Zim loses information minister

Jokonya was born on December 27 1938 in Chivhu, a communal area about 120 km south of Harare. He attended Lourdes and Kutama Mission schools for his primary education. He trained as a primary school teacher and attended what the colonial administration called the Native Primary Teacher Certificate. Jokonya then taught for six years while studying by correspondence for his Ordinary and Advanced Levels.

He enrolled at the University of Rhodesia for his degree studies before abandoning them in 1966 to escape persecution form the Ian Smith regime. Then Jokonya was secretary for political affairs of the National Union of Zimbabwe students.

Jokonya began his illustrious political and diplomatic career as a university student activist soon after the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) by Ian Smith in 1965, joining others in student protests at this outrage. He would not countenance pursuing his university studies under the colonial system of white Rhodesia and sneaked out of the country in 1966 via Botswana where he joined other cadres in Francistown refugee camps.

Dr Jokonya assumed leadership of the ZANU student movement in exile. Towards the end of 1967, he was in Lusaka, Zambia, as part of the leadership of the youth wing of ZANU.

A year later, Dr Jokonya was to leave Zambia for Kenya to resume university studies at the University of Nairobi in1968. There he pursued his academic studies while at the same time advancing the interests of the struggle for independence, the latter role gaining the positive notice of the Kenyan Government under its founding veteran President Jomo Kenyatta. Dr Jokonya and his colleagues from the then Rhodesia and other colonies of Southern Africa were given funds, which enabled them to tour Africa, promoting the cause of the struggle for the independence of Southern Africa.

This episode was the beginning of Dr Jokonya’s contacts with future African leaders. After his graduation, he was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship to further his education at Sussex University in the United Kingdom, an opportunity he took up later in 1968.

Under the chairmanship of Didymus Mutasa, now Zanu-PF secretary for administration, Dr Jokonya was active in the party’s London Branch of which he was its secretary from 1973 to 1977. It was a strategic branch for the party and alongside Mutasa, Dr Jokonya worked with many cadres, and helped in co-ordinating the movement and activities of the leaders either visiting the United Kingdom or in transit. All this time, he balanced his Party activities with his teaching duties in Birmingham.

In 1979 with the prospects of a ceasefire agreement in sight at Lancaster, Dr Jokonya was, alongside many other professional cadres and students in exile who were associated with the struggle, instructed by the Party to return home to the then Zimbabwe-Rhodesia to secure a job at the local University in order to lay the groundwork for political mobilisation in anticipation of post-Lancaster talks elections.

He helped set up an underground cell at the University. Zanu was still banned; meaning mobilisation work inside the country could not be done secretly under the guise of teaching work. Once the ban was lifted following the signing of the ceasefire agreement, Dr Jokonya with his colleagues at the University re-surfaced to formally create and launch a party branch they called Salisbury North, with him as its secretary. They criss-crossed Salisbury and its townships, mobilising urban Zimbabweans for the March elections.

Among their many achievements was the historic inaugural homecoming rally, which the Zimbabwe President addressed at Zimbabwe grounds in the high-density suburb of Highfield on January 27 1980. It was a mammoth rally set against a myriad of daunting challenges, which could only be overcome by commitment, fortitude, team spirit and organisational skill.

Dr Jokonya’s career as a civil servant began with his recall from University in 1981 to join the Civil Service as a deputy secretary in the then Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture. This critical ministry, then under Joice Teurairopa Nhongo, now Vice President, was tasked with the responsibility of integrating demobilised ex-combatants into society, as well as equipping them with skills for a new livelihood.

Dr Jokonya was part of this founding generation in Zimbabwe’s diplomatic history. In 1982, he was appointed Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to Ethiopia and permanent representative to the OAU, now the African Union. Dr Jokonya’s versatile skills and demeanor were soon on show and between his appointment in 1982 and 1987, his last serving year at that crucial station, he had carried many responsibilities for the OAU, including chairing its Advisory Committee which oversaw operations of the continental body, all the time giving Zimbabwe a good vantage point for multilateral influence on the continent, as its permanent representative to the OAU.

Dr Jokonya was also Zimbabwe’s chief negotiator during negotiations for the various Preferential Trade Area protocols. He was thus able to shape the founding processes of what is now Comesa.

From 1988 to 1990, Dr Jokonya was appointed senior permanent secretary for the Ministry of Political Affairs under the late Senior Minister Morris Nyagumbo. It was a crucial period in the political development of Zimbabwe, all along driven by disunity and conflict. The new Ministry had been set up specifically to consolidate the Unity Accord signed on December 22 1987. The challenging task of the two uniting parties of Zanu and Zapu fell upon this new ministry which Dr Jokonya headed.

He thus was an important player in the outcome, which today makes Zimbabwe’s ruling party formidable and nationally representative.

Between 1992 and 1998, Dr Jokonya was reassigned back to the diplomatic arena. He was appointed Zimbabwe’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva and Vienna. He was instrumental in making a foundational case for Zimbabwe’s land reform programme, which gathered pace and even escalated during his tenure at the UN. Equally as Zimbabwe’s Permanent Representative to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr Jokonya worked closely with his African and Third World colleagues to lay the basis for World Trade Organisation talks.

His diplomatic skills saw Zimbabwe being appointed chair and co-ordinator of the Africa Group of Trade negotiators and thus making Zimbabwe instrumental in shaping the agenda for the Seattle meeting of the WTO of 1999.

A principled stance by the Africa Group which he chaired, alongside sister Third World groupings, resulted in the deadlock at this meeting as he and his colleagues insisted on securing African and Third World interests. To this day, these matters which bogged the talks down remain unresolved. Also during his tour of duty as Zimbabwe’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Dr Jokonya was involved in preparing briefs and debriefings on the entangled Mozambique peace negotiations. He was also involved on behalf of the UN, he never forgot he was a Zimbabwean diplomat with the heavy burden of securing both the national interest and of course regional solidarity in Sadc.

As President Mugabe’s personal representative to the G-15, itself a grouping of progressive Third World leaders representing constitutive regions, the challenge of implementing decisions of G-15 lay with him and his colleagues from other countries serving in Geneva. Later in 1998, Dr Jokonya had to come home to chair the 10th conference of the parties to the CITES.

It was a meeting whose backdrop was the mounting of hostility of the West against Zimbabwe, hostility related to Zimbabwe’s determination to repossess its heritage, land. Some vindictive nations of the West were thus keen to even it out with Zimbabwe and sought to introduce issues that were extraneous to the debate on wildlife management to ensure Zimbabwe and its southern African sister countries desisted from the lawful sale of their ivory stocks, so as to weaken their economies.

There was so much at stake and Dr Jokonya had the challenge of defending the right of the Southern African countries, including Zimbabwe, to dispose of their stockpiles of ivory. He was able to extract significant concessions which gave the country economic leeway. In New York at the United Nations headquarters, Dr Jokonya was seized with the responsibility of explaining and defending Zimbabwe’s involvement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Against claims and falsehood from interested western Governments, he was able to press home the acknowledged fact that Zimbabwe, alongside Angola and Namibia, had responded to a distress call from a fellow Sadc country facing aggression, and had deployed under the banner of Sadc. Dr Jokonya indefatigably defended this deployment right up to the conclusion of Operation Sovereign Legitimacy.

Given that the DRC operations overlapped with Zimbabwe’s land reform agenda, it meant Dr Jokonya and his staff had to double efforts in warding off unrelenting threats from hostile western nations, led by Britain, bent on maligning Zimbabwe and placing it on the UN agenda. It meant asserting Zimbabwe’s inalienable rights; it meant canvassing diplomatic support for its cause, in the process defeating the West’s ignoble wish isolate it. It also meant engaging the United Nations, specifically the UNDP which was the world body’s arm dealing with Zimbabwe on the land question.

Within the United States itself, Dr Jokonya built advocacy groups of African-African American pan Africanists, most notably the December 12th Movement, and the Patrice Lumumba Movement. Through a combination of meetings and lectures, Dr Jokonya was able to mobilise black opinion in the US behind Zimbabwe’s Land Reform Programme. To this day, the groups he worked with continue to support Zimbabwe’s cause.

After his tour of duty in 2002, Dr Jokonya came back home and worked briefly in the Office of the President and Cabinet before being appointed to head the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority in 2003 as its Chief executive officer.

One of his biggest achievements at the authority was to realign the tourism industry’s focus to fit in with the country’s Look East Policy. His long held desire to go back to active politics saw him retiring from the authority two years later. He contested the Chikomba parliamentary seat on the Zanu-PF ticket in 2005 and won convincingly.

Dr Jokonya was later appointed minister of information and publicity, a position he held at the time of his death.

He summed up his approach to his new calling saying, ”’the quintessential thing as far as the kind of new approach to information by both us is the fact that we work for our country. We do not have to agree about what we say about our country but there must be some total commitment to who we are, where we come from and where we are going . . . let us find a happy way of differing. ”

Earlier on, he had met editors from the private and public media houses just a week after his appointment as minister, and impressed on them to feel free to visit his office anytime with their grievances and to make submissions on areas they wanted his ministry to address. He was to meet other stakeholders, among them the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists and the Media Institute of Southern Africa, with the same intention of bridging the media divide that had produced a highly polarised society over the past five years.

Dr Jokonya did not mince his words to those who thought they should enjoy freedom without responsibility telling them that Press freedom was not free as it ended where national interest began.

These meetings were the first of their kind between a minister and the media fraternity in five years, and they earned him the respect he enjoyed during his brief stint in the ministry.

Dr Jokonya always reminded journalists whenever he had occasion to interact with them that they were Zimbabweans first and journalists second, as he called on them to be patriotic like their counterparts he had encountered during his numerous sojourns as a diplomat.

July 2006
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