Obituary: Ndlovu was a true educationist

A lot has been said about the fallen Bulawayo giant and Zimbabwe’s national hero, Dr Sikhanyiso Duke Ndlovu. True to most eulogies, tributes and obituaries, he is an outstanding education giant, a scholar par excellence and a luminary in the development of Zimbabwean education. No one can dispute that, he is unparalleled in that area especially distance learning and adult continuing education. His passion and dedication for education is not only clear but also exceptional.


The Zimbabwe Distance Education College (Zdeco) and its subsidiaries Zedeco the full time college (which I had a privilege to head for five years); ZCI; the computer institute and ZTTCO (established in line with the Nziramasanga Commission) the vocational training centres are standing witnesses of Ndlovu’s passion. Sikhanyiso Ndlovu Primary School and Zimbabwe Open University (ZOU) also bear testimony that truly Ndlovu was an educator of note. The name Sikhanyiso Ndlovu is emblazoned at the core of not only Zimbabwe’s education system, but Africa as a whole.

Ndlovu lived for education. His inaugural project in education was the establishment of Gonakudzingwa Education Programme while in detention. Ian Smith viewed it as a Communist University of Crimes. Ironically the Duke, as Ndlovu is affectionately known, was to play a significant role in the establishment of universities and their charters in post-independent Zimbabwe. One hopes that his last brainchild, Zimbabwe University Without Walls, will one day see the light of day together with Gwanda State University. The likes of Willy Musarurwa, Boyson Mguni and many others are graduates of that university of crimes. The school faced a lot of hardships, but its chancellor persevered. At some point study material was confiscated. Instead of giving up spears were made in an attempt to rescue the books. Though the late Vice President Joshua Nkomo intervened, Ndlovu’s courage to defend education was clearly exhibited. As Nkomo is Father Zimbabwe, Sikhanyiso Ndlovu is the Father of the Zimbabwean Education Revolution.

There is, however, more to this son of the soil. His towering stature as an icon of education should not by any means dwarf his other capabilities. Neglecting his other skills is a great injustice to the history of Zimbabwe and to future generations. Ndlovu often reminisced with great pride and joy of his days as a guerrilla. He, during the struggle, was an urban guerrilla of tact and great diplomacy. Under the pseudo name “General Hokoyo” he commanded Umgandane, an underground demolition squad. He trained his regiment in urban guerrilla warfare and in the making of petrol bombs. They excelled immensely in all their sabotage missions.

Ndlovu would never talk of himself and never mention Gonakudzingwa, where he was incarcerated with Zimbabwe’s other fine sons. There he was with the likes of Nkomo, Umdala Wethu, his mentor. There also was his close friend Joseph Msika, Josiah Chinamano, Dan Madzimbamuto and many others. It was at Gonakudzingwa where he became Nkomo’s errand boy — umfanaka Nkomo. This task he relished so much, he spoke of it with great pride. There he became Mdala’s praise poet and motivated other detainees every Friday before General Josh would address them. Ndlovu was a lover of poetry. He still remembered these detention poems and would recite them vividly. I remember one time where he recited the popular Ndebele poem, MhlaNgifayo to students at Zedeco. He did it better than I would have done though he had learnt it much earlier than myself.

Ndlovu was a war veteran of note, a revolutionary stalwart and a man of great intellect. He was a man of great insight and would always remember each time Nkomo would say to him “Uhlakaniphile wenamfana” (you are clever young man). Of his greatest contributions to the struggle is the numerous times where he outmanoeuvred the colonialists, who wanted to assassinate Nkomo. He would get wind of it and find a hideout. Each time Nkomo’s residence was bombed Ndlovu would have long moved him to a new place. Without him possibly Umdala might not have seen independent Zimbabwe. Ndlovu loved and looked up to Nkomo. He followed his footsteps to the letter. He would once in a while dorn the African headgear and carry intonga (walking sickly) similar to ekaMdala. Rarely would he pass a comment and not mention him. As a man who enjoyed being flattered, I often would tell him how smart he was. One time he said to me “I turn up ngayifunda kuNkomo, yikhongismart” (I learnt how todresslike this from Nkomo that’s why I am smart). After his other Zapu colleagues left to revive the current Zapu outfit, I quizzed him why he remained and his answer was simple: “Umdala wangitshiyangila” (Nkomo left me here). Arguably Ndlovu became to Bulawayo a microcosmic representation and reflection of Nkomo.

Ndlovu surely was a man of peace. He believed in dialogue and not in violence. He always chose to be rational, diplomatic and intellectual. He proved himself as a man of peace and reconciliation. Each time he dealt with the numerous disputes he approached them with great tact. He did not live in denial of Gukurahundi but instead chose to refer to it as post-independence crisis so as not to incite the masses. Ndlovu proved himself as a champion of peace. I remember one time when the youth were baying for the blood of the then provincial chairman, Isaac Dakamela, Ndlovu was not too quick to pass a comment. He confided in me that a culture of expelling and suspending leadership is bad and weakens the party and should only be adopted when all else had failed. He called it the principle of greater good. We ignore trivial matters for the greater good of the party. That was his stance.

Some viewed him as spineless, lacking a backbone and recently President Robert Mugabe’s lapdog. I strongly differ without begging! Ndlovu exhibited a rare virtue, now almost extinct in Zimbabwean politics: loyalty. He was loyal to the struggle, loyal to the revolution, loyal to the President, loyal to the Unity Accord and loyal to Zanu PF. Loyalty to him was not a weakness but a strength. He scoffed at these accusations sarcastically. He remained astute and solid. I queried why he does not respond to most criticism and he laughed and said “as a doctor in education I cannot respond to accusations from a grade 2 graduate, osehlanyangubani?’’ and that settled it. Ndlovu was a man who was loyal to his legacy. He could have joined any new political outfit, many did invite him I suppose. He could not go as this would have been detrimental to his political legacy and mar everything he had fought for.

He loved Zanu PF and was loyal to it. He was Zanu pf through and through, he sacrificed himself, his family, Zdeco and his resources to prioritise the party. I remember one time in Harare when somebody said “VaNdlovu madyiwaka imi…” he laughed and said “Sikhanyiso did not lose, its Zanu PF that lost”. Ndlovu could have remained in parliament as a House of Assembly member either as an independent or under a new political party, but he did not. He believed in sticking together no matter what. He was a man who did not care who got the glory or position. All he wanted was to see the people being served. It did not bother him if he were overlooked and the job still got done. He was not in it for personal aggrandisement but for the people. Politics was his calling and education his volition.

Ndlovu was indeed a man of the people, a nationalist, an unflinching revolutionary, a loyal servant of the people, a social worker and an avid Highlanders supporter. He pushed for the development of Matebeleland. What we feel he did not do I think he deliberately left for us to do. Indeed a man of diverse abilities, strong will and a true son of the soil has departed.

Nina bakaNdlovuZidl’ekhayangokuswelaabelusi!
Nina bakwaDemazaneNtombazane
Nina bakakhumbulaamagwala
Nina bakasihlangusihle,
Rest in Peace. Lalangokuthula. Zororaimurugare

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