BY MUCHADEYI ASHTON MASUNDA
Iden Hugh Wetherell (IHW), who passed away peacefully in Harare on Thursday, December 23, 2021 at the age of 73 years, was the ultimate epitome of consistency on issues pertaining to good political governance and judicious management of the national economy initially in Rhodesia and then later in Zimbabwe.
My tribute to him can be contextualised in the following four distinct segments: It was in February | March 1971 when I first encountered IHW, the seemingly radical and uncompromising white student who was one of the leaders of the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) at the then University of Rhodesia (UR). I was then a naïve 19-year-old Law student who thought that everything which mattered in life revolved around my Law studies and maintaining my berth in the UR’s ‘A’ tennis team which went on to win the Mashonaland First League Tennis Championships under the able leadership of Alan Salomon who also happened to be the captain of the then Rhodesian Davis Cup team. IHW made a name for himself as an avowed and consistent critic of the government of the day that was then led by Ian Douglas Smith. He fearlessly and courageously took it upon himself to speak up for and on behalf of the downtrodden on a whole host of retrogressive policies which were then being vigorously and relentlessly pursued by the Smith administration. IHW did likewise against the Robert Gabriel Mugabe administration from April 1980 until November 2017. At UR, IHW used to lead the SRC from the front with the likes of Julian Marshall who later joined the BBC in 1977 and became quite an accomplished radio broadcaster and main presenter on the BBC World Service Newshour.
My second personal encounter with IHW was in 2007|8 when he and other senior journalists were instrumental in the establishment of the inaugural Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) as a self-regulatory body for members of the hallowed Fourth Estate. I had the good fortune of being elected the first Chairman of the VMCZ and, in that role, I interacted very closely with IHW as he was then the Editor of the Zimbabwe Independent which had carved out an enviable niche for itself not only as a business weekly, but also as the credible voice for the voiceless. In this latter regard, it would be remiss of me not to mention that in 2002 IHW was named the International Editor of the Year by the US-based World Press Review.
The Zimbabwe Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa [MISA] aptly observed that the coveted award which IHW had won was “confirmation of the hard work and commitment to the highest ideals of journalism by the staff at the Zimbabwe Independent and hope that they will continue excelling despite the difficult media environment”. It was quite fitting that IHW received the prestigious award at a luncheon at the UN Headquarters in New York City for “his enterprise, courage and leadership in advancing the freedom and responsibility of the Press”.
My third personal encounter with IHW was during the period 2010 up to his retirement on grounds of ill-health when he used to invite me to conduct lectures and tutorials gratis to the Zimbabwe Independent journalists on the do’s and don’ts of the law of defamation. The feedback which I got from IHW was refreshingly heartening in that the training programme which he had initiated had resulted in an appreciable and measurable reduction in defamation lawsuits by supposedly “mortally wounded litigants” against the Zimbabwe Independent. Needless to say, I was quite pleased to have been of some service to IHW as he was the proverbial fountain of knowledge. I hasten to add that his own personal integrity and honesty were beyond reproach.
My fourth and final personal encounter, as it were, with IHW was during my 5-year stint as Mayor of Harare from 1 July 2008 to 30 June 2013. I used to receive a pleasantly torrid barrage of telephone calls virtually on a daily basis from IHW and the now late Mrs Nola Reeler, the formidable mother of the renowned human rights activist, Anthony Peter Reeler, who was also my senior at the then UR. IHW had a bee in his bonnet, and quite understandably so, about all sorts of illicit and illegal activities which were being perpetrated with mind-boggling impunity in and around his beloved Milton Park, especially within Rowland Square where he resided. Mrs Reeler’s main bone of contention was the preservation of the fauna and flora in the wetlands of the Monavale Vlei. If Greater Harare had more committed citizens like IHW and Mrs Reeler then there would be no need for any murambatsvinas as incidents of this nature would be nipped in the bud timeously well before they spiral out of control.
Go well IHW and may your soul rest in eternal peace as you are certainly one of many unsung heroes in the then Rhodesia and present day Zimbabwe.
- Muchadeyi Ashton Masunda – Former Mayor of Harare & Current Chairman of AMH Editorial Advisory Board of Trustees