An ode to Susan Dangarembga

Prof Arthur G.O. Mutambara
Fellow Zimbabweans, the Dangarembga family and the Ngonyama family, I stand before you as a son to Susan Dangarembga (nee Ngonyama).

The Dangarembga and Mutambara people are the same folk. They are of the Chihwa totem.

I stand before you representing all those who attended that great academic institution, Hartzell Secondary School, in particular those who were taught by Susan Dangarembga.

I also represent the generality of the people of Zimbabwe, who were impacted, directly or indirectly, by the knowledge, wisdom and example of Susan Dangarembga.

In any community, society or country, for there to be human progress; for any civilisation to flourish; we need vision, transformation and leadership. Vision entails the ability to picture a desired future, the aspirational destination for a society or country, and work towards its accomplishment.

Transformative power speaks to the ability to improve the quality of people’s lives, making their existence more meaningful, and creating a better world for all.

Both vision and transformation rise and fall on leadership. Leadership is the process of providing sound guidance and inspired direction to an organisation, community, society or country. Through her exemplary life, Susan Dangarembga provided us with vision, transformation and leadership. She was a visionary leader. She was a transformative leader. She did all this through three vehicles: excellence, education and character.

The first way in which Susan Dangarembga gave us vision, transformation and leadership was through excellence — the quality of being outstanding and the best at whatever you do.

She was the embodiment of pure and undiluted excellence, sheer brilliance, unparalleled distinction and peerlessness. That is an apt description of Susan Dangarembga.

More specifically, academic excellence was her forte. Starting from primary school, she skipped a standard, what we now call grades. She was always the youngest in her class.

In 1947 she proceeded to Goromonzi Secondary School, a government secondary school opened in Southern Rhodesia in 1946.

She was in the second group of Form One pupils.

That group included her future husband, the great educationist and administrator, Hartzell High School headmaster Mr Amon Dangarembga; the future distinguished lawyer and academic, University of Zimbabwe Vice-Chancellor, Professor Walter Kamba; and the future brilliant and revered physician, Dr Davidson Sadza. When they wrote the Cambridge Ordinary Level Examinations in 1950, Susan Ngonyama had the best results in the entire Southern Rhodesia, whites included.

She outperformed Baba Dangarembga, Prof Kamba and Dr Sadza!

Her unparalleled and unprecedented feat of outgunning the whites shocked and unsettled the racist settler regime of Southern Rhodesia. Through sheer brilliance and undiluted excellence, Susan had demolished the myth of white supremacy.

The then Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia, Sir Godfrey Huggins, took notice. He had to literally, though partially, concede defeat.

He said, “Well, Susan Ngonyama’s results mean blacks and whites are intellectually equal. However, socially the whites are still superior!”

Obviously, Huggins was clutching at straws. How is social supremacy measured? Without firing a single shot, going to detention or organising political resistance, as a high school student in 1950, Susan Ngonyama scored a major victory for the freedom and liberation of Zimbabwe.

She started the necessary process of transforming the minds of the oppressive whites, while mentally and intellectually empowering the oppressed majority by giving them self-confidence and self-belief.

“Yes, we are equally capable. Yes we can do it. We are not at all inferior to the whites. If we can actually outperform the whites by their own standards, why can’t we rule ourselves?”

That was Susan’s bold message in 1950 to the toiling black masses in Southern Rhodesia.

Fellow Zimbabweans: That is vison. That is transformation. That is leadership. In 1951, after Goromonzi, Susan proceeded to Fort Hare University, where she overlapped with President Mugabe by one year. In 1953 she became the first black woman in Southern Rhodesia to obtain a university degree; a Bachelor of Arts in English and Latin.

Here is Susan scoring another first, empowering black Zimbabweans, in particular our women.

Fellow Zimbabweans, the struggle for gender justice, women rights, and equality of the sexes, started with Susan. For the feminists who wage an honourable struggle demanding equality between men and woman, if you combine her 1950 and 1953 achievements, Susan is saying, “Do not aim that low, women can do better.” What a visionary!

She was a forerunner to what we now call womenomics — the economy as designed, experienced, driven and impacted by women.

Research has shown us that, in every measure, women are better managers and leaders than men. To my fellow male Zimbabweans, I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

Thank you Susan for the vision, transformation and leadership.

Beyond Fort Hare, Susan now married to Amon Dangarembga, went to the UK where she obtained a Masters in English and an advanced Teaching Diploma.

Her journey in excellence never stopped.

On her return she settled at Hartzell Secondary School teaching both Latin and English.

In 1983 she became the first female Public Service Commissioner, independent Zimbabwe. What a trailblazer!

The second way in which Susan Dangarembga provided vision, engendered transformation and nurtured leadership was through teaching.

In every civilisation education is a key enabler. It is the driver of social progress.

Susan was a great teacher, a distinguished teacher of teachers, an outstanding educationist.

Having being the number one student in their entire country in 1950, she could have chosen a career as a lawyer, a doctor, an account or an engineer.

She said, “No to all of that, I want to be a teacher.”

Ladies and gentleman, the teaching profession is a noble profession. Teachers are a sacred lot. We are all products of teachers. Educators are the incubators and breeders human capital, the cradle of leadership, and the source of vision.

The odyssey of transformation begins with a solid educational foundation.

The third and final channel through which Susan Dangarembga provided transformative and visionary leadership was through the strength of her character.

She exuded dignity, integrity, humility, hard work, self-awareness and empathy. That was Susan Dangarembga — the personification of both excellence and humility.

Strength of character is the foundation of leadership, it fosters and sustains vision while giving meaning and value to the content of transformation. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny!

Fellow Zimbabweans, as we mourn Suzan Dangarembga, let us celebrate her life by embracing the legacy of her exemplary life: Excellence, education and strength of character in pursuit of transformative and visionary leadership.

Adapted from a eulogy delivered at the funeral of Susan Dangarembga in Harare on October 13, 2017. Professor Arthur GO Mutambara is a Former Deputy Prime Minister of Zimbabwe

 

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