Zimbabweans are today expected to converge at the National Heroes Acre for the burial of the late national hero, Bulawayo High Court judge Justice Andrew Mutema. Justice Mutema whose nom de guerre was “Killer Mabhunu” but later changed to “Kingsley Dube Watema” died at Mater Dei Hospital in Bulawayo on Friday last week and will be buried today. The Zimbabwe Defence Forces yesterday held a memorial service for Justice Mutema at One Commando Barracks in Harare.
Judge president Justice George Chiweshe and Major General Engelbert Rugeje gave a heart rending account of the hardships endured by the late judge and other war heroes during the liberation struggle. “Justice Mutema has an illustrious history of the liberation struggle and his national hero status is well deserved,” said Justice Chiweshe after chronicling the trials and tribulations suffered by gallants sons and daughters of Zimbabwe who shed their blood to free the country from colonial bondage.
“I’m grateful of the journey he travelled. Justice Mutema is irreplaceable. He was a fine legal mind, an upright person, hardworking and exemplary in all respects.” Justice Chiweshe said the death of Justice Mutema was a huge loss not only to the family but to the country and judiciary. He said the judiciary would not abandon his family.
“To all the children, count on our support in all your endeavours,” he said. “Whenever you feel you need our assistance, don’t hesitate to approach me or our staff at the judiciary. We will be there for you.” Major Gen Rugeje who went to school with Justice Mutema at Silveira Mission in Bikita gave a testimony of the national hero’s life at school and the arduous journey they traversed through the Save Conservancy to Mozambique.
“He was born a natural leader. On the day we left for Mozambique we agreed that Andrew be our leader,” said Major Gen Rugeje who spoke of the other side of Justice Mutema. He said Justice Mutema was academically gifted and an accomplished sportsman during the five years they stayed at Silveira Mission. “He picked prizes on many subjects since Form One until his last and final year at Silveira Mission,” he said. “To recognise his academic prowess, Andrew and Freddy Zingwe were awarded bursaries. He was an intelligent and brave young man.”
Major Gen Rugeje said after writing their final Ordinary Level Religious Education paper in the morning of November 25, 1977, they set out for the journey to Mozambique. He said they were seven. On the way they were joined by another schoolmate Morgan Mlambo. Mlambo, he said, could not make it. He died along the way of hunger and heat exhaustion in the Save Conservancy. “We spent three days walking without food or drinking water under high temperatures. Morgan collapsed and died. We pulled him under a bush and we proceeded with our journey. Andrew led the way throughout the painful journey.”
He said after crossing into Mozambique they were arrested by the Frelimo soldiers who took them to Muchenedzi where they were put in a dungeon. They spent seven days naked. “They could have killed us as they suspected we could be spies of the Rhodesian forces. We were saved by Air Marshal Henry Muchena (Retired) who was able to identify us. He said Air Marshal Muchena had the previous year persuaded them to complete their O’levels before joining the liberation struggle.
Major Gen Rugeje said they were later taken to Chibawawa where they got their first military training under severe conditions. “Some were running away going back home but the seven of us were determined and never thought of abandoning the struggle,” he said. “I’m saying this for you to know that Andrew has an illustrious history of the liberation struggle and how we sacrificed ourselves to liberate this country.”
On Thursday, Justice Mutema’s body was flown to his farm in Chivhu to give relatives and friends a chance to pay their last respect to the veteran war hero. Justice Mutema will also go down the history of judiciary as the first judge to be accorded national hero status. Justice Mutema was born on February 27, 1959, and joined the liberation war in November 1977.
He attained military training in Mozambique in 1978 and after a three-month deployment, was recalled from the front. Justice Mutema was deployed to Romania where he was taught physics and anti-aircraft radar. He was demobilised in 1982 after returning from Romania where he then pursued a career in the judiciary. He joined the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs in 1986 as an assistant magistrate.
He was appointed a magistrate in 1987 and a regional magistrate in September 1997. In November 2004, Justice Mutema was appointed to the post of senior president of the Administrative Court. He was later moved to the Labour Court in December 2007 where he was appointed to the post of senior president of the Labour Court. In May 2010 he was appointed judge of the High Court in Harare.
He was then moved to Bulawayo and in February 2013, he was appointed to the position of senior judge in charge of the High Court, Bulawayo. In March this year, Justice Mutema was appointed to represent Zimbabwe as a principal judge in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa. He is survived by a wife and four children.