The Tawengwa family name is synonymous with entrepreneurship and politics, and has produced towering luminaries such as Solomon (now late) and Charles both of whom served as mayor of Harare.
To all intents and purposes, the silent force behind the family’s fame was none other than Garikayi Tawengwa, who spent his entire working life helping his father, George Tawengwa Chirume, grow the family business into an empire that became the first black-owned enterprise to achieve a net worth in excess of US$1 million back then.
That best kept secret that was comfortable in living in the shadows of the legendary George Tawengwa sadly breathed his last on Thursday (11 March 2021), at the ripe age of 83.
Sekuru Garikayi Tawengwa succumbed to diabetes complications, leaving behind 22 children, among them, my very good friend Viola as well as several grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Born Garikayi Giles (Jairos) Tawengwa Chirume in Goromonzi to George Tawengwa Chirume and Agatha Koswa Nherera on 7 July 1937, Garikayi had lived his early life in Chinamhora with his maternal grandparents.
He then moved to Mutukwana Chanakira in Hwedza where he attended his primary school at Saint Margaret’s Chigondo. He would later move Rangwa in the care of his aunt, before going to St Anne’s Goto High School, also in Hwedza District.
He later attended Nyameni School in Marondera before joining his enterprising father who, for six years until 1947, had used donkeys as his business’ means of transport. This was up until the family bought a lorry, which was to be the platform on which Garikayi’s father launched his most successful enterprise.
As a young boy back then, Garikayi started off as a storekeeper in Chanakira Village before he was reassigned to drive his father’s lorry after he had acquired a driver’s licence in the mountainous city of Mutare.
He was later given another responsibility of driving buses. There is an account that says the family had to convert their lorry which used to transport stock for the Wedza store into a bus.
Out of that daring innovation, it is said, Mushandirapamwe Bus Service was born. By 1951, the bus company’s fleet had grown to four buses with the early success of the transport business enabling the family to open a second store.
At its peak, Mushandirapamwe Bus Company had a fleet of 150 buses, plying many routes across the country.
Being the eldest son, Garikayi spent most of his life running his father’s businesses and saw them growing in leaps and bounds. From humble beginnings in Hwedza, they went on to establish a chain of retail outlets in Marondera and Harare.
The family also invested in real estate, notably developing the Mushandirapamwe Business Centre in Dombotombo, Marondera. The historically significant Mushandirapamwe Hotel in Highfield, Harare, which opened its doors to the public in 1972, is perhaps the family’s best known business, apart from the bus company.
The hotel, in the colonial political hotbed of Highfield, was a sanctuary for many prominent liberation politicians. Mushandirapamwe Hotel also provided a platform for many iconic Zimbabwean musicians, including Thomas Mapfumo, Oliver Mtukudzi (now late) and Simon Chimbetu (now late), who staged countless shows there, as well as top other regional artists such as Miriam Makeba (now late), Mahotella Queens, Hugh Masekela (now late) and Bakithi Kumalo. Growing up in Highfield, Mushandirapamwe Hotel was the place for us to hang around.
The family also holds the distinction of being the first black family to purchase a commercial farm in colonial Rhodesia. In 1960, they bought the 1 872 hectare Rhodesdale Farm (renamed Zimdale Farm) in Marondera, a farming district where, as a teenager 30 years prior, Garikayi’s father had worked as a goat and sheep herder.
All in all, the family purchased eight farms during the life of their enterprising father, five of which were famously bought in one transaction.
Being the hard worker he was, Garikayi did all he could to support his father in educating his younger siblings. A man of many talents, at one point he was a successful tobacco farmer.
Like his father who died on 13 April 1982, almost two years after Zimbabwe had gained its independence, Garikayi was one of those who put their lives in great danger by supporting the liberation struggle, which dismantled the colonial regime.
He would devise creative ways of evading Selous Scouts’ prying eyes to provide guerrilla fighters with food and clothing, an offense which was punishable by death.
It is, however, gratifying that the Almighty was able to give him a long life to enable him see the fruits of that which he fought for as well as enabling him to look after his family.
Sekuru Tawengwa will be fondly remembered for being a loving father, grandfather and great grandfather, who had an intense passion for farming.
Fittingly, he will be buried today (14 March 2021), at his Mhendam Farm in Marondera.
My heartfelt condolences go out to the Tawengwa family, especially his children a good number of whom are my personal friends, grandchildren and great grandchildren who will have to face the world without their loving father and grandfather.
Matemai, may your dear soul rest in eternal peace.
By Dr Philip Mataranyika