Obituary for Dr. Ephraim Chikakano Mandivenga



Ephraim Chikakano Mandivenga (PhD) was born in 1937 in Gutu, Zimbabwe. He died on 5th January 2014 at South Medical Hospital in Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe. He is survived by his wife and 4 children.

Mandivenga obtained a B.A degree with distinction in 1969 from the University College of Rhodesia (UCR), then a College of the University of London. He was the first black student at the university to obtain a distinction for the degree programme, and became a subject of discussion in Parliament for his achievement in early 1970. He furthered his education and acquired an M. Phil degree in Theology and Philosophy in the early seventies. Later, he had a brief stint as a High School teacher at the Presbyterian High school in Mhondoro before being snapped by the University of Botswana where he lectured Religious Studies for a few years. He joined the Department of Theology, at the University College of Rhodesia (UCR) as a lecturer in 1977. At the attainment of Independence in Zimbabwe in 1980, he was appointed Acting Chairman of the Department until 1982.

Inspired by the late Prof. Adrian Hastings, who took over as Head of department (1982-85), Mandivenga obtained a Ph. D. degree in1987 in the field of Islamic Studies from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. He joined the Department of Religious Studies, Classics and Philosophy at the University of Zimbabwe in 1982 as a lecturer in Islam and Introduction to Religion. He was appointed Chairman of Department for the period, 1992-1994. He retired in 2002.

As a lecturer, Mandivenga left an impressive history of excellent teaching in Islamic studies at the University. His lectures were carefully planned, well organised and precise. He was always punctual for class. As a product of one of the luminary English tertiary institutions in the United Kingdom, Aberdeen, he had a penchant for the British accent in the pronunciation of words. One of the indelible marks he left on the consciousness of his students was in the pronunciation of the Islamic declaration of faith, ‘There is only One God (Allah) and ‘Muhammad rasul Allah!’ (Prophet of Allah). He exuded great charm and his students found him quite accessible. This earned him a number of nicknames, including “Samsara” for his lectures on Hinduism.

His administrative ability is testified by his appointment as the Head of Department at the University of Zimbabwe. He was the second black African to hold this post in postcolonial Zimbabwe. In 1992 he was the Chair of Department when the University successfully hosted the International Association of the History of Religions (IAHR) Regional Conference.  At one time he served as the Acting Dean of the Faculty of Arts. In the Department, he headed an international team, with members from diverse countries and backgrounds. He chaired meetings professionally and planned his work diligently.  He left a legacy of democracy, participation and inclusiveness in Departmental Board meetings. His leadership is also seen in his successful recruitment of new staff in the Department that has seen the numbers swelling to the current 25 members of staff. He groomed a competitive set of scholars in his area of specialisation. Some of his products are now Professors and a good number hold PhDs in Religious Studies. Upon his retirement, he donated many books to the Religious Studies section of the Department, thereby honourably passing on the baton to the next generation of scholars. As a cheerful mentor, he endeared himself to both academic and support staff in the Department and the University.

Mandivenga’s major contribution to academia was his publication of the book, Islam in Zimbabwe (Harare: Mambo Press, 1983). In this book, he traced the historical background to the establishment of Islam in Zimbabwe. It has since become a fundamental text to the study of Islam in the country, with implications for understanding Islam in Southern Africa. His other contributions to the study of Islam can be detected in publications such as:

Ephraim leaves a legacy of industriousness and astute scholarship that remains a heritage for the Department of Religious Studies, Classics and Philosophy at the University of Zimbabwe and the African Association for the Study of Religion community.

Inserted by

Tabona Shoko (Prof)

University of Zimbabwe


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