Visionary gone too soon HISTORY Professor
Harare (New Ziana)- Ngwabi Bhebe, who died on Friday and was immediately declared a national hero, has been described as a visionary, as demonstrated by the singular role he played in setting up, from scratch, and establishing the Midlands State University (MSU) in Gweru into one of the eminent institutions of higher learning in Zimbabwe.Professor Bhebhe was the founding Vice-Chancellor of the MSU, after he left the University of Zimbabwe to pioneer the institution in the Midlands Province.
He liked to explain how he was given a token amount to set up the institution.
Instead of abandoning the project because of apparent lack of support, he soldiered on, transforming it into a university that was able to attract some of the most brilliant academic minds in Zimbabwe.Not only that, he was also able to revolutionise the enrolment, into one of the largest in the country, supported by various campuses dotted around the Midlands Province, as well as the country.One of the legacies that he leaves is the establishment of the National Languages Institute at the Midlands State University, which helps in translating texts into all the official languages in the country.
A celebrated historian, he and the late Professor George Kahari, were the first few black members on the teaching staff at the University of Zimbabwe (then the University College of Rhodesia).
Like other nationalist-minded people, he left to teach in Africa and the region.He was to come back to the university after independence.
Considered a luminary, Professor Bhebe taught history at the University of Zimbabwe when he returned to the institution, where he distinguished himself in teaching the history of the turmoil of Southern Africa and played a crucial role in shaping the scholarship that began to take African history back into the hands of African scholars.
Professor Musaemura Bonus Zimunya, was Head of the English Department at the University of Zimbabwe when Professor Bhebe was Chair of the History Department at the same institution in the 1980s.
And when he left to set up the MSU, among the people Professor Bhebe persuaded to join him was Professor Zimunya.Professor Zimunya describes Professor Bhebe as “among the leading lights in the study of African History”.
“He was involved in contributing to the study of the liberation war, and was active in Zanu PF. He had great conviction about the direction in which history was going. He played a key role in the unification of Zanu PF and Zapu,” recalled Professor Zimunya yesterday.
“I cannot say how great a loss it is to be deprived of this luminary in our country.”Professor Bhebe, who was declared a national hero, sat on the Board of the Trustees of the Zimbabwe Mass Media Trust (ZMMT).
Advocate Honour P Mkushi the Chairman of the ZMMT, yesterday said Zimbabwe had lost an accomplished scholar and a great historian in Professor Bhebe.
“His publications were well researched and world standard. At ZMMT Professor Bhebe was admired for well-reasoned and patriotic contribution to our deliberations. A clear headed and unbiased patriarch. He will be missed as a humble and patriotic Zimbabwean. May the Lord receive him well”.
Historian Pathisa Nyathi, interacted with Professor Bhebe on two levels; as trustees of the ZMMT and as Zimbabweans who shared a commitment to the development, writing and documentation of the history of the country.“Professor Bhebe was a very joyful and jocular person, who related to people of different ages.
“He had a sharp mind, one that contributed immensely to the resuscitation of the ZMMT in making sure that financial records of the ZMMT were clear and making sure we had staff that were well-motivated.
“This was partly due to his background, especially at MSU, which was his vision, his product, which he steered to become one of the best tertiary institutions in Zimbabwe.
“When he retired, he left behind an institution that made him proud. He ensured MSU had a diverse curriculum and as a result attracted lecturers of the highest calibre.
“We also related because we both loved and shared documenting history. He championed documenting the history of this country”.
Professor Ngwabi Mulunge Bhebe is a distinguished scholar who obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Geography from the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland (UBLS) in 1967.
He received his Doctor of Philosophy degree in Imperial History from the University of London in 1972.
A celebrated historian par excellence, Professor Bhebe’s academic employment dates back to 1974 when he lectured in history at Faurah Bay College in Sierra Leone, and later at the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland (UBLS) as well as at the University of Zimbabwe.
He served as Professor of History at the University of Zimbabwe from 1988 to 1999, and also as external examiner at the universities of Botswana, Zambia and Malawi.