A Chip Off the Old Block: A Workers Day Tribute to my Late Father
By Hon. Fortune Daniel Molokele
Today is the first day of May.
As always, the world over honours and celebrates the International Labour Day or Workers Day.
Indeed, this a day officially recognised and set aside by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to enable global citizens to endorse and appreciate the indispensable role that workers across the planet play in order to make the world tick.
As for me, this is an incredibly special and sentimentally supercharged day.
Yearly, I inevitably reflect on the life of my late father.
In the most nostalgic of terms, I stroll down memory lane and take my time to savour and celebrate the life of Godfrey Majahana Mguni.
Regrettably and sadly so, he passed away at the Colliery Hospital at Whange on Sunday 28th September 2003.
Two of my biggest influences in my political career so far have been my parents.
My mother, Jane Mpofu, who currently lives in Bulawayo, is perhaps the single greatest personal influence in terms of the development of my moral values, principles, and spirituality.
However, on his part, my late father influenced me more with regards to my public career as a servant to the people.
Throughout my childhood, this was all that my late father was all about. He was a man of the people. He loved being of great service to the people.
During my childhood years, my late father was actively involved in a lot of various issues.
This included being a local leader of PF-ZAPU (the Ian Smith led Rhodesian regime detained him several times for his political activism), soccer administration especially with the Zulu Royals Football Club; local Boy Scouts movement; among other responsibilities.
Thus, my father was not just a trade unionist. He was a community leader.
But it was largely due to his role as a trade union leader that he became the singular reason why I ended up in the murky field of politics later on in my life.
Indeed, I started hearing people talk about me being a chip off the old block long before I had even finished my primary school education. As a boy growing up in Whange in the 1980s, I used to take a highly active interest in most of my late father’s public passions or commitments. This was echoed by many who felt to them I was a reminder of my late father.
In my formative years as a boy, my father’s resume as a trade unionist already had an indelible mark.
If my memory is not betraying me; my late father was elected as the Chairperson of the Workers Committee for about 5000 Colliery employees in 1979.
He ended up becoming one of the longest serving chairpersons as his service lasted for about 11 years till 1990.
As the Chairperson of the Colliery Workers Committee, my late father used to actively participate or represent the workers in various labour related issues.
These included the regular administrative meetings between the Colliery management and staff, salary or wage negotiations, industrial actions, disciplinary hearings and other public events.
In this regard, I have some vivid memories of me attending some of the events or public activities as a child. I also fondly remember how I used to take some time to read his trade union related files and various other documents. I would take a keen interest in reading minutes of the various meetings and disciplinary hearings that my late father had attended.
Indeed, I do vividly recall how I used to peruse through the annual report in a deeply religious manner. I obviously used to struggle to make a lot of sense of the financial or accounting numbers cited in the audited statement, but I also definitely went through them using an almost like a major company shareholder’s lens.
Crucially, my late father used to co-sign the Colliery annual report and audited statement with the then head of the company, George Julian.
In this regard, I also fondly remember as to how I used to beam with so much pride every time I saw my late father’s signature towards the last pages of the Colliery annual report!
It so happens that one of my most remarkable memories as a child of a trade unionist happened in 1984. I was doing my Grade 3 at the local St Ignatius Primary School at that time.
During that time, my late father was selected to be part of a national delegation of trade unions representatives who travelled to Moscow for several weeks for an intensive training programme.
It was the first time in my life to have my late father being away from my family for such a long time.
During those days, there was no easy access to inter-personal communications. Indeed, it was so much unlike today, where one now has a plethora of options such as Facebook and WhatsApp; so, as a family, we were almost totally cut off from our late father while he was at Moscow. Then one day the postman cycled by our home with what turned out to be pleasant surprise for all of us; a postcard sent by my late father all the way from Moscow to Whange – from Russia with love!
The other thing I also recall from my child hood years is how so much I used to hear my late father talk to some of his fellow comrades about the politics of that time in as far as it affected the rights and interests of the workers. Some of the names that he used to talk a lot about during my childhood years included Rugare Gumbo who was the Colliery company’s Human Resources Manager and the late Kumbirai Kangai who once served as a Cabinet Minister for Labour and Social Welfare.
It is thus clear to me that it was mostly through my late father’s influence that I developed a strong heart for serving the people and a passionate love for politics at a tender age.
In perhaps one of his most telling contributions as a trade unionist, my late father eventually started to play a crucial role in representing the workers’ interests at a national level. In this regard, he was one of the pioneer national leaders of the Associated Mineworkers Union of Zimbabwe (AMWUZ). He served in the national leadership of the union for several years. During that period, he worked closely with the late Jeffery Mutandare in furthering that national agenda for mine workers across Zimbabwe.
In April 1996, after I had been appointed as the Acting President of the University of Zimbabwe students union, I decided to pay a courtesy visit to the then Secretary General of the ZCTU; our late icon of the workers and people’s struggles for a new democratic and prosperous Zimbabwe, Morgan Richard Tsvangirai.
I do clearly recall that during my conversation with him, he was so keen to know a little bit more about my personal background. I then started to narrate to him my life story in brief. But when I mentioned the name of my late father, I noticed that his face started to light up with so much excitement. He narrated how well he knew my father from his early years as a national trade union leader his earlier stint at the AMWUZ.
At the end of that encounter, the late Tsvangirai then invited me to give a message of solidarity on behalf of students in Zimbabwe at their next May Day event that was held at the start of May 1996.
At that time, there was no active national students leadership in the country.
In fact, it was only in August 1996 that I invited fellow student leaders from other institutions of higher learning that the process of reviving the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) was formally started. Some of the prominent student leaders who supported me in the initial process of reviving ZINASU included Chalton Hwende (President of the Harare Polytechnic Students Union), Thamsanqa Zhou (President of the National University of Science and Technology Students Union) and Caesar Zvayi (President of the recently set up Bindura University of Science Education Students Union)
But I do digress.
This is all about my late father and his contributions to the struggle of workers
Anyway, I do further recall vividly how my late father oozed with so much joy and pride after I narrated to him the story of how I addressed my largest ever public gathering at the Rufaro Stadium after sharing the podium with all the key national leaders of the trade union movement at that time. It was such a defining moment in my nascent political career and boosted my personal confidence so much.
Added to that, my late father was actively involved in the process of setting up the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). He was an active delegate who contested for a national role at the founding elective congress of the ZCTU in 1981.
My late father’s active role in the setting up of the ZCTU was later corroborated by the late former President of the ZCTU, the iconic and legendary Gibson Sibanda. In a personal conversation with me, he initially started by telling me how he was fascinated by the fact that I was the progeny of a well-known veteran trade unionist like Godfrey Majahana Mguni.
He then went on to excitedly share with me his close experiences with my late father during the early part of the 1980s.
He also told me that he greatly respected my late father as one of the early pioneers of the trade union movement in Zimbabwe.
I also recall how much late father did his best to encourage me after my first foray into public office ended in failure.
This was during the late part of 1993.
At that time, I was doing my Lower Six or Form 5 at the Fletcher High School in Gweru. I had excitedly decided to contest to be elected as one of the five local Councillors who would represent my school at the City of Gweru Junior Council.
Unfortunately for me, I did not make it, and I took the failure extremely hard. But thanks to some strong and wise words of solidarity from my late father, I eventually managed to lick my wounds and lived to fight another day.
Be that as it may, I honestly think it was largely thanks to my father’s guiding influence that by the time I arrived at the University of Zimbabwe Law Faculty in March 1995, my DNA had already metamorphosed to that of a politician.
In the academic grounds of the Mouth Pleasant campus, where I got actively involved in student’s politics.
Obviously my understanding of politics and how it could practically carve better societies was already deeply influenced by my exposure to my late father’s trade unionism.
There are individuals who would influence your career twists and turns forever. One such person was Herbert Nyamakope, from the University Of Zimbabwe Christian Union (UZCU). We had regular musings with Nyamakope on politics, who were equally keen and seemed to think I was politically astute. I probably was for a first year student then, and it was certainly the influence of my father.
Through Nyamakope, I got involved in deliberations to field political candidates from the Christian student community at the university for the August 1995 elections. Prayers, strategizing, caucusing, and even fasting ensued. Unfortunately, even at the 11th hour, there seemed to be no readily available candidates from the Christian establishment. Sensing this desperation, Nyamakope surprisingly proposed my name for the post of the next Secretary General. Perhaps like biblical Moses, I could have come up with many excuses to say I was not worthy. This was only my fourth month as a student at the university. I remembered what my father would have done, and since there was no other human putting their hand up, I stepped forward and was duly endorsed as a candidate on behalf of the hastily assembled Christian student’s political alliance.
I called my father and told him the news. He initially had reservations about my candidature but was eventually convinced there was wisdom in my decision. He offered several tactics that proved crucial in my journey in student politics and later in life.
I won the election, and my l father excitedly carried the sceptre of guidance in my political career throughout my university years.
And so it happened that my late father was my first mentor as a politician – the seeds of which were planted from trade unionism.
Yes, we commemorate the workers day, to me it’s also a painful reminder of my late father’s dedication to the cause of workers and the pursuit of social justice. As I serve as the duly elected Member of Parliament for Whange Central constituency; I don’t need to be reminded, I am definitely a chip off the old block of my late father, Godfrey Majahana Mguni
Indeed, may his dear soul rest in power!
Long live the heroic struggles for workers’ rights! Long live! Long live!
Fortune Daniel Molokele is a Member of Parliament for Whange Central Constituency.
This article was first published on 1st May 2020