1971-75 Officer in Charge of Education, Mashonaland South Province, ANC.
Welfare Secretary, ANC. 1975 (Sept.) Treasurer, ANC (Nkomo).
Amon Fungai Jirira was born in Gatooma on 4 October 1921. His mother was Esther Chizuva Munzara, a devoted churchwoman keenly interested in the education of children. His father, a Ward ‘Sergeant Major’, Lazarus Munemo Jirira, could read and write five languages.
After one year’s schooling in Gatooma, Jirira went to Waddilove Training Institution from 1932 to 1940, completing his primary education and passing a teacher’s course. He then studied privately to obtain his senior school certificate. He went on to Fort Cox College of Agriculture in South Africa to study agriculture (1946-1948) and was awarded a first class diploma. In 1963 he returned to.his studies when he went to America and gained a diploma in Administration from the University of Wisconsin. While at Waddilove he was particularly influenced by his headmaster, the Rev. Morely-Wright, and teachers G. E. Hay-Pluke, N. Thema and W. M. Tregidjo. He went into teaching with a strong sense of vocation, becoming headmaster of Matenda School and then being transferred to Nyadire School. His success with his private studies and his agricultural training led to his appointment as a training officer at Domboshawa Training Centre near Salisbury (Harare) where he specialised in agriculture. By this time he was married with four children.
It was the death of his wife, Alice, which marked his change of direction and his entry into political life in 1957. He had already shown an awareness of political problems as a pupil at Waddilove when he had written about the question of land distribution and had been ordered by his teacher to delete his opinions. He had replied: “Mark your English, please, and leave my
As a teacher and civil servant he had been unable to work publicly in politics, but he became highly involved behind the scenes in the re-formation of the ANCongress. He went to Zambia in 1960 and had political discussions with Kenneth Kaunda. Visiting Malawi in 1961, he met a number of Ministers, including Orton Chirwa and Dunduza Chisiza, and was again involved in political discussion and re-orientation. Returning home, he became increasingly and openly active in welfare work for ZAPU. This took up all of his spare time.
He left teaching to work at the American Consulate on an assistance programme, arranging scholarships for young people. Looking after the interests of 200 or 300 students did not allow much time for politics, but Jirira remained a member of ZAPU and continued his support for Joshua Nkomo after the split in the nationalist movement in 1963. (Nkomo is a cousin of his late wife).
After the arrests of 1964 Jirira was permitted to work from the Consulate’s offices for the welfare of the families of those who had been detained or restricted. He himself was restricted on 15 December 1965 and spent the next two years at Gonakudzingwa and Wha Wha.
While in restriction he read widely, acted as secretary to the committee for the internal affairs of the camp and taught the other inmates all he knew about agriculture. He worked closely with Joseph Msika, and later with Josiah Chinamano, at the camp. He found it difficult to get employment when he returned to Salisbury (Harare) but after 15 months he was given a job by an adult literacy organisation run by the Rev. J. Thorpe and his old teacher at Waddilove, W. M. Tregidjo. He believes that he lost this job because of his political activities, and in 1969 he started his own
business in Highfield. When this succeeded he bought a farm in the Marirangwe Purchase Area.
When the constitutional issue brought Sir Alec Douglas-Home to Rhodesia in November 1971 Amon Jirira led a group of African traders to interview him and to inform him that they disapproved of the lack of consultation with the African people. He led the group again when giving evidence to the Pearce Commission and later sent a message to Queen Elizabeth II rejecting the proposals.
Amon Jirira and Josiah Chinamano had been classmates and close friends at school. When, therefore, his friend and others in the former ZAPU agreed to the need for a united approach to fight the 1971 proposals, Jirira decided that, regardless of previous political affiliations, the unity movement must be welcomed. Many of the early organisational meetings were held in his house in Highfield.
Once again, he served in the welfare section, taking charge of the eight provinces of the ANC organisation. He was elected as Officer in Charge of Education for the Mashonaland South Province and served in this capacity from 1971 to 1975.
Following the breakdown of the Victoria Falls talks in August 1975, Jirira accompanied Joshua Nkomo to Malawi to see Dr Banda and his Minister of State (A. A. Mwalo Ngumayo) to explain the intention of the ANC (Nkomo) to take up the Falls negotiations where they had been broken off. Jirira was witness to Dr Banda’s approval of the continuation of the talks and to his attitude to the ANC as “an umbrella or marriage of convenience for African unity”.
In November Jirira accompanied Joshua Nkomo and John Nkomo to Botswana to see the President, Sir Seretse Khama. He, too, saw the merit of continuing with negotiations in order to avoid a fratricidal war among rival parties. The party, this time including Ariston Chambati, then travelled to Dar-es—Salaam. Jirira observed that at first President Nyerere was of the opinion that only armed struggle would bring about change in Rhodesia. Nkomo persuaded him that all efforts at negotiations had not been exhausted and that the initiative for talks, begun by the detente partners, should be allowed to continue “a little longer”.
President Kuanda was the next to be visited. His opinion, says Jirira, was that there was nothing wrong with continued talks (as demonstrated on 10 December with the arrival in Salisbury (Harare) of a Zambian secretariat headed by Peter Kassanda).
The party continued to Mocambique where, in talks lasting five hours, they met President Samora Machel, Vice-President Dos Santos, Minister of External Affairs J. Chissano and Minister of Defence Mpanze. Also present were Minister of State Oscar Monterio, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Mbanze, and the Director of Immigration who acted as interpreter.
Jirira regards the whole of this mission as being a “tremendous and unforgettable experience”. He declares that he remains devoted to his leader and has stood by him firmly during the difficulties of the months following the split. Nkomo stays in Amon Jirira’s home whenever he journeys to Salisbury (Harare).
The Jirira children have continued in the family tradition of obtaining as full an education as possible. Nancy is a qualified nurse, Eugene (Vambe) is studying in the United States for a B.Sc. in physics and maths, with the object of becoming an engineer. Muriel is studying for a B.Sc. in social science in the USA. Viola is at present working in “secretarial computer science” in Britain. Tichaona, the youngest, is still at school.
Amon Jirira has travelled through 30 states in America, visited Paris, London, Italy, Greece, Canada and, of course, several African states. He is interested in football and has given voluntary service to the Jairos Jiri Organisation in helping the handicapped to grow
It is his belief that Rhodesia is a unique country and that it will require a unique solution for its problems. He looks forward to the development of the land so that it can support more than twenty million people, irrespective of colour, in a prosperous future1
1 Interview with DMM (November 1975).