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Remembering JB: The silent hero of justice - Zimbabwe Today
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Remembering JB: The silent hero of justice

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Lloyd Mhishi Correspondent
Joel Bigboy Zowa, the man my relatives and I were referred to, had a seriousness around him.

He was a no-nonsense, tall and slim fellow; stern-looking and bespectacled even.

The business was what I now know to be the little, mundane, but legally significant rite of having a document executed under oath following the sad passing on of my uncle a year earlier in 1989.

I had just been admitted to study Law at the University of Zimbabwe, then the only university in Zimbabwe. Just why my folks decided I was the one to speak the same language then, with the bespectacled man, I know not.

With the dexterity and professionalism that justified to me and my folks the correctness of my chosen vocation, the matter that today seems simple, but was momentous then, was executed and completed.

Little did I know that the bespectacled man was to be known closely to me for the next 30 years. As we walked out of the law firm, Coghlan Welsh and Guest, in the middle of the city, I got a glimpse of the profession that was beckoning.

Then and over the next 30 years, that bespectacled man was to play a crucial role in the legal careers of not only myself, but many others as well. I was to learn later, that the name of the man was Joel Bigboy Zowa, whom I shall call JB in this short piece written in remembrance of him.

He taught us Accounting for Legal Practitioners, a subject that was a nightmare for my colleagues who had dropped anything requiring mathematical calculation at the sunset of primary school.

I happened to be one of the few who had done science subjects up to A-Level, including Mathematics. I had to hide the pleasure and thrill that I had in attending JB’s lectures in Accounts (to not offend my lesser gifted colleagues).

He was clinical, with a tinge of ruthlessness belying the seemingly hieroglyphical subject he taught.

I remember one day, unbeknown to me (honestly), two of my friends hatched a plan to exorcise the demon that is Accounts. The plan was for each of them to sit beside me in the Accounts test and then and there, to “copy and paste” whatever I would have written.

Unbeknown to them, and as we used to then say, JB did not have those spectacles for nothing. He saw them; four ignorant eyes darting to and from my written answers.

And being a stickler for professionalism and propriety, I remember to this day, his then booming voice reverberating in that small lecture room at the Faculty of Law, “ . . . and . . . rise, pick up your things and go and write the test in the Library . . . ”

My friends failed that test!

That sternness, that professionalism, that sense of propriety, was to be revealed again to me, years later, when I was now chairman of the procedural law department, a department which JB also once chaired many years before. Again related to the same anguish and career-delaying enigma that was and is still called Accounting for Legal Practitioners.

A humble student, who otherwise would never be involved in dishonesty, happened to have come up with a not-so-noble plan to circumvent JB’s harsh and ruthless marking pen. What did she do? She happened to have a brother or cousin who was doing a Bachelor of Accountancy degree. So the plan was to ask him to write Joel Bigboy Zowa’s test for her.

He discovered it.

He always did. He would also see to it that corrective action is taken. Like he did again a few years ago. This time we were now both working together at the Council for Legal Education where I was a councillor and he was a fellow examiner. After the examinations in the Accounts subject for Law graduates, who attained qualifications outside the country, one candidate (the indolent candidate) had been given a paper written by a brighter person (the industrious candidate) by someone who had access to the script (the villain).

The simple task of the indolent candidate was to simply copy word for word what the industrious candidate had written. The dishonest part the villain had to do was then to just copy the marking, comments and all put by JB on the script of the industrious candidate and insert onto the “script” of the indolent candidate. The result was that the marks, the marking, the comments and all JB did, became the same on the indolent candidate’s paper as the one for the industrious candidate’s paper!

You guessed right — JB picked it later and I will not forget his unrelenting quest for “justice” in this matter.

Early this year, I asked him why all of a sudden he had decided to stop lecturing after an illustrious teaching career of nearly three decades. He responded: “It is the marking munin’ina. That is the draining part.”

We agreed. My worry was for our students and his (also promising and capable) successor to not benefit from this man’s vast wisdom.

As if reading my mind, he added that he was going to keep coming back to assist as much as he could. How does one avoid looking back at this and have that uncanny feeling that all this had portentous connotations?

JB had a big heart. He was friendly and very helpful. Colleagues will confirm how when you would request statutes, he would at no cost personally come to wherever you were and load all you need on your computer. The Law Development Commission, the Justice Ministry and the profession at large is the poorer.

This was a man of affable character, whose wit and sense of humour will be greatly missed, for he is no more, gone quietly and peacefully in that New York Hotel room on Friday July 12, 2019, far from “the madding crowd” — as if to mirror the nature of this humble giant!

This is the man that falls in the class of silent heroes of our country who work tirelessly behind the scenes and do not demand any credit. This was the man with a sharp legal mind that would tell you, on the turn, what was contained in many of our statute books.

This was the quiet, humble and unassuming man that we all had the fortune of encountering. That is the man no eulogy can ever suffice to extol his virtues and deeds. I am confident, many of his students over the years, his fellow lecturers, his colleagues in Government, his relatives and friends would all have more stories to tell than I could.

As we talked about the ills of our profession at the opening of the Labour Court some weeks ago, I never knew this was the farewell, JB. The jovial nature of that conversation belied the valedictory nature of that occasion.

So, smile away into the heavens Joel Bigboy Zowa. Go well, friend, brother, lecturer and colleague. You did your part and your legacy is a rich one. May your dear soul rest in eternal peace!

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