Rest in peace BW
HE worked like he had an urgent, grim appointment with destiny. He loathed sloth and hoist himself with his own petard. He shunned publicity like a plagu
e. A lawyer by profession, he preferred to labour in anonymity as a property developer, in the process helping thousands of Zimbabweans secure a roof over their heads.
On Friday, August 27 Biriam Wabatagore died in a freak vehicle accident in Mvurwi. So was cut short our friendship of 27 years.
I first met Biriam in 1977 when we were doing Form 1 at Masase Secondary School in Mberengwa. Like myself, a relative was paying his school fees because his parents could not afford them.
Masase was closed down in 1979 because of the liberation war and we moved briefly to Bulawayo and then in 1980 went on to reopen Manama Secondary School in Matabeleland South which had also been closed in 1976 because of the war.
Biriam went to Goromonzi High School for his ‘A’ levels while I went to St Ignatius College in Chishawasha. We reunited at the University of Zimbabwe in 1983 where he studied law while I did English. After completing his Masters programme in 1986, majoring in real estate and property development, Biriam joined Guni & Guni Legal Practitioners and remained there up to the time of his death last month. By that time he had become the owner and the firm had changed its name to Wabatagore & Company.
He told me it was Paul Mkondo (yes, Va Paul Mkondo of “itai cent cent vakomana” fame) who helped him buy the firm when he was still struggling without the connections that make you forge ahead faster than your contemporaries. Va Mkondo already saw the potential in the young lawyer to stake his reputation and fortune as a guarantor. I have no doubt he is very proud he made the right decision but heartbroken that Biriam died suddenly in the prime of his life without a farewell even to his beloved wife Audrey who, along with three of their children, barely survived the crash.
At the time of his death Biriam had just bought a house in Glen Lorne after selling another one in Milton Park. It was as a property developer that Biriam helped many home-seekers. He bought semi-built houses, completed them and sold the properties. As a partner in Damofalls Investments, Biriam touched the lives of many who didn’t know him. He turned thousands of acres of land from Ruwa to Bulawayo into stands for residential accommodation.
It was rare to find him at home after work. He did much of his work at night after closing his offices on Kwame Nkrumah Avenue. Each time I telephoned him he was either in Ruwa or Zimre Park or Budiriro supervising the construction of one of his housing projects.
Biriam wanted to make money and ensure his children did not taste the life of penury that he went through. He was very indulgent about their wants. All of them go to the most elite schools in town. He achieved more than the average professional can do in a working life of 50 years. He died at 41.
Biriam was a very good counsellor. He counselled many of his companions at home. In fact, he took so much time using his legal brain and professional experience to help us to a point where we assumed he didn’t have problems. He had, but took refuge in hard work. It was like he knew he didn’t have long to live and couldn’t waste time in idle pursuits.
He didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke, he had no time for sport and was generally cynical about people we call friends. Biriam never went on holiday all his life, had all his meetings in the office and his meals at home. He didn’t have time to acquire a passport despite his wealth. His musical tastes were essentially Zimbabwean, especially the social commentaries of System Tazvida, Pengaudzoke and Mbira Dzenharira. He loved his music loud in a fast car.
His social circle was very limited. I saw only one lawyer at his funeral. He believed unless one was a childhood friend, it was hard to make real friends in Harare. His best friend was his wife.
The last day we spent together at his house in Glen Lorne three weeks ago there was a stack of 72 doors in his garage. He said he was working on a flats complex.
In the course of the day he took me on a tour of the earthly equivalent of the biblical mountain where the devil took Jesus. It was Folyjohn Crescent where the crème de la crème of Zimbabwe’s most successful professionals live. If you have not passed through the two guarded gates of that crescent, you don’t know Harare, he said. Top bankers are in that crescent. He showed me the home of one football player and golfer Nick Price’s Pamushana mansion. Although the place has smaller stands than his six-acre plot, he said it was his dream location. I’m certain it would not have taken him a year to make the leap across.
In his vehicle on that day he had three books which he said he had just bought in town for over $300 000, Dr Joshua Nkomo’s The Story of My Life and another titled The Street Lawyer. I can’t recall the third. But it is clear now that he believed time had arrived to tell his story, and that life begins at 40. He bought his Glen Lorne home for $340 million cash at the age of 40 last year.
But his ambitions were cut short by a cruel fate on the night of August 27. It made a mockery of the exhortation that a man shall eat from the sweat of his brow. For here was a man who sweated and reaped a bountiful harvest but was denied the right to eat. I can see no heavenly plan in this.
Thus ended the career of a brilliant young lawyer who transformed the lives of many who visited his offices, and some who never saw him in person. We had to undertake the long journey to his rural home in Mberengwa for burial. That was his express wish before he died.
The funeral befitted a man of Biriam’s stature. Two beasts were slaughtered to feed the multitudes who came to pay their last respects to a worthy son.