Lecturer hails Scots missionary in Zimbabwe appeal

Bhebhe lost a brother and a sister in the massacre of 20,000 civilians in the region of the mission. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Bhebhe lost a brother and a sister in the massacre of 20,000 civilians in the region of the mission. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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A SCOTS lecturer has launched a fund-raising campaign to establish a university in Zimbabwe on the site of a mission with ties to explorer Dr David Livingstone.

Arnold Bhebhe, 55, a media studies lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University, wants to build a university at Inyathi Mission, which was founded in 1859 by Scottish missionary Dr Robert Moffat, Livingston’s ­father-in-law.

The Inyathi Mission, 45 miles north of the city of Bulawayo, in Matabeleland, was the first of its kind in Zimbabwe to offer education to the native people. Post-independence dissident activity in the area in the 1980s resulted in the Zimbabwean government disinvesting from the region and unleashing an army unit which massacred more than 20,000 civilians, including Bhebhe’s brother and sister.

Bhebhe said: “I am appealing to the people of Scotland to help finish the good work begun by Dr Moffat in 1859. Constructing a university and educating graduates in these key skills will allow the region to rebuild and flourish. The Inyathi Mission is Scotland’s baby, in a way.

“Inyathi became the first evangelical mission station in Zimbabwe to offer education. However, it has barely transformed as an educational institution compared with others that were founded later in other parts of Zimbabwe.”

Born in Ormiston, East Lothian, Moffat became known as the pioneer of mission work in south-central Africa for more than 50 years. Trained as a missionary, he was sent to South Africa in 1816. In 1825, he and his wife settled at Kuruman, among the Bechuana tribes living to the west of the Vaal River. He returned to Britain in 1870 and died at Leigh, near Tunbridge Wells, in 1883.

Bhebhe’s plan to honour his legacy is gathering pace. In­yathi Mission authorities have provided 200 hectares of land to develop the project, and a university charter and project plan have also been drawn up.

Through crowdfunding site Indiegogo, Bhebhe hopes to raise US$110,000 (£70,000) to allow the project to begin: $30,000 will be used to register the project, $60,000 to fence off the allocated plot and the rest will go towards employing surveyors to study the topography of the plot.

Bhebhe’s vision is to build a university offering degrees in teaching and nursing, becoming the first in the country to do so. Currently Zimbabwe only offers diplomas in both fields. Other courses will include computing, agriculture and tourism.

Arnold Bhebhe was himself educated at the Inyathi Mission. He passed teacher training at the United College of Education in the early 1980s during a time of great turmoil in the newly independent country as supporters of Joshua Nkomo, head of the Zapu party, battled with President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu.

Inspired by the return to Zimbabwe in 1991 of Rev Ndabaningi Sithole, the founder of Zanu, Bhebhe became involved in politics.

He joined Zanu, but when he refused to spy on the party for the government he was beaten up by officials. “I lost my two front teeth, but so many went through so much worse,” he said.

He went into exile in 2001 and enrolled on a journalism course at Edinburgh Napier University in 2007.