Dr Unesu Ushewokunze-Obatolu
The veterinary profession is typically small. It’s therefore not every day that we hear about the men and women in that profession who dedicate themselves to working in animal health and welfare for the benefit of society and the economy.
This month the profession mourns one of its most illustrious pathfinders, Dr. Dexter Mark Chavhunduka, who was the first Zimbabwean black veterinarian to qualify and work in the country.
He joined the civil service in 1964 after qualifying at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.
At that time, he was also one of only a handful of black veterinary doctors to venture into this profession from the Southern Africa region. All others who were serving at the time were white, many of whom had emigrated from Europe in the post-Second World War years.
Dr. Chavhunduka was appointed veterinary officer responsible for training while based at the then Veterinary Research Laboratory, a post which he remained in for about 15 years.
Although a few others had qualified after him during this period, the political situation prevented them from returning. He therefore remained the only black veterinarian in the country until the dawn of independence in 1980.
Single-handedly, he provided an outreach programme to the small-scale commercial and communal area farmers to whom he became well known as an animal production veterinarian, giving birth to the present-day animal health extension, badly needed to alleviate innumerable health and disease constraints faced by these farmers.
One pair of hands was obviously not enough but he persevered undaunted!
This was in the background of agricultural services for communal farmers being in the hands of DEVAG in the then Ministry of Internal Affairs.
The rest of the veterinary services were located at 31 district or provincial offices and private practices, all situated in urban centres with a heavy focus on large-scale commercial farming.
Dr Chavunduka’s work in veterinary extension led him to become a household name in the print media and on radio, tackling diverse topics on animal husbandry and health in a bid to influence perspectives on animal production.
He was a permanent guest at agricultural shows and a regular guest lecturer at agricultural colleges and training centres around the country.
This intense commitment and focus led him to publish at least 10 handbooks, some with translations into local languages, on animal husbandry and health for farmers, which will live well beyond him. Some of the titles are Cattle Production; Ngatipfuyei Mombe (cattle diseases); Inkomo
Egulayo; Kupfuya Hwai; Ngatipfuyei Tsuro; Poultry Keeping; Kupfuyiwa Kwehuku; Ukufuywa Kwenkukhu; Ukufuya Izimvu; Ukufuywa Kwengulube; Kasifuyeni Imvundla.
Just before independence in 1979, Dr. Chavhunduka was promoted to the post of Professional Assistant to the Director of Veterinary Services and
then briefly to Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture in 1980.
In 1981 he was appointed Secretary for Tourism and Environment.
Despite his elevation in Government, he continued to be active in grassroots veterinary services, at times working with non-governmental organisations in rural development.
Dr Chavhunduka also served a term as a member of the House of Parliament between 1995 and 2000. His contribution would naturally have developed from his work in the communal and small-scale commercial farming areas.
During his last years with the Ministry of Agriculture, he was associated with planning for major expansions of veterinary services that took place to provide greater formal focus to small-holder livestock farmers.
These included the plans for mainstreaming animal health extension which now employs at least 1 500 field staff; the construction of 312 animal management and health centres and the establishment of the Mazowe Veterinary College for middle level veterinary professionals.
The establishment of veterinary doctors increased from 55 in 1980 to 85 in 1990, the need having been demonstrated by his work with smallholder farmers. Thus district and provincial veterinary centres increased by 22 in previously neglected communal and small-scale commercial farming
Dr Chavhunduka served on the Professional Governing Veterinary Council between. He was also an active member of the Zimbabwe Veterinary
Association. Before emigrating, Dr. Chavhunduka served for a year as part-time lecturer in Clinical Veterinary studies in the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the University of Zimbabwe between 2004 and 2005.
A gentle and very soft-spoken and benign icon and gentleman, he will be remembered for laying a firm foundation of good animal health and
husbandry among farmers as the basis for mainstreaming small livestock farmers into the agricultural economy.
Many of his ideals remain to be emulated by veterinarians in the developing world. We salute him for championing the veterinary profession in sectors where the need is greatest!
- Dr Unesu Ushewokunze-Obatolu is a Veterinary Surgeon