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A tribute in memory and honor of Farai Barnabas Mangodza
Elinor Sisulu and Bella Matambanadzo
April 20, 2013

As a young man, Farai Barnabas Mangodza enrolled at Seminary, the first step on his journey towards becoming a fully ordained Roman Catholic priest. It was therefore befitting that the Roman Catholic Church in which his mother had lovingly and prayerfully raised him, was among the community of hundreds of friends who gathered to comfort his family at Harare’s Warren Hills Cemetery on the sunny afternoon of Monday April 15, 2013 to bid a final farewell to one of Zimbabwe’s leading community activists.

Typical of the easygoing sense of humour that was the hallmark of his life, Mangodza used to joke about how he had “jumped over the fence” out of Priesthood, never quite making it to the pulpit. He’d heeded the call, he would confess, to serve country and community in an alternate way, initially as a teacher in a rural school, and subsequently as a grassroots organizer at the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC).

At ZCC Mangodza distinguished himself as an energetic and curious grassroots mobilizer and organizer. He excelled in working collectively with other activists that were imagining building public consciousness about how citizens could play a key role in matters of national interest. On the outreach teams, he gained a deep awareness of the need for improved social services and amenities. “I am just a guy from the ghetto”, he would say, honoring his upbringing in the then segregated township of Glen Norah. “I know what it means not have your rubbish collected, or to be under a curfew.”

From ZCC Mangodza made the transition to Silveira House, another church aligned institution that since its establishment in 1964 has worked to champion the rights of the poor and vulnerable. He always credited Silveira House for keeping him close to his faith, and enabling him to contribute to acts of public service.

“Mangodza’s humanity was second to none,” says Tawanda Mutasah, who previously worked as head of justice and human rights at ZCC. “The ideal social justice and community activist must have both political grit and a good heart. He had both. In December last year I was touched to see him make it to my mother’s funeral. He was vintage Bana in his towering yet unassuming presence on that occasion”.

By 2001 it was clear that Mangodza would be most effective as an advocate for the rights of residents. Lobbying local authorities and councils, demanding that vital services be made available to residents who were frustrated by the lack of public services is the inheritance he leaves us with. He felt that this area of life was where government had its most immediate impacts on the quality of human existence. “We need our council clinics, our roads, our water systems and public schools to work as efficiently as we need our right to vote,” Mangodza would argue.

As Centre Manager at the Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA) Mangodza extended himself in new directions, developing skills that made him a compelling campaigner before the Parliament of Zimbabwe and community meetings of elected officials. Here, he worked closely with elected and appointed representatives, Chiefs and Local Government bureaucrats, representing the interests of the residents and tenants of the capital city and beyond.

It was during this last decade of his career that Mangodza grew intellectually, demonstrating intimate knowledge of the provisions of national municipal law and local government and building one of the most influential movements of residents in Zimbabwe. He also reached out and created alliances with women’s rights organizations and youth groups. “Mangodza was able to bring different people together, to the same dialogue table and create a platform for consensus”, recalls Zimbabwean Feminist and founder member of the National Constitutional Assembly, Everjoice Win. “We will cherish and miss his capacity to canvass us all in a common direction”.

For his efforts at CHRA, Mangodza was promoted to the role of Chief Executive Officer (CEO). In this position, he not only raised the concerns of residents, but also began to join efforts and consolidate action through his service to influential civil society groups such as Transparency International (TI)’s Zimbabwe Chapter. “He convinced the donors to give TIZ support as he saw that in the future this organization would be a vital centre of civic organizing around anti-corruption issues,” said Lucy Makaza-Mazingi, current Chairperson of the Board of TIZ.

Mangodza was a true champion of the underdog, breaking news of Zimbabwe’s cholera epidemic, at a time when there was little world attention being given to the health crisis. He displayed immense diplomatic dexterity during his tenure with the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition. “He worked tirelessly with a tricky constituency and target group that saw any independent, even if constructive view, as a threat to the political status quo. In other parts of Africa, and the world, his ability to convey the conditions of life with empathy, was a remarkable asset in awakening Africans to the need for people-to-people solidarity with Zimbabweans”, says Professor Brian Raftopolous, Chairperson of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition Board.

“I had the privilege at this time of working with him in some of these institutions”, recalls Thomas Deve a pan-African Policy Analyst. “Mangodza was a humble man of quiet courage. He had an unparalleled optimism that we would achieve our goals, no matter how difficult the journey was”.

Mangodza’s persistence lives on in some of the progressive provisions of Zimbabwe’s forthcoming constitution, as he articulated them at the Constitutional Committee’s all stakeholders’ conference.

He is survived by his wife Tracy and their three children: a 17 year old daughter Tinotenda, her 15 year old brother Takudzwa, and their precious late lamb, a little girl Anesu who turns four on her next birthday.

We will remember Mangodza, whom we all fondly called Bana, as our close collaborator and friend of more than twenty years. We will remember him for many reasons, among them his courage, his fabulous smile, his visionary leadership, his faith and that to all of us, young and old, he was a brother. It has been our honor, our privilege, our blessing to know him.

*Elinor Sisulu and Bella Matambanadzo worked with Farai Barnabas Mangodza at the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.

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