The phrase in my mind to describe this great loss I feel of Toverengwa Manene aka Tov is ‘upenyu idova’. Life is like dew. One minute you have it and the next, it is all gone.
Yet this is not what we had come to believe. In my conviction Tov would outlast all of us because he had such a story to tell. It starts with his birth because he was a miracle baby.
I affectionately called him Shushine for being the only person I know who was delivered on a bus. He really hoped he had kept this unknown and I am sure he regretted the moment he chose to tell a media man like myself this well-kept family secret. But he could not resist the temptation.
We were on our way to Mimosa where he was conducting research. As all who ply the Bulawayo Road from Zvishavane know there is an imposing homestead on the hillside next to Ngezi River owned by the P. Hall family.
Tov was so impressed by what he saw, he chose to align with the owner. “Do you know P. Hall (founder of the Shushine bus service) nearly gave my mother a bus, as his appreciation for the fact that I was born on one of his buses? The only problem is that he wanted to adopt me. I could be a P. Hall but my mother said ‘no.’”
From that day onwards I christened this man Shushine. Each time I called him by that name all he did was laugh. An infectious laugh indeed.
With such birth and the many things Tov did, I really did not expect that the Lord would take him at such a young age. No even in my wildest dreams. I expected him to grow old and ensure all kids are married and perhaps together pass by with his grandchildren at P. Hall to say ‘what a life’.
He was a co-founder of Buy Zimbabwe. We met a week ago to discuss on bold plans for 2021. How is it possible that a nation so blessed with human and natural resources would still be importing so much? We both believed it to be unacceptable that Zimbabwe can be a laughing stock, yet opportunities abound. Our undying conviction was that it is possible to build a strong movement that pushes for jobs, wealth and pride. He may be gone but this dream must remain.
Sounds like one of those fairy tales until you really understand when it all began.
I met Tov in 2000 when he joined the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) as Head of Audience Research, a newly created department in the organisation. I got to know that he had gone to school with Tafara Mbaya, my best friend at Victoria High School. With that he too became a close buddy.
Unfortunately, before his managerial chair had warmed up, ZBC, was hit by the cyclical financial challenges that broadcasters are so infamous for in Africa. ZBC was technically insolvent and had to retrench 50 percent of its staff. In his exuberance he had poached top talent from his previous organisation to join ZBC. In a matter of months he was to tell them, they no longer had jobs.
Though his counterpart at the time as Head of Newsnet, I had been tasked by Dr Gideon Gono, our chairman, to lead the retrenchment process.
When I reached to him for his list I realised his name was top of the retrenchees list. Surely it did not sound right. In any case, the normal person looks for weaker individuals and protects themselves. When I asked him why, my respect for this man deepened. “I brought these people here on a promise of a better life. Now I must tell them they no longer have jobs. Whatever they face I too must face,” he told me.
This spoke to Toverengwa Manene as a leader. A true servant leader who could take bullets for his team.
Soon he formed his research company, Select Research. I made sure I was his first client. I also introduced him to Population Services International, who found his credentials impeccable. He visited me in Zambia when my turn to leave ZBC came.
Back home, in my struggle to start Buy Zimbabwe, he gave us our first office. He became director. He even dug into his pocket to fund this organisation. Together with Gillian Rusike, the now CEO MAZ, we dreamt of so many possibilities in life. I witnessed Rusike and Tov conceive and put to life Superbrand which today dominates the awards calendar. Who says dreams don’t come true?
We are hurt by his untimely passing but as in all things, we must forge ahead. Our starting point must be to carry his legacy.
For starters, his research exploits must continue.
He travelled across Africa. He researched for many. When I left Zimbabwe and joined the diaspora in 2008, Tov made sure that was his best year in Zimbabwe. Unlike many of us, he saw opportunity when others saw ruin.
Thankfully, he demonstrated that even with the worst economic situation, when you are driven, capable and focused, nothing can take away your victory. He leaves Select Research as a solid leading company.
When I came back to Zimbabwe in 2010 with the promise of a new dawn, Tov was there to provide a home to launch our dreams. Tov was selfless. He carried out research for YaFM for free. I am sure he did the same for many others.
Through Tov we see resilience, homeliness and fortitude few can ever achieve.
This is my Hero. Tov is my Hero. His birth was heroic and his deeds heroic. His passing on was untimely but I choose to carry his heroism. Go well Tov. You ran your race.