HomeOpinion & AnalysisProfessor Kahari: A eulogy to the last of the Romans

Professor Kahari: A eulogy to the last of the Romans


The passing of Professor George Kahari (91) is a great loss to all of us who love learning and truth-telling to power. The idiom that a man is the last of the Romans refers to a man of virtue, who refuses to sell his soul in exchange for favours.

The humiliations, which Kahari suffered were commonly visited upon all of us who dared show an independent mind. Surely, with all his accomplishments, man of letters, professor (full rank) ambassador to Germany, visiting scholar and lecturer at Lander University, lexicographer of repute, 22 books behind his name and numerous learned articles, only one thing was missing.

The devil offered him heaven on earth if only he could sing the song below.

Masimba ose kuna Amai

Ipai mai huDokota husina mabuku [bestow all powers to the first lady and give her a PhD even when she has not read anything.]

The fact that he was not even consulted, and that he was regarded as an outsider at the University of Zimbabwe, even in a field in which he was a towering figure, is witness to his attention to virtue.

Inasmuch as he was vilified by the Philistines, as indeed the Roman senator Cicero was, he like Cicero was loud in his denunciation, and daily watched the road for messengers of death.

Completely devoid of subtlety, he denounced his tormentors in not so subtle ways. At one of the SAPES indabas, a group of young men gathered around him to hear a poem he had prepared for such an occasion.

It was from the imprisoned English poet Richard Lovelace to his beloved Althea.

Stonewalls do not a prison make

Nor iron bars a cage

If I have freedom in my soul and mind

I am free.

It was soon after the 2008 election. He had told then president Robert Mugabe,

“Wadyiwa naTsvangirai.” [You have been beaten by Tsvangirai]

Mugabe, a vindictive fellow if ever there was one, did not take it kindly.

On the morrow, Kahari drove to a petrol station where ZEC commissioners refilled their cars. His account had been closed overnight.

“Zvabva kumusoro” he was told. [It came from above].

Worse was to follow. Often he saw some shadowy men in his path or in his rear view mirror whose purpose he could not explain.

It was my ritual, when on my annual visit home, to spare two days on my calendar. The first day he would entertain me at Harare Club and introduce me to the movers and shakers of the world. The second day was my turn. We met at Meikles for dinner, the same group of 10, year after year. Very often, there were two or more tall men in dark suits, hovering in and around us whose presence could not be explained by the hotel staff.

Kahari paid them no mind whatsoever and never calibrated his speech to avoid snoopy ears. He was always the star of the show.

I became apprehensive when his hearing began to give him trouble. I bought two pairs of hearing aids from the US, the second one of German origin, he appreciated it very much. He suspected that the Central Intelligence Organisation had something to do with the disappearance of the devices from his car.

“MaZezuru sekuru, they must have thought the hearing aids were communication devices in association with the US embassy or something.” There was no sign of a break in his car. So a professional person must have unlocked his car and “withdrew the gadgets from the front seat.” He told me.


The last of the fundis

He was the quintessential academic (fundi), eccentric, lovable, exuberant and in these days of fake political professors, a scourge of the charlatan academics.

I invited Kahari to give a Black Studies lecture at Lander University in 2010.

It was winter. Dressed in a tasteful blue black blazer, an oversized scarf, a red tie, (sans overcoat) he belonged to that genre of scholars called Oxonian. The theatre, with a capacity of 200 seats was packed to overflow.

He spoke for one hour, without notes; the young scholars were mesmerised and there were some looking into the theatre through the windows.

Dr Noah Manyika remembers him in similar fashion. Though in his eighties, Manyika says that; “What was more astonishing was the clarity of his mind. He was one of the many brilliant minds the insecure in power choose to ignore.”

He was a handsome fellow. Some black girls asked me point blank. “Is he married?” Though I gave an honest answer, adding that he was, even as we spoke, 80 years old, my pleadings were rejected as mere expressions of jealous.

But more to the point, Kahari is one of the five Zimbabweans, among whom are Chris Mutswangwa, John Chimhundu and yours truly who took on the onerous and painful career of lexicography, the study of the meaning of words, or the study of a dictionary.

Kahari, with 50 years of study was the chief apostle, followed by the younger Chimhundu.


I say this to put in context the humiliations he suffered. Having saved through Old Mutual a retirement sum of US$2,5 million, and expecting a minimum pension of US$5 000 a month, he showed me his pay slip of Z$100.

In another humiliation, he had over US$1 million in the Post Office Savings Bank. Both accounts lost value in the Gideon Gono inflation, 2008.

Without his pension, well into his seventies, he found himself negotiating an annual contract with the U-Zee Philistines. As he spoke at Lander, he was fearful that his annual contract might not be renewed. He worked until he was 90 years old, until he lost his hearing. He held himself with dignity to the end. Surely, in this case, death is a welcome respite from persecution.

Committed to British standards the University of Zimbabwe had inherited from London University, the last spiritual humiliation came with the granting of a fake doctoral degree to Grace Mugabe. The supervisor had either recently received his doctoral degree or did not have one at the time.

In another case, a 34-year-old apparatchik, fresh from his bachelor’s degree, was appointed  chairperson of the august University Council.

“Sekuru, zvinhu zviri kuitika apa, zvinonyadzisa sekuru.” [Things that are happening are shameful].

Peace and mercy go with thee my friend. The Philistines, as expected, are cutting up and acting out shedding crocodile tears, which is their hallmark.

Kahari’s bitterness was therefore shared by all the saints.

The Philistines prefer that those whose livelihoods they have stolen pray five times a day, facing east, and singing pagan songs. Kahari’s loud character did not endear him to his tormentors.

Practical advice

As a man of the church, I have found that it is unwise to leave the widow in the house in which they have lived for half a century. If there are children abroad, it behooves them to remove the spouse from the shadow of the deceased for a prolonged period; otherwise the spouse will not heal.

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