Personal Crucibles: Learning to Lead Through Adversity and Struggles

Personal Crucibles: Learning to Lead Through Adversity and Struggles

by Joe Mutizwa


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781482802634
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 08/05/2014
Pages: 110
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.38(d)

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Personal Crucibles

Learning to Lead Through Adversity and Struggles

By Joe Mutizwa

Partridge Africa

Copyright © 2014 Joe Mutizwa
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4828-0261-0


Personal Loss (1972)

Sunday, 28 April 1972, is a day I will never forget. My world came crashing down on that day.

I was just over seventeen years old and was preparing for my ordinary-level (O-level) examinations due in November of the same year.

I was at my rural home, enjoying my school holiday away from Fletcher High School in the Midlands town of Gweru, where I was a student.

On that fateful Sunday morning, I woke up early and got ready to attend a church service at our local Catholic mission school—Mutero Mission—about six kilometres away. Meanwhile, my younger sister had woken up and was preparing breakfast. She had done so without waking up our mother as she planned to only wake her up when breakfast was ready.

When breakfast was ready, she tried to shake our mother awake but got no response. It was then that she raised the alarm. The first I knew that something had gone terribly wrong was when I heard my sister's desperate cry. I, together with other relatives present, went to find out what had happened, only to find my mother lying on her bed—cold. She had died in her sleep. My sister who had slept next to her had heard nothing at all during the night.

The shock for me was compounded by the fact that my sister and I had been with our mother working in the field until late afternoon the previous day, and there had been no sign of illness on my mother's part.

I was very close to my mother. She was my world. And suddenly that world was gone in an instant.

As the mourners poured into our homestead, the old village women talked about us in pitiful terms, referring to me and my sister as orphans. I recall some of them saying, 'What shall become of these kids?'

I was torn into shreds by a pain that I hope I shall never again have to endure. I desperately wanted to be alone. I wandered away from the homestead, and some of my relatives must have thought that I was contemplating taking my own life because they followed me wherever I went.

Although my father was there and my older siblings later arrived home and gave me and my sister support and comfort, deep inside me something changed on that day. I did not like being the object of pity.

In the days, months, and years that followed, I took on a new identity anchored somewhere deep inside me. With the benefit of hindsight, I can now reflect on the thoughts that went through my mind.

After the burial and in the days that followed, I felt a certain feeling that I could not explain. It was as if I was cured of fear of the unknown. I knew then that death was certain and that no one is promised tomorrow. My innocence ended. I had come face to face with the real world, and the real world was a tough place that required discipline and resolve and an awareness that one had limited time within which to accomplish what one was here to do. I had not yet developed a clear sense of purpose at that time; all I know is that I channelled every ounce of the energy I had into my studies at school.

When I went back to Fletcher High School, I put my total attention into my studies much more than before. I was no longer satisfied with what the teachers taught and with the reference books they prescribed or recommended. I went beyond that. Over the next two and a half years, I excelled in my academic examinations for both ordinary level in 1972 and advanced level in 1974. I became a star student in my A-level classes, and my academic reports reflected this. It seemed that I was able to channel my deep sense of loss and personal anguish into a drive for academic excellence.

The passion to succeed and excel and achieve independence that followed my mother's death has stayed with me all my life to this day and was the engine that drove me throughout my entire career.

My mother's sudden death also introduced a new element in me, which is the sense of being untethered. I felt that I had nothing to lose any more. This came to the fore in my last year in high school in 1974, when I felt the calling to abandon my studies and leave Zimbabwe to join the war of liberation in Mozambique. A classmate of mine and I went to consult a contact that was known to offer assistance to those who wanted to cross the border into Mozambique. His advice to us was that as we were due to complete high school that same year, 1974, we should complete that, and if we were still keen to join the struggle, we could do so soon after completing high school. We followed his advice.

In all this, I consulted no one from my family. If my mother had been alive, I am not sure that I would have felt as independent as I felt in 1974.

This independent streak was to manifest itself at other critical junctures later on in my life, leading me to take risks that other people would have balked at. I believe that the tragic loss that I suffered in 1972 gave me an independent disposition that has become part of my identity to this day.

I have always endeavoured to follow my own agenda rather than being recruited to follow other people's agenda. I have remained fiercely independent. I don't know if this is independence or stubbornness, but it is driven by a desire not to be beholden to anybody—a desire that had its genesis on the day when my mother died way back in 1972.

When I look back to that crucible experience early in my life, I take the view that it was a major shock that could have destabilized me. It is possible that I could have reacted entirely differently to the tragedy. It could easily have overwhelmed me and sent me into depression and despair, which could have wrecked my chances of doing well in my crucial high school examinations. I could have become bitter and insecure. I did not. I channelled my sense of loss into a passion for academic excellence and a strong sense of self-containment—both of which were to provide strong pillars for me in future years. The sense of self-containment was particularly strong. Somehow the sudden loss caused me to withdraw into an inner fortress that I did not know existed. That fortress was to grow larger as other crucibles in the future caused me to become more self-reliant.

I did not know it then, but I know it now that the sudden collapse of my world arising from the loss of the most precious person in my world caused me to rethink my approach to life. Since then, there has been an urgency that drives me—a desire to want to do what I want to do without delay. It is as if there was a realization from my experience that life really is a fleeting experience, that it can be extinguished so suddenly, that tomorrow is promised to no one, that one must do it while one can. There has been, since then, a desire for me to lead multiple lives, to do this and that, and to do different things so as to have a multifaceted life while I can. I guess it is a desire to play all my songs while I can. Because I did not get a second chance to show my mother what I could do for her during her living years, I get propelled to do things for others now while I have the time.

Recently, I read an interesting book by Todd Henry entitled Die Empty. In it he makes reference to a discussion around the question 'What do you think is the most valuable land in the world?' In response, many people cited places with fabulous resources—oil, gold, real estate, etc., but one chap answered, 'You are all wrong. The most valuable land in the world is the graveyard. In the graveyard are buried all of the unwritten novels, never-launched businesses, unreconciled relationships and all of the other things that people thought, "I will get around to do that tomorrow." One day however, their tomorrow ran out.'

When I consider how my mother left suddenly without warning, I redouble my efforts to do everything I believe I am capable of doing before my days run out.

Over the years, I have come under the influence of the writings of Lucius Seneca, the Roman Stoic philosopher who lived between 4 bc and ad 65. In his writing On the Shortness of Life, he has this to say about the need to always remember how short life is: 'So you must match time's swiftness with your speed in using it, and you must drink quickly as though from a rapid stream that will not always flow.'

This has become part of my philosophy in life.


The Liberation Struggle: Arrest And Detention (1975–1978)

He who has a why can bear any how.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900)

After passing advanced-level examinations at the end of 1974, I was admitted to the University of Rhodesia (as it then was) in April 1975. I enrolled for the BA (honours) degree in history and was, on that trajectory, likely to become a high school teacher or civil servant upon graduation in 1977. Little did I know that within five months of enrolling at the university, I would be a political prisoner, held indefinitely without trial at Wha Wha detention centre in the Midlands town of Gweru. I was to remain there until 18 April 1978.

My desire to join the armed struggle against the regime of Ian Smith had not died since the flame was lit in 1974.

The long and the short of it was that in August 1975, a group of university students—myself included—left the university with the intention of crossing the border into Mozambique to join other nationalist freedom fighters and receiving military training so that we could come back into Rhodesia to fight the Rhodesian Army and liberate Zimbabwe.

Although we had a guide to take us across the border, we got lost along the mountain ranges along the border, which were covered in fog, for three days and three nights. On the fourth day, we were spotted by Rhodesian police patrolling the border. We were captured and taken back to Harare for interrogation by the secret police.

One of the most harrowing experiences for me was to be blindfolded, bound in handcuffs and leg irons, and together with a fellow student, thrown into the back of a police car, then driven around for hours. I remember whispering to my colleague my fear that we were about to be assassinated.

Eventually, we found ourselves at a place which, we later found out some ten or so days later, was an interrogation centre just outside Harare. For the entire period, I was held in solitary confinement in a windowless cell. I was subjected to the most severe torture, including electric shocks. The room in which I was tortured had walls smeared with blood. I could only imagine what horrors had taken place there. Every single day and night, I heard the harrowing screaming of people who were being tortured. I imagined that some of these were my colleagues. It was, without a doubt, the most traumatic experience of my life—other than the loss of my mother.

Solitary confinement does strange things to you. There was no way to tell whether it was day or night, so I lost track of time. But what I gained was the time to reflect about who I was and what my life meant. I had no regrets whatsoever about leaving the university with the intention of joining the struggle in Mozambique. The torture made me stronger, not weaker, and the daily screams of prisoners being tortured only made me more dedicated than ever to the nationalist cause of liberating my country from colonial rule. The inner fortresses that I first discovered after my mother's death became even stronger. It was as if they could torture me physically but they couldn't touch the real me.

On release from the secret torture centre, I was taken to Southerton Police Station in Harare. Being in a police cell and seeing the sun through the windows seemed like being free compared to where we had been. All five of us former university students reunited there. For the first time, we had access to a lawyer.

After some weeks, we—together with other political prisoners—were issued with indefinite detention orders (you did not know when you would be freed as you had not been tried in a court of law) signed by the responsible minister of law and order.

We were transported to Wha Wha detention centre, where several hundred other political prisoners were held. The journey from Harare to Wha Wha was unbelievably exciting as we sang revolutionary songs and shook the prison van as we danced in defiance.

The detention centre consisted of several barracks made entirely of galvanized steel, including the walls and roofs. There were twenty-five detainees to a barrack. We were locked in at 6 p.m. and released at 6 a.m. the following morning. Between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., we did what we wanted, like exercising in the prison yard, playing games, or studying—for those who were allowed to. As we had abandoned our university studies, we were not allowed to study, but we could teach others, which we did. I, in time, became the informal headmaster of our section of the prison.

The period I spent at Wha Wha from August 1975 to April 1978 was one of the most formative years of my life. It was indeed a great university of life as well as a school of hard knocks.

Let me highlight some of the conditions we experienced at Wha Wha so that I can put the lessons I learned into proper perspective.

We Were Treated as if We Were Subhuman

• The accommodation we had for the greater part of our stay was subhuman. Galvanized steel walls and roofs are freezing cold in winter and turn into sweltering ovens in summer. There was no escape.

• We slept on the concrete floor on a thin mattress covered by extremely dirty blankets.

• We had no access to ablution facilities between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. and only had a bucket, which was used by every one of the twenty-five people in the room as a toilet during the night. If we wanted to use that 'toilet', we did it in full view of everybody, but we had the option to cover ourselves with our blanket if we so wished—especially if we had an upset stomach!

• There was a duty roster requiring each cell occupant to go empty the bucket's night soil into the toilets every morning and to clean that bucket and have it ready for the evening. During the day, the bucket was a highly prized 'chair' on which to sit while studying or playing card games.

• The food was the worst you could imagine. The metal plates, which had been used over many years, had grooves from overuse and were dirty and unhygienic. The food was terrible—not even fit for animals.

• The newspapers that were allowed into the camps were heavily censored, with so many news items cut out that it was really difficult to hold the tattered newspaper properly.

• If we received letters from friends or relatives, they were heavily censored as well.

We Learned to Live with Uncertainty

• All the detainees at Wha Wha never knew when they would be freed as they were detained at the discretion of the minister using the emergency powers regulations. We did not know whether we would be there for a year, for ten years, or forever. Uncertainty was our constant companion.

• The lack of information about family caused many prisoners to suffer from anxiety, hypertension, and other medical disorders. In some ways, the loss of my mother had sort of insulated me from such anxiety as I had very little else to lose.

• When we were at the university as undergraduates, we were—during that era—considered part of the elite of society, enjoying privileges and lifestyles that few in Rhodesia could dream of then.

• Wha Wha was an entirely different proposition. Life was tough for everyone. We quickly got cured of any sense of entitlement or privilege. People from all walks of life were thrown into the camps. The common denominator was that we had, in one way or the other, supported the war of liberation. Peasants from the war zones were in the camps as well as university students like us and youngsters from urban areas.

• The prison system treated all of us as nothing, and we wore long khaki trousers and long-sleeved shirts with a detention number prominently displayed on the front of our shirts. I was referred to as 153/75 and would respond to that if prison warders called it out on the inspection roll call before we were locked up for the night each day.


Excerpted from Personal Crucibles by Joe Mutizwa. Copyright © 2014 Joe Mutizwa. Excerpted by permission of Partridge Africa.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Introduction, 1,
Chapter 1 Personal Loss (1972), 7,
Chapter 2 The Liberation Struggle: Arrest And Detention (1975–1978), 15,
Chapter 3 Going Back To School: London School Of Economics Experience (1978–1981), 29,
Chapter 4 Baptism Of Fire: Crucible Job Assignments Early In My Career (1983–1990), 35,
Chapter 5 Wrestling With Corporate Restructuring (2001–2003), 51,
Chapter 6 Leading Inside A Political And Economic Earthquake Zone: Zimbabwe (2005–2008), 63,
Chapter 7 Climbing New Mountains: The Internal Crucibles (2012–Present), 79,
Conclusion, 89,
Index, 95,

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