Celebrating the life of Father John Dove

Fr Gibson Munyoro
The Catholic Church and the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in Zimbabwe today celebrate the life of Father John Dove SJ, who passed on early in the morning of Friday June 20, 2014 . The name “Fr John Dove SJ” is not a small name among those who know the history of Zimbabwe.

The Sunday Mail of June 23, 1985 carried a big article with the headline:  “Silveira House: A tradition of co-operation.”

The article narrated the enormous contributions of Fr John Dove, a Catholic priest of the Society of Jesus who founded Silveira House in 1964 and retired from Silveira House after 20 years in 1984.

Fr Dove was born in Britain on July 22, 1922 and at the age of 17 he was recruited as a Second World War soldier, and was sent to fight in India.

After WWII he joined the Jesuits in 1947, and he was ordained a priest in 1958 and was sent to the then Rhodesia as a missionary in 1960.

Fr Dove worked in various missions, but of great interest is Silveira House, a Leadership Training and Development Centre he started in 1964.

“The first trade union course was launched in 1965 and the Silveira House industrial relations department gradually established itself as the country’s leading labour centre” (The Sunday Mail, June 23, 1985).

Three years earlier “Fr Dove had joined a youth discussion group in Highfield… The Highfield group discussed a wide range of problems with emphasis on the plight of the rural and urban poor and the conditions of the day which wounded the dignity of blacks” (The Sunday Mail, June 23, 1985).

From these youth group discussions, Fr Dove decided to turn the idle Jesuit novitiate structures into a social training centre.

This is what became Silveira House as we know it today.
Fr Dove quickly learnt from the youth group discussions in Highfield that Africans needed civic education and development skills in order to participate in the economic, political and other spheres of life. The youth were very frustrated at that time.

“At that time educated young men could only become teachers”, Fr Dove recalled. Furthermore, workers’ rights were not respected on the farms and in industries in Rhodesia. Africans were educated in mathematics, English and geography and so forth but they were not taught how to protect and safeguard their human rights.
Dr Herbert Murerwa was among the first youths to be trained by Fr Dove in 1965.

By 1968, Fr Dove ran civic education programmes on youth, trade union and agriculture. Leadership workshops trained local youths groups, workers and some African nationalists how to mobilise and form people of good conscience and good understanding of development issues.

The late Cde Maurice Nyagumbo and Cde Edson Sithole were among the free nationalists at that time who formed the bridge between the nationalists and the people.

Silveira House created a platform for the nationalists to teach and mobilise people to go against oppressive policies such as the Pearce Commission.

Through Cde Sabina Mugabe and Bridget Mugabe, who were also part of the Silveira House staff, Cde RG Mugabe made his first visit to groups meeting at Silveira House in 1974, and he addressed a number of youth and workers groups before leaving the country to Mozambique.

Thus, Fr Dove’s personally interacted with African nationalists as well as the poor people.
Some prominent leaders of trade unions, such as Mr Morgan Tsvangirai and Mr Frederick Chiluba (former president of Zambia), were also trained by Fr Dove and his team at Silveira House in industrial relations and trade unionism.
This is indeed a snapshot of the enormous work Fr Dove did in Rhodesia and Zimbabwe.

Today we celebrate the life of one of the mid-wives who facilitated the birth of Zimbabwe. We celebrate the life of a man who sacrificed his life during the liberation war; bravely talking about the dignity of Africans and their rights.

As we celebrate the life of Fr Dove and 50 years since the foundation of Silveira House, we also remember the following former employees of Silveira House who died in the recent past: Mai E. Chakaipa (the first co-worker of Fr Dove in 1964), Cde Bridget Mugabe and Ms Agness Tom.

May peace be granted to their souls for the sake of their self-sacrifices for the greater good of others in the history of this country.

Silveira House survives with the guidance of a visionary and brave fighter for justice and peace. May his soul rest in peace in the eternity of God’s presence.

Fr John Dove SJ will buried at Chishawasha Mission after funeral mass on Monday June 23, at 10am.

Written for and on behalf of Silveira House by Father Gibson Munyoro, Director of Silveira House

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