The Sunday News
Sifelani Tsiko, Innovations Editor
Several eminent scientists, scholars, political leaders and business heads mourned the demise of one of Zimbabwe’s brilliant minds, foremost industrial chemist and inventor, former Scientific and Industrial Research and Development Centre (SIRDC) chief executive and presidential adviser, Professor Robson Mafoti who died on 8 November.
The prominent people who thronged the Borrowdale Methodist Church in Harare on Friday hailed Prof Mafoti for his incredible contribution to science and national development.
Prof Mafoti who died aged 74 and was accorded a State–assisted funeral was laid to rest yesterday at his farm in Beatrice, a few kilometres south of Harare.
The eminent industrial chemist and holder of 100 patents — local and international, died in India where he was receiving cancer treatment. President Mnangagwa paid homage to the industrial chemist of global prominence saying his passing had left an intellectual vacuum in the country.
“I am very saddened by his passing on. He was an asset in the system of governance of the country and has left a void that will be difficult to fill,” he said.
Tributes were also paid to Prof Mafoti who served in various capacities as SIRDC CEO, advisor on the Presidential Advisory Council (PAC) and board member of several entities – local, regional and international.
“Prof Mafoti’s contribution to the fields of science, innovation, industrial and human capital development have left an indelible mark on the local and global community,” said Prof Wilson Parawira, deputy chief executive officer of the Zimbabwe Council of Higher Education (Zimche).
“His numerous patents and accolades stand as a testament to his brilliance and unwavering commitment to pushing the boundaries of scientific, industrial knowledge and innovation. He was indeed an organic and meta intellectual.”
National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) commissioner and former SIRDC administrator Dr Geoffrey Chada hailed Prof Mafoti for his outstanding leadership qualities and for transforming SIRDC through the difficult and rough economic patch that the country went through.
“Prof Mafoti’s outstanding leadership skills are behind SIRDC’s success today. As a leader, he inspired scientists with clear vision and knowledge of how research can be done better. One of the reasons behind SIRDIC’s success under the difficult economic problems we experienced was Prof Mafoti’s ability to stay focused.
“He had the capacity to lead and rally people to a common purpose. This inspired confidence and was the bedrock of Prof Mafoti’s leadership at SIRDC.”
Prof Mafoti’s wife Ann Jeanette Ntsoaki described the loss of her husband as a huge one for a man who was a pillar to the family and whose outstanding contributions as a researcher, teacher, mentor and colleague set a standard that inspired many people not only in Zimbabwe, but across the world.
“Gone too soon! Your passing stunned me, your children, grandchildren, your siblings, friends and the world at large. You were the pillar of our family, the leader among your peers and business community.
An accomplished scientist. People talk about the amazing achievements you’ve accomplished!
“When we lived in America, I used to hear your colleagues talk about how amazing you were, the solutions you brought to their work places. You came back home to Zimbabwe and continued to be amazing.
“You changed people’s lives in a way that they’ll forever be grateful. You worked hard to introduce programmes that would develop the nation. Improve people’s lives. Everything you did selflessly because you loved your people,” she said.
His son, Kento, praised his father for instilling in him, a culture of hard work.
“Today I am remembering my dad and the time we spent together. He was one of a kind and someone who ensured you did not take life easy.
He instilled hard work as the only way to pursue achievement. He was a communal individual who gave other people a chance in life. May His Soul Rest in Peace,” he said.
Family members, relatives, business executives, diplomats, academics, politicians, admirers and other notable people attended the ceremony. In an emotional tribute, Korean Ambassador to Zimbabwe Jae Kyung Park hailed Prof Mafoti for playing an instrumental role in the establishment of the South Korean Rural Development Administration (RDA) run Korea Africa Food and Agriculture Cooperation Initiative (KAFACI) and Korea Partnership for Innovation of Agriculture (KOPIA) project which was implemented in partnership with SIRDC in Zimbabwe.
“I cannot find the proper words to console the family and friends who have lost a loved one. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. He was such a great man and a loving father. He overcame so many challenges when he was growing up. He was strong willed in his pursuit of education. I am here today in remembrance of this great man who was instrumental in the opening of the KOPIA project in Zimbabwe. We will miss him,” he said.
Mr Misheck Kachere, a business leader and chairman of SIRDC said, “When we hired Robson in 2003 he sponsored his trip from the US. He left a big paying job in pursuit of a less paying one here because he loved his country.
He was more determined and said ‘I want to come back home and serve my country’. Under him SIRDC scored many successes. He achieved a lot and won numerous awards. He was so determined in his work. He is a hero to us.”
Mr Tshepo Matlamela, a personal friend from South Africa, described the death of Prof Mafoti as a huge loss to humanity.
“He was a great leader, a scientist of note and a leader of note. Everything he did, he did it with the whole of his heart.
“Prof Mafoti loved his country and he wanted to do something for his country. I will miss this man. I will miss my friend. I want to thank him for what he did for us and the world,” he said.
Another personal friend, Mr Sijabuliso Biamy said: “I have known Robson for a period of 60 years. I first met him when he came to Mzilikazi in Bulawayo as a young man from Wedza.
“We have to emulate what Robson did. He invested in people. The massive turn out here shows that Robson really invested in people and not money like others.”
Prof Mafoti’s global work experience covered research and development, patenting, intellectual property licensing, manufacturing and commercialisation of research outcomes.
He was a member of various boards that included Industrial Development Corporation, Zimbabwe Council of Higher Education, Chinhoyi University of Technology where he was chairperson of Council, among others.
In June 2019, President Mnangagwa appointed him to the 26-member Presidential Advisory Council (PAC).
Prof Mafoti was a recipient of the Robert Mugabe Commendation Award for service in Human Capital Development which was bestowed on him for outstanding leadership for transformative service in human capital development.
He was a holder of 48 patents issued by the United States patent office and several others issued by the European Union, Japanese, Mexican and Brazilian patent office. He won international recognition for his administrative prowess.
Prof Mafoti held several roles with various local, regional and international bodies. He was born in Hwedza on 11 June 1949. Prof Mafoti is survived by his wife Ann Jeanette Ntsoaki. The couple had two children — Fadzayi and Muchaneta. Other children, namely Simphiwe, Kento, and Farai survive him.