If you were having coffee with me, it would be a sombre affair, a tribute to a Zimbabwean academic, Law Lecturer at Kent University, defender of the constitution, fountain of wisdom, well of knowledge, spring of empathy, dreamer of A Great Zimbabwe and prolific writer of the Big Saturday Read, Alex Magaisa.
I never met him and had a hope that I might one day have a conversation with him over a cup of coffee and chat about how over the years he has unknowingly grown into my writing mentor through his BSR: Big Saturday Read.
In the swirling madness that is this teapot-shaped country, each and every Saturday, I looked forward to the man-on-the-street clarity The BSR brought in unpacking legal and socio-political events in Zimbabwe.
I have never met him, but in navigating Zwitter: that’s Zimbabwe Twitter streets he was one of the few people whose opinions and words I looked out for when seeking to make sense of the implications of local and global events. It feels like he has lived many lives in a single lifetime, from being Tawanda, a humble lad from Njanja village to Alex who has served as a presidential adviser and been a part of the team that wrote the constitution.
The name Tawanda was given to me by my father’s aunt. When I arrived from Sadza Hospital where I was born, she was visiting the village. When she heard it was another boy she said “Tawanda”. And so I became Tawanda. Alex, I discovered at school when the teachers called me. - Alex Tawanda Magaisa
If you were having coffee with me I would tell you that if you were an avid follower of the BSR and you also read my blog you might have perhaps noticed the influence and inspiration behind some of my articles.
He could make a simple question about a tree falling be a profound insight into issues of governance, or the story of a mad man driving a bus suddenly shifted into a lesson on leadership.
You may hear many people speak of his intellect and how the world has been robbed of a great mind but one major thing about Alex was how he was able to connect and to empathise; to bring out the humanity (or lack thereof) in a situation…in us. Ever come across people who just by acknowledging your presence, the sun suddenly seems to shine brighter, the sky looks just a little bit bluer and our dreams seem just a little bit closer.
If you were having coffee with me, I would tell you that it’s easy to forget the fragility of life, we go through our days thinking that we will have time and then wake up one day and find the the time ran out.
Perhaps one views life differently when battling a chronic condition, making each moment count and being gracious to those who don’t see things the same way you do. Alex had in the recent past disclosed that he had a chronic illness of the heart first diagnosed in 2013.
When a great tree falls…
When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
-Excerpt from a When A Great Tree Falls a poem by Maya Angelou
If you were having coffee with me I would tell you that when a great tree falls, we may lose its shade but the knowledge in its roots if nurtured brings forth new shoots. Alex wrote an academic paper on the marginalisation of Traditional Knowlege Systems in Zimbabwe over Western Knowledge Systems. He highlighted how: Not writing down things carried the implication that in the future it would be as if they never existed.
"WaMagaisa" was inspired by my lo3ve of Ngugi wa Thiongo’s work. I read The River Between. Chege told his son Waiyaki when he sent him to Syriana Mission: "Learn all the wisdom and the secrets of the white man. But do not follow his vices. Be true to your people and the ancient rites" Chege worried his son would lose the ways of the village. - Alex Magaisa on his moniker WaMagaisa
Alex Tawanda Magaisa documented his legacy, and the seeds he has helped sown will bear fruit long after he has gone, he may not have lived to see the Zimbabwe he dreamed of but he has set us on the path, he came he saw, he wrote.
I too hope that my tangle of words will make even a fraction of the impact on others as his has had on not just me, but all those who have been touched by his. The Big Saturday Read has carried within it an echo of how we need to tell our own side of the story: “Until the lions learn to write the story will glorify the hunter”
And now this chapter ended, rest in perfect peace.
Week 2 Stories Of Africa – WinterABC
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Condolences even though you never met him. Some people have a broad net of influence and we’re blessed when something good comes of it.
I still can’t believe it. So sad
Such profound thoughts. I especially like “Until the lions learn to write the story will glorify the hunter.” Thanks for sharing about this man many of us would not have known about.