“A selfless and brave warrior’: Remembering Noel Eric ‘Mbokodo’ York
Mboko abattoir owner Noel Eric York who died of cancer in May at the age of 72 was a popular rancher in Matabeleland.
Popularly known as Mbokodo, York owned Mbokodo Butchery situated along the Bulawayo-Plumtree Highway.
Former Education minister David Coltart gave a moving eulogy for Mbokodo in Bulawayo recently and we reproduce below his speech verbatim.
It is a great honour for me to be asked by the family to speak today.
As we celebrate Boetie’s life and mourn his passing it is important that we reflect on his life and the principles he stood by so that we can learn from them and apply them in our own lives.
I want to reflect on a few incidents which illustrate his character.
In January 1982 Boetie and Alan were arrested separately on spurious charges that they had an arms cache on one of the family farms.
Boetie was arrested down in the Lowveld.
Alan was arrested at the family farm and taken to Khami Maximum Prison not knowing where Boet was.
He thought that he was alone and was put in the Maximum Section of the prison.
Every evening inmates had to strip down to take a shower and to do so were let out of their individual cells and went into a corridor, which could be seen by others both in higher floors and below.
A few days after his arrest one evening Alan was in the nude and having had his shower was coming back to get his sadza before being put back into his cell.
Suddenly a voice boomed down from the floor above, “have you got a licence for that weapon!”
As an aside having not been to Plumtree I had no idea Alan was so well endowed.
Allan recounts how this suddenly transformed his gloom, his rock was there, there was no sympathy expressed by Boetie but through his humour, it encouraged Allan and he had the first decent night’s sleep since his detention.
Boetie and Alan were discharged by the Courts but were warned that they would be re-detained.
Shortly after their discharge, they met in their lawyer’s office and the late Strippy Goddard came to meet with them and told them that he had arranged for a flight for them to be able to leave the country immediately.
Boetie’s response was emphatic.
“We are not going to leave the country. We will face the music”.
They went back to Fairview and had a huge party that evening only to be detained at 6.00 am the following morning by the Police on a 90-day detention order.
They ended up in Chikurubi with Boetie being put in death row and Allan being put in the penal block.
They were detained for a couple of months before being released again and on their way back to Bulawayo they were stopped at a Police roadblock outside Kwekwe and re-detained.
A police Superintendent had come down from Harare with handcuffs and leg irons to arrest them and transport them back to Harare.
Whilst they were being interviewed by the superintendent in a police office, Boetie refused to be handcuffed and pretended to lunge for an FN rifle, which was in the room.
He said to the superintendent “I could easily have grabbed this FN rifle which I am well used to, but I didn’t and am not dangerous.
“I refuse to go back in handcuffs and leg irons”.
The superintendent relented.
Then followed the curious spectacle of Boetie and Allan being driven back to Chikurubi by this solitary superintendent with Boet in the front seat with the superintendent and Alan in the back seat.
Their circumstances got even harder after that they were taken to Goromonzi Detention Centre, which was designed as an interrogation centre with totally independent soundproof cells with no natural light.
They were in solitary confinement and the artificial light would be left on for 28 hours and left off for six without them being able to hear anything outside.
Boetie’s humour and determination never wavered.
His insisted that they be given water and buckets to clean up the filthy cells.
From there they were transferred to Chikurubi again where Boetie ended up in a cell with Dumiso Dabengwa and Alan in a cell with Lookout Masuku.
During the months that they were together with Dabengwa and Masuku, they developed a close friendship.
The best story of this period is that Allan taught Masuku to play chess and Boetie taught Dabengwa to play chess, but to their deep frustration within a week of them teaching Masuku and Dabengwa to play chess both Masuku and Dabengwa started thrashing the Yorks and it was no contest.
However, as a result of that common trial that Boet and Dabengwa went through they developed a close friendship.
It was a truly remarkable friendship given that they were both warriors and had fought on opposite sides.
Finally, after over seven months of detention early on the morning of the 20th August 1982 Boetie and Allan were released from Chikurubi and taken to (the late Robert) Mugabe’s office in the centre of Harare.
What they didn’t know is that their father, Eric, had managed to get in to see Mugabe.
Eric had told Mugabe that they needed to take their political hats off and as old men agree that his sons should be released, given that the courts had acquitted them.
Eric, who was half-blind at the time was persuasive and Mugabe agreed to release them.
Boetie and Allan were brought into Mugabe’s office where Eric and Mugabe were seated.
All Eric said when he saw the two of them was “you two”!.
They had a short meeting and Mugabe said: “Let us put this matter to rest, you have asked for your boys, here they are, now take them home”.
One footnote – the day after they were released police Figtree member in-charge brought all Boet’s firearms back to him.
Boetie said,“but hey I am the arms cache guy.”
For which the ZRP M/I/C said, “you have never been taken off our list of reservists!”
Such is Zimbabwe.
Boetie’s release from detention in August 1982 cast him into the vortex of the Gukurahundi which followed.
Despite all that he had suffered in prison he became the go-to person for many farmers in the Matabeleland region.
These farmers faced more trauma during this period from 1982 onwards than they had faced even in the 1970s.
They often found themselves alone and defenceless.
Boetie became one of the principal go-to people.
He was selfless and utterly brave. He went on countless follow-ups putting his life on the line in a most remarkable way.
During the last two decades of political turmoil in Zimbabwe Boetie continued to demonstrate his deeply held principles, courage, bravery and thoughtfulness.
When Mugabe threatened me and Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace director, Mike Auret on television in 1999 saying that we were enemies of the state, it was Boetie who was the first person at my door to offer help.
A bit like Strippy Goddard had offered Boetie way back in 1982, he offered to get me out of the country as well.
Like Boetie I refused to go, but I always knew that Boetie was one person I could turn to during the darkest days.
Boetie demonstrated similar support for many others.
On Independence Day in 2000 when Martin Olds home was surrounded it was Boetie once again who, with others of course, was most anxious to go to his assistance.
I met with him early that morning and remember how anguished Boetie was that Martin was surrounded and needed assistance.
Jen had Boetie as one of two people on her speed dial knowing that he could be relied upon to help.
When a determined effort was made in March 2003 to take me out it was Boetie who bravely broke the siege over the safe house where I was trapped.
Time does not allow me to recount all the other people he helped.
No doubt many of you here today have your own stories of how Boetie stood by you and helped you.
He was indeed a legend.
Any reflection on Boetie’s life would not be complete if mention was not made of his principled attitude towards his own assets.
At one stage E.R. York & Co. was arguably the largest single landowner in Zimbabwe.
E.R. York (Pvt) Limited at one stage had over 300 000 acres of land and ran over 30 000 head of cattle.
On his death, Boetie was left with a few hundred acres.
As so many other people have done, he could have used his wealth to buy his way back onto the land.
However, Boetie on principle was not prepared to do that.
Boetie believed that the manner of the land reform programme was wrong and illegal, and that poor people had in particular suffered and so was not prepared to use his standing, his wealth, his contacts with Dabengwa and the likes to secure land just for himself.
Tied into that was the way Boetie lived his life.
As we all know he always just drove a bakkie.
He had no airs or pretensions. He was generous to a fault.
I have been privileged to be able to speak and pray with Boetie over the last few months, in particular in the last few weeks as his life ebbed away.
What has struck me is that despite this illness, which he fought so bravely, he remained calm and at peace.
Even last Friday, two2 days before his death, the last time I saw him, the first thing he did on seeing me was to ask after my family.
As he faced so many battles and trials before in his life, so he faced this battle; always thinking of others, never complaining.
So, what do we learn from all of this?
What I take away is the following: Boetie was courageous in the face of tyranny and in the face of great trials.
Boetie stood by the principles his parents and grandparents taught him and never to wavered from them.
Boetie was thoughtful of others. He was selfless and put others before his own interests.
Boetie did all he could to use the strength of his position to encourage others, often using humour to do so.
Boetie did all of these things.
As we reflect on his memory, I hope it will encourage us all to aspire to higher standards in our own lives.
A closing thought
Boetie was always deeply committed to Zimbabwe.
If ever there was a genuine patriot, a genuine hero of Zimbabwe it was Boetie.
He had a deep belief in this country but believed that it would only reach its potential if we returned the country to the principles that he tried to live his own life by.
My hope is that his life will inspire us to emulate him in future so that his vision for a new bright dawn in Zimbabwe can ultimately be attained.
I would be grateful if you would all stand briefly to honour Boetie and reflect on what he stood for.
Hamba Kahle Boetie.
Beyond being fully vaccinated, one needs a booster shot. Really?
BY ARTHU G.O MUTAMBARA
There are current discussions in the United States and Europe about the need for a Covid-19 booster shot after one is fully vaccinated.
There has not been enough interrogation of the meaning of this new development.
1) When the position is that after two vaccine jabs (one jab for Johnson & Johnson) one is fully vaccinated and there is no need for further vaccination; was this position informed by science or conjecture?
What does fully vaccinated mean, and what was the scientific basis for that assertion?
2) The proposed Covid-19 booster shot will be sufficient for how long?
Are we going to have a booster shot every year (or every six months) as a way of life?
What science is driving the decision around the booster shot?
3) If a pharmaceutical company develops two vaccines, one which is applied once and done (two jabs or one) and another which must be injected every year, which vaccine would the company promote?
Clearly, the latter vaccine provides a steady flow of income in perpetuity at the expense of efficient resolution of a public health threat.
4) When there is tension or conflict between healthcare interests (saving lives) and commercial interests (making money), which interests triumph?
5) Who is responsible for resolving the tension in 4, and are they not conflicted by having vested interests?
6) How independent are the FDA, CDC, WHO and national governments from big pharmaceutical companies?
7) How independent are our scientists, researchers, doctors, research centres and universities from big pharmaceutical companies? How much funding and incentives do they receive from such companies?
8) Covid-19 interventions, discourse (e.g., booster shot, fully vaccinated, herd immunity); what do we need to do to ensure that all these concepts and activities are driven by pure science and not commercial interests, political considerations, propaganda or geopolitics.
Of course, as Africans, in addition to asking questions, we must take charge of our public health.
We must research, develop and manufacture our own vaccines and medicines for this Covid-19 outbreak and any future pandemics.
Indeed, this we have already started doing.
Arthur Mutambara is Zimbabwe’s former deputy prime minister
Mthuli Ncube: How Zimbabwe will use its US$961 million IMF windfall
BY MTHULI NCUBE
With Zimbabwe leading the continent on vaccination figures and the economy stabilising by the day, there is much to look forward to as we continue with our wholesale reforms.
And with the world focusing on vaccinations to the terrible Covid-19 pandemic, Zimbabwe is set to receive its own vital shot in the arm, an economic shot.
Economic growth is already expected to reach around 7,8 percent this year and inflation is dropping by the day.
With this in the background, the IMF’s declaration that Zimbabwe will have access to deploy nearly US$1 billion in special drawing rights, is just the booster this economy needs.
This move is a truly encouraging vote of confidence from the international community in the New Zimbabwe, its reforms, and its positive direction.
How we spend these funds is vital.
We intend to focus the SDRs (Special Drawing Rights) on areas that support this robust economic recovery and importantly support key social programmes.
Allocation can thus be broken into four main areas:
The social sector; covering health, education, and the social safety nets;
The productive sector; supporting agriculture, industry and manufacturing, and the mining sector;
Infrastructure investments, and
Contingency resources, and foreign currency reserves for supporting macro-economic stability going forward.
These SDRs will therefore target the areas that have been hit hardest by the pandemic, and provide a crucial lifeline to the most vulnerable members of our society, many of whom are yet to the feel trickle down effects of the macro-economic stabilisation.
While the majority of these programmes will roll out simultaneously, perhaps the vaccine acquisition is the most urgent.
Zimbabwe has been one of the most proactive and successful countries in Africa at dealing with the pandemic, and as the uptake for vaccination increases, Government will need to be on the ball with the funds to acquire more.
In the realm of health, the current pandemic has underpinned the importance of upgrading our critical hospital infrastructure, especially our central hospitals.
We will therefore be investing in hospitals across the land, while purchasing new equipment ensuring quick and quality healthcare to many who need better access.
In the realm of the education sector, we want to use these funds to build at least eight new boarding schools in rural areas, building about one school per rural province.
These boarding schools are vital to deliver education and a better quality of life for rural children in particular for low-income groups.
We will be equipping these schools, and others, with state-of-the-art solar power facilities to back up power from the normal grid power.
Crucially, these funds will be used to support emergency measures for the most vulnerable members of society, through what we call productive social safety nets.
Cash/food for Work Schemes will be set up to encourage those who can work to work, whilst utilising the same schemes to support the elderly and disabled who perhaps are unable or can no longer integrate into the workforce.
It is of the utmost importance, however, that these funds provide a return; the SDRs must grow and as they grow they drive the economy in the process.
There are three sub-sectors within Zimbabwe’s productive sector which require urgent investment and upgrading: agriculture, industry/manufacturing and mining.
Zimbabwe’s agriculture is historically the backbone of our economy. For many it is all they know. So, we must invest in efficiency, technology, and improving yields.
One initiative is to support a “Revolving Fund”, which will support Flora culture, which is the growing and selling of flowers, blueberries, and macadamia, among other cash crops or water culture crops.
These tend to be export crops with a decent return on investment. Profits can then be used to repay debts and further invest in the most advanced techniques and technologies.
We will also be investing in smallholder irrigation schemes to again support our vulnerable farmers who have been hit hard by Covid.
These are industries which used to thrive in Zimbabwe, but over the years, crucial components of the value chain have been lost. It is in these carefully mapped out areas where we must invest.
There are dams, water bodies and water systems which must be climate proofed and upgraded for modern agriculture for smallholder farmers.
Within industry, manufacturing is vital in terms of job creation. We want to set up a “re-tooling fund” that will enhance our value chains around cotton, leather, pharmaceuticals and agro-processing.
These core components of a healthy industrial economy, the missing links of the value chain, will be brought back to life.
The idea with both the agricultural sector and industry is to leverage private sector funds.
With SDRs in the background providing a form of guarantee, a private sector bank can extend the financing facility to a company that has been identified as a value chain enhancer.
So, it’s not just money from Government or the IMF, but we can use the new climate to leverage private sector support; a public private partnership principle in the deployment of these SDRs.
The gold sector is another area with huge potential for Zimbabwe.
Our small-scale producers produce about 60 percent of our gold.
We must support these small-scale producers; most of whom are young and entrepreneurial.
The idea, therefore, is to invest in at least 10 “Gold Centres” across the country.
Each centre is a one stop shop, which will allow the miner to have access to equipment and transportation and a regulated mechanism through which they can get paid.
This will help Government manage leakage, while supporting the young small-scale miners who need help, support, and capital.
It will also allow a more transparent process for the purchasers of the gold, improving the Know Your Customer (KYC) process, a potential impediment to sector growth.
Of course, an area that must never be overlooked is infrastructure, in particular housing and road construction.
On road construction, we are again looking to see quick and sustainable returns on our investment, developing roads in the areas where there’s potential for tourism, or for agricultural sector development.
And last, but certainly not least, some of these funds will be used to maintain the incredible macro-economic stability which has drawn praise from international institutions and globally-respected economists.
We must continue to build our international foreign currency reserves to support the domestic currency which has performed so valiantly thus far. Setting aside resources to buttress the currency can ensure that the downward trend in inflation is maintained.
Experts, both domestic and global, are predicting a brighter economic future just over the horizon for the people of Zimbabwe.
In conjunction with our friends in the international community, we are confident that we can build on the impressive macro-economic stability we have achieved.
Through the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS 1) we can now firmly focus our efforts on renewed growth and prosperity for the benefit of all our citizens.
*Mthuli Ncube is Zimbabwe’s Finance minister
ZambiaDecides2021 has shaken the edifice in Harare as 2023 beckons
BY IBBO MANDAZA
Zimbabwe’s reaction to the #ZambiaDecides2021 hashtag has been so poignant as to give the impression that the election took place in the country itself, and not its neighbour north of the Zambezi.
For the powers that be in Harare, the anxiety and fear were just as palpable, in the fact that state media was largely silent during the five days of the electoral process in Zambia.
There were strident tweets, however, from President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba, featuring a pre-election caricature of the eventual victor, Hakainde Hichilema, as a “sellout”, and a post-election declaration — referring to outgoing president Edgar Lungu — that “ED Won’t Leave Office After Losing Election” (because the men in uniform will be there to ensure he stays put).
On the other hand, Zimbabwe’s opposition MDC Alliance — particularly its leader Nelson Chamisa — was elated at Hichilema’s victory.
Indeed, the parallels between Zambia and Zimbabwe are too close to call, especially on the electoral front.
Therefore, the first observation to make in this regard is that it confirms the pattern, not only in Africa but almost universally, that massive voter turnout — usually on the back of mass voter registration, particularly of new and young voters — is almost always a protest against the incumbent.
ZambiaDecides2021 is an almost perfect fit to the pattern: Hichilema polled almost 60% to Lungu’s 38%, in a turnout of almost 70%, or a total of 4,858,193 votes cast out of the 7,023,499 registered voters.
There were more than one million first-time voters, mostly young people; and, equally telling, an organisational framework on the part of the opposition that translated the massive voter registration exercise into a high turnout at polls across the country, thereby defying whatever rigging had been planned, and defending the vote through the systematic deployment of polling agents and volunteers at every polling station.
That has been the history of elections for most of post-colonial Africa: the reality of the African condition in which there has been an inexorable decline of economic and social conditions; one in which the inherited dispensation at independence — or post-apartheid — cannot cater for the new demands for democratisation and access to such fruits of independence as education and health facilities for the mass of the population, and with the quality and level of delivery as it had been for the white settler colonial minority.
The strain on the budgetary requirements for the democratisation of economic and social spheres grows, inevitably, as do the deficits and gradual decline in economic performance, with the passage of time and attendant on the burden of continuity of economies that have historically benefited a minority.
This is exacerbated by modes of production based on extraction of raw materials for export as opposed to their beneficiation, and the increase in the need for employment opportunities for a growing population, especially that of the youth, who constitute an average 65%-70% of those under the age of 30 in Africa.
These are the conditions that have invariably translated into political and electoral nightmares for incumbent regimes and the “Big Man” rulers in Africa.
The era of the one-party state, not to mention the accompanying rhetoric of post-liberation promises, has long departed.
Therefore, since 1991 — when Kenneth Kaunda so gracefully conceded to the new march of multiparty democracy — it has become commonplace to witness the decline and collapse of the parties of independence in Africa.
Those that do survive the onslaught, like the Chama Chama Mapundizi of Tanzania or even the former liberation movements of Southern Africa, do so by the skin of their teeth.
In Zimbabwe in particular, Zanu-PF last won an election even approximating the conditions of free and fair in the 1990s (though some will argue that there has never been a truly democratic poll in Zimbabwe since independence).
The main reason that #ZambiaDecides2021 has shaken the very edifice in Harare, therefore, is the realisation that were it not for the military and related securocrat state, Zanu-PF could have certainly faced the same fate — in 2008, 2013 and 2018 — as visited on Lungu and his party in Zambia.
Therefore, the important lessons, for both incumbent and incoming regimes, from #ZambiaDecides2021 are these: it cannot be business as usual in the face of newer and younger voters who are armed with social media and the best references with respect to electoral and governance issues.
Secondly, the primacy of a comprehensive policy agenda through which to address the challenges that confront contemporary African societies, particularly youth unemployment, service delivery.
Thirdly, and above all, the need for an accountable executive under the watchful eye of a vibrant legislature and a fiercely independent judiciary.
In the final analysis, #ZambiaDecides2021 was definitive in its outcome, especially on the presidential front, where Hichilema beat the incumbent by more than a million votes.
It was an outcome against which even the most reluctant of incumbents would have been an obvious rogue not to concede.
All the same, former presidents, particularly Rupiah Banda, diplomatic nudges by various ambassadors (for example those of Britain and the UN), and even, according to some reports, such heads of state as South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, all helped Lungu concede, thereby ensuring a democratic and peaceful transition for #ZambiaDecides2021.
In conclusion, one has to echo this point: democracy needs strong institutions and not strongmen — therefore, invest in reforms of institutions, including the reorganisation and revitalisation of the opposition movement.
This is an obvious message to Zimbabwe, where institutions such as the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s reputation is in tatters, where militarisation of politics is now almost legion, and where the coup needs to be cured through the restoration of constitutionalism, the rule of law and the return of the military to the barracks.
But is this possible before Zimbabwe’s next elections in 2023, or are we here to witness a repeat of the same — with opposition forces not organised and vital enough to overcome and overtake the securocrat state through a resounding electoral victory?
The #ZambiaDecides2021 precedent should inform us on the following, if there is to be a free and fair election in Zimbabwe in 2023: an unbridled voter registration programme, a reformed electoral commission, and transparent voting and vote tabulation system; the presence of experienced domestic and international observers; and the requisite diplomatic scaffolding on the part of regional and international factors and personalities.
Above all, it is inconceivable that all this can take place without the isolation of the military and security apparatus from the electoral process.
This is the major challenge for democratic forces in Zimbabwe.
The question is whether this is attainable in the less than 24 months to the election in July 2023.
*Ibbo Mandaza is a Zimbabwean author, publisher and academic
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