Tapiwa died a bitter woman

“Hi, do you know any Ndebele comedians or upcoming ones who are here in SA? I want to start a comedy session for Zimbabweans.”

I am passionate about people - Nora Chengeto Tapiwa.
I am passionate about people – Nora Chengeto Tapiwa.

That is how award-winning political activist Nora Chengeto Tapiwa began what has now turned out to be our last ever conversation together – on Monday morning last week.

The following day, Tapiwa died in her sleep while visiting a friend overnight in Pretoria – yet another Zimbabwean pro-democracy fighter to have ended in exile in the neighbouring country. She had not been feeling well for some time.

At the time of her death, she was both the national Coordinator of the Global Zimbabwe Forum’s (GZF’s) South African chapter and also board secretary for the Zimbabwe Diaspora Development Chamber (ZDDC).


Although I met her a number of times at various seminars since my arrival in Johannesburg, it was in July 2011 that I got up-close and personal with Tapiwa, one of the illustrious Zimbabweans we featured in our column Scatterlings of Zimbabwe.

That she made the grade in the column is evidence that she is one of those exiled Zimbabweans who did not want to remain down, despite having received a number of political and economic knocks along the way.

That interview brought us so close that we became close friends. Through that, I got to understand her as a dedicated fighter who would not allow personal stress to stand in the way in her pursuit for democracy, respect for human rights, economic emancipation and unity for all Zimbabwean races and tribes.

Tapiwa is one of the few who viewed people according to their deeds, rather than what tribe they belonged to.

Don’t judge

She believed that nationality should be the glue that binds people together, rather than tribal differences trying to pull them apart. Even the secessionist and tribally-divisive Mthwakazi Liberation Front had a place in her heart.

“I do not agree with the method by which they want to be used to correct the imbalance in the country, but I fully understand where their anger. Instead of judging them, we should give them an ear so that the next government does not repeat the mistakes of the current one,” she told me a number of times.

I began to refer to Tapiwa for advice on some political matters and human rights challenges. We would also share calendars on a number of upcoming events. She would ask me for updates on current affairs from back home.

Toil and suffer

Respect for Tapiwa was not easily earned. She had to toil and suffer to be where she was at the time of her death. The profile I did on her captured all that.

She played a key role as co-coordinator for the South African chapter of the Global Zimbabwe Forum (GZF), which acts as a mother-body to most Zimbabwean pro-democracy movements in the Diaspora.

The GZF has over the years been instrumental at mobilizing Zimbabweans in the Diaspora to turn their situations away from home into opportunities to make their country prosper- both politically and economically.

With acclaimed Zimbabwean academic and writer Professor Kenneth Mufuka as its patron, the Geneva-registered GZF has embarked on a number of empowerment lectures for Zimbabweans in the Diaspora, while also facilitating a number of activities on political and social activism for exiles.

Tapiwa, a former bank worker before her migration in 2004, added a female voice to the organization, while her shrewd planning made her a vital cog in keeping it going.

Shrewd planning

Working on a voluntary basis since its inception, Tapiwa travelled to almost every corner of South Africa, encouraging Zimbabweans to remember that a day shall come when they would be able to return to their country.

“Our aim is that when democracy finally dawns in Zimbabwe, those based in the Diaspora should return more as investors and businesspeople than as employment-seekers and that is what the GZF is all about,” she told The Zimbabwean back then.

“We know that with the millions living in exile, not all of them can afford that, but many have the capacity and we are trying to give them the opportunity through this loose network of civil rights organizations.”

Economic clout

Through its economic arm – the Zimbabwe Diaspora Development Chamber (ZDDC), the GZF held workshops trying to help Zimbabweans identify niche markets in which they could build themselves economic clout – both as individuals and co-operatives.

Because of her activities with GZF, Tapiwa was voted one of the 2010 Peace makers by the San Diego University in California. She spent two months on a fellowship at the San Diego University Peace Institute.

She was drawn into conflict with Mugabe’s Zanu (PF) party in the 1990s . A widow, she fled with her two children through Botswana, without any valid travel papers and no money – armed with the will to not only survive, but also to continue the struggle away from home. This was after several visits from men in dark glasses, after she became involved in the constitutional referendum and elections.

She died with her heart still grieving for abused and suppressed Zimbabwean women.

“I wish for the women of Zimbabwe to one day enjoy peace. I wish institutions can be put in place to empower them to earn incomes, so that they do not continue to suffer in the hands of abusive men, who take advantage of their status as the bread-winners to suppress women in all spheres of life,” she said.

The Chivhu-born Tapiwa is survived by two children – Kudakwashe and Kundai.

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