlovu: The loyalist who was poorly rewarded

16 Sep 2015 at 13:59hrs | Views
Zimbabweans and the rest of the world on Tuesday woke up to the sad news of the passing on of Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, who was 78. He had been admitted in the Mater Dei hospital intensive care unit in Bulawayo after suffering a severe stroke.

When I read the news of his admission to the intensive unit early in the morning last week, I mumbled to myself: "Oh, God, this sounds serious!" I silently hoped him well.

I must admit there was a time when I felt let down by the old man, but it would always be easy to forgive the affable "Doc", what with his easy going nature and the ready smile from behind those glasses. Some time in October 2010, after I set up a small public relations consultancy, he invited me to his office when I offered to do some work to revive the struggling Zimbabwe Distance Colleges (ZDECO). We talked for more than three hours and we agreed that I would in the next two days give him a proposal that would help revitalise his outfit.

I suggested to him that he must devolve his business to the high density areas. He shot down that proposal, insisting that students still wanted to travel to town for lessons. I did not agree with him, of course, and was convinced that he still lived in the past. I told him that and he laughed me off. At the end, he said he could do with a bit of marketing of his business and I set up a billboard advertising the ZDECO courses at the corner of Sam Nujoma and Livingstone Avenue. The board still stands, but is now faded. After charging $1,230 for the job, he only gave me $450, after a big sweat. I called him on several occasions following up on the remainder and he would say to me: "Majoni, you need to be patient because things are hard for me. You will be lucky if I manage to give you the rest." I gave up, but I continued visiting him at ZDECO.

There is an interesting bit to this. He had lost most of his lecturers because he was struggling to pay them, together with the secretariat. Naturally, the staff members, like me, were not amused. They confided in me that he was busy taking the little money realised at his farm near Bulawayo and donating it to Zanu-PF. They thought he was being hypocritical by giving to his party when they were on the verge of starvation, and felt that he was unfairly currying favour with President Robert Mugabe. I agreed with them because Sikhanyiso Ndlovu always struck me as a docile party member who could hardly finish a sentence without dropping in Mugabe's name. He seemed so indebted to the president, just like most of the old guard in Zanu-PF.

That was a big blemish on the likeable man. Despite his brains and industrious nature, he was always ready to be the small puppy cozying up in Mugabe's lap, doing all he could in order to attract the attention of the president. In that quest, Ndlovu had no problem choosing to be undiplomatic. In December 2007, the year Mugabe made him the information minister, the celebrated educationist travelled for the European Union-Africa summit in Germany, during the heydays of his boss's anti-western rhetoric. Ndlovu called the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, a "Nazi remnant" over her criticism of Mugabe's human rights abuses back home. He also accused Britain of causing the cholera epidemic of 2008 that killed more than 4,000 people. Recently, he reacted angrily to members of Zanu-PF reportedly calling on Mugabe to go.

Be that as it may, even people in the opposition would embrace the late politician and educationist, especially considering his immense contributions to the education sector and his likeable personality. He did not pass as one of those die-hard Zanu-PF members even despite his groveling at Mugabe. During one of the numerous meetings that I had with him, Ndlovu shared with me a piece of history that I was not aware of up to then. He was one of the people who worked tirelessly to make open education a reality in Zimbabwe. He bragged that he was the one who sold the idea of setting up a distance learning university in this country.

The time was in the 1980s when he went to State House and discussed the idea with Mugabe. That was how the Zimbabwe Open University (ZOU) was established in the late 1990s, he told me. But he had his own disappointment. Mugabe left him out as the establishment of ZOU gatherered momentum. "That is the problem with HE (His Excellency, President Mugabe)," he said in a whisper leaning over to me, "He listens too much to these useless people". His conspiracy theory was that some people, including the founding vice chancellor of ZOU, Peter Dzvimbo, had gone behind his back and convinced Mugabe to strike him off. Despite that, Ndlovu remained loyal to Mugabe and is among the few who escaped the taint of factionalism when divisions in Zanu-PF worsened.

Apparently, Mugabe did not warm up to the loyalty that Ndlovu, a veteran of the war of liberation against colonial rule, exhibited and was rewarded with brief high profile positions in government and the ruling party. After serving as deputy education minister for a short time, he was elevated to minister of information and publicity (2007-2008), and was also appointed a politburo member. At the time of his death, he was the chairperson of the Zimbabwe National Army Schools and Welfare Trust. Ndlovu stood for and lost the Pelandaba-Mpopoma seat during the 2008 general elections, after which he was dismissed together with 11 other ministers because they no longer represented any constituencies.

Source - the zimbabwean
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