Tuesday, 13 March 2012

David Hatendi; Books are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst

"The old fable covers a doctrine ever new and sublime; that there is One Man, present to all particular men only partially, or through one faculty; and that you must take the whole society to find the whole man. Man is not a farmer, or a professor, or an engineer, but he is all. Man is priest, and scholar, and statesman, and producer, and soldier. In the divided or social state, these functions are parceled out to individuals, each of whom aims to do his stint of the joint work, whilst each other performs his. The fable implies, that the individual, to possess himself, must sometimes return from his own labor to embrace all the other laborers. But unfortunately, this original unit, this fountain of power, has been so distributed to multitudes, has been so minutely subdivided and peddled out, that it is spilled into drops, and cannot be gathered. The state of society is one in which the members have suffered amputation from the trunk, and strut about so many walking monsters,--a good finger, a neck, a stomach, an elbow, but never a man. "R. Emerson

David Hatendi was the first black Rhodes Scholar to come out of the then Rhodesia. That, in itself is a high recommendation. Yet, as society we are privy to the many Rhodes scholars who wobble and dither, whose actions make us wonder what good is scholarship if in action it is indistinguishable from the street brute. In David we find what Emerson called the Man.

The man is no more.

He died in his sleep. As private and quiet, far from the maddening crowd as was his living years. Typifying what Emerson saw as the true scholar, as someone imbued to reflect and act; “action ripens thoughts into truth”, Emerson wrote to the American public. A man must think and act, think and act. His actions always guided by his thoughts. Very difficult enterprise today, where actions are rather spasmodic. Zimbabwe has lost its own Emerson.

For a young man, David represents a breed very rare in Zimbabwe. That fine essence of being, the combination of thought and action that made him a Superstar. He achieved many firsts, the least of which was his Rhodes scholarship in 1977. He was one of the first black students at the prestigious Peterhouse Boys school, an elite private boarding school 80kms outside of Harare in Marondera. His father, a priest was an Anglican rector there.

From high school, he went on to graduate from the University of Zimbabwe. Throughout his scholarly life he was active in sports and culture. At oxford we are told he, “took part in cricket (including playing for the Authentics), squash, hockey, and athletics, served as President of the Oxford University Africa Society, and was President of the Shakespeare Club (a dining club), and a committee member of the Grid Iron Club.”

After an international illustrious career at the World Bank, Morgan Grenfell, IFC and NM Rothschild and Son, he went back to Zimbabwe to become the first black managing director of MBCA. This was not just any bank but, then an extremely private and prestigious one, whose major shareholders were Old Mutual and NM Rothschild and Son . Which he led for ten years before a brief stint at NMB. So prestigious, was MBCA at the time corporates would fall over each other to have an account and it was the best employer in the country. Testimony of how he led the ship.

What is interesting is to contrast the path he chose compared to the path many bright black scholars in Rhodesia chose. On one hand, you have the Edison Zvobgo, Nathan Shamuyarira, Bernard Chidzero and Simba Makoni who went to prestigious schools and worked in prestigious organisations in America and the UK. They chose public life and became politicians.

David chose the private life and to be in business. Choosing industry over politics is a rare achievement in Zimbabwe, especially during the 70’s when politics dominated the landscape. And every black young man thought it his duty to contribute to the black struggle after which become a government technocrat in Zimbabwe’s early years. Even rarer was that he never became a politician in his later years, or as is the norm in Zimbabwe, an extension of one.

So much political madness has occurred in recent years. One that would have reeled him over would be the political appointee at the central bank in December 2003. His brother in Law Julius Makoni bore the brunt as his Bank NMB was targeted and he fled the country. So did many bankers and industrialists. In one defining scoop, what was a bright future for Banks and Industry turned into a nightmare, worse than a blistering “snowed in day” in Dickens’s Oliver Twist. Zimbabwe’s best left the country at this point and were easily assimilated in the best organisations in London and New York. David chose to stay and build in what little way he could. Spending most of his time in private business and charity.

I remember him most, in his pristine bespoke, Anderson and Sheppard navy blue blazer with glistering gold crown buttons, pinstripe shirt and a polka dot pocket square. Khaki chinos probably made by John Lobb, red socks and standing upright in velvet brown loafers. This was his favourite dress and one he was most comfortable in. Did I mention he had full hair? He was a gentleman in deeds and manners. In conversation he was well read, well thought out and well spoken.

When I look at the personal decisions he made I ponder at how easy it could have been for him to choose a different path. That he remained a private individual and could walk the streets of Harare nonchalantly as any other, only his dress and stature to recommend, is probably his most enviable quality. He was accessible. A man of such breadth and depth, could still hold a conversation with the common man and have direct influence on young ambitious men. Above all make it possible for someone like me to imagine a non political life as a real possibility. That one can still achieve without political connections. Perhaps Africa can learn a thing, Politics does not mean Influence.

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