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Public relations mourns a great mentor

“I’d like all of James’s girlfriends to stand up,” said Jannie Makawa in church last week.

obituary: by Ray Mawerera

(From left) James Makawa and fellow Rotarians Susan Katsukunya, Willas Makombe, Memory Mafo, Denford Mutize and, squatting, Ray Mawerera, after donating drugs and medical equipment to Nyamidzi Clinic, Rusape.
(From left) James Makawa and fellow Rotarians Susan Katsukunya, Willas Makombe, Memory Mafo, Denford Mutize and, squatting, Ray Mawerera, after donating drugs and medical equipment to Nyamidzi Clinic, Rusape.

The lifeless body of her recently-departed husband, James Dutsa Makawa, lay peacefully in the casket before her.

Around the pews, several women of various ages, shapes and sizes, stood up, sheepish smiles on their faces. Some had tears in their eyes. Others stifled sniffs. My wife, Caroline, one of the “girlfriends”, squeezed my hand, holding back tears.

“I just wanted to demonstrate the type of popular man that James was,” Mbuya Makawa said lightheartedly, as she asked her friends to resume their seats.

She went on to describe a man of great love, faithfulness, loyalty to friends, determination and grit — and a gentleman to boot.

She was describing without exaggeration a man I’d also grown to know and love. In his unforced way, he became a mentor, an inspiration and a man I — like many others — knew I could count on when something had to be done and he agreed to it. He didn’t always agree. And when he didn’t agree, he was blunt and straightforward enough to make sure you knew he objected, and why.

“We had an easy relationship,” continued Mrs Makawa to the mourners that filled the United Methodist Inner City Church to capacity, to pay their last respects. “I called him JD and he called me Jannie. When we disagreed or upset each other, he would say ‘Ah, Jannie. So where do you think we will get to, upsetting each other like this?’ And we would move on. He was a great communicator.”

James Dutsa Makawa; teacher, preacher and philanthropist

At the time of his death he was only four days shy of his 85th birthday. Next month he and Jannie would have been celebrating 60 years of a blissful marriage. They shared with their bosom buddies, Willas and Regina Makombe, the exciting plans for celebrating both milestones. Life can be that unfair.

I only met Dr Makawa around 2001. I was not even 40 years old yet and he had already retired from full-time employment. He was part of a crew of happy old men that I met when my boss then, Chris Molam, introduced me to the wonderful world of Rotary, that global network of philanthropists. (I’ve always called them “old men”, by the way, and they don’t like it one bit!)

Along with Chris and Greg Pozzo and others, James Makawa was one of the founding members of the Rotary Club of Hunyani. I lapped up their warm embrace, like a little puppy being mollycoddled. In a very short time, I was to meet their equally lovely and loving wives (called Anns in Rotary-speak), and in turn introduced my wife to them. I was happy to see that she bonded well with them, and it wasn’t long before Sekuru JD, in his inimitable charming way, started referring to her as his “girlfriend”. We joked about this, in my turn calling Mbuya Makawa my sweetheart.

In 2005, the Zimbabwe Institute of Public Relations (ZIPR) elected me president for a second time. I had been president before, in the years 1996-1998. Former president Judy Macdonald had been running the education programme that had been under Yogesh Naik until he relocated. Judy resigned her responsibilities under unclear circumstances. When we took office in 2005, we decided that ZIPR’s highly popular education programme was ripe for a revamp.

I turned to Makawa, whom I’d sussed out as a passionate educationist who had a fondness for anything that involved interactive communication, relationship management, image and branding skills.

With vice-president George Makore, we spent hours interrogating the many modules that made up the diploma course. Makawa was impressed by the amount of work that had been put in by past ZIPR teams and wondered aloud why we had not taken it further. It’s a challenge that ZIPR today needs to seriously take up.

By the time we were done, Makawa had become as passionate, if not more passionate, about PR as any focused practitioner. Because he loved to teach, he unilaterally decided he would step in whenever any volunteer lecturer (ZIPR lecturers were traditionally practising professionals who volunteered their services) failed to turn up to take their class.

As education director, Makawa was always first to arrive for classes, to ensure that lecturers had turned up, and to motivate the students. Lately, he was collaborating with Tendai Chiripa, the ZIPR administrator, to see to it that there were no disruptions. A few months ago, Chiripa was forced to retire due to ill health, and an intern stepped in. It was a tough time for ZIPR, as Makawa’s own health was now beginning to fail him.

He suffered and survived a stroke. Immediately after, he went back to his students at ZIPR. His lesson on Monday two weeks ago was his last. His plan had been to see this batch of students past their exams, then take a well-deserved rest.

Life is so unfair

Makawa was buried at Warren Hills Cemetery in Harare on Thursday, July 13 2017. It was an emotional send off, witnessed by scores of people from all walks of life, including fellow Rotarians from the Rotary Club of Hunyani, ZIPR members, fellow worshippers in the United Methodist Church and other Christians, family, friends and neighbours.

* Makawa gained his Ph.D from the University of Zimbabwe in 1990. He went through primary school at Nyadiri Mission, secondary school at Goromonzi and teacher training at Waddilove. He subsequently taught at Nyadiri and Manyika Primary School in Uzumba and then in 1961 won a United Methodist Crusade Scholarship to study for his BA degree at McMurray College in Illinois, USA. He proceeded to Michigan State University for his MA and returned to Zimbabwe to take up a position at Nyadiri Teacher’s Training College, where he was eventually appointed principal. He later left for Gweru Teacher’s College for a principal lecturer post and was appointed education officer for Mashonaland West Province. Makawa was appointed the founding principal of Seke Teachers’ College, before becoming regional education director for Masvingo, where he served three years before retiring at the age of 60. He joined the University of Zimbabwe, teaching Education for three years and did another three-year stint teaching Sociology and Psychology at the Women’s University in Africa. He then joined the Zimbabwe Open University, where he remained until his untimely death. A committed Rotarian, Makawa was also a strong Christian who was an active member of the United Methodist Church, where he was a lay preacher, member of the Men’s Fellowship group (Vabvuwi) and Sunday School teacher. James and Jannie met in January 1957 while they were both teaching at Nyadiri Mission. By September of that year they had married. The union was blessed with four children and seven grandchildren.

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