In my current state of shock I cannot write much by way of an intellectual tribute to Sam Moyo and his rich life. Such an undertaking will have to wait.
I met Sam in the late 1970s in Dakar at the IDEP library – IDEP was at the time run by Samir Amin and was a real pan-African intellectual magnate. Sam had an uncle who lived in Dakar so he spent his holidays from Fourah Bay College (Sierra Leone) with him. A few years later we were to meet again in Harare where I had been seconded by CODESRIA to advise on setting up the Zimbabwe Institute of Development Studies (ZIDS). Sam belonged to the band of young, enthusiastic graduates who had chosen the uncertainty of a job with the new institute over a much more secure job in government.
Sam immediately demonstrated his zest for research and his prodigious working capacity. His involvement with the institute went beyond doing his own research. He took the task of building the institution very seriously and enthusiastically accepted any tasks demanded of him. And over many years that combination of serious researcher and dedicated institutional builder was to manifest itself on many occasions and in many institutions he was associated with, earning him great esteem.
One memorable characteristic of Sam was his intellectual tenacity to delve into a subject with all the energy he could muster. The “Land Question” in Zimbabwe took huge amounts of his time and energy. There were four aspects to his preoccupation. The first aspect was a passion for social justice. The second aspect was simply intellectual drive to understand one the most important social processes in the Third World – the land reform in Zimbabwe– whose significance was being downplayed by scholars from an amazing range of ideological persuasions for whom the massive transfer of property was reduced to something about “Mugabe and his cronies”. The third aspect was his insistence on having African voices heard on critical matters relating to Africa and his belief that this demanded rigorous work and institutional backing. And finally there was keenness to link African research to research elsewhere in the “Global South“.
His position on the land question was principled and no threat of withdrawal of funding of his institute bent his intellectual integrity. He was bitter and disappointed by the de-campaigning of the institute by fellow scholars with close links to funders.
I once sent him a link to an article in the New York Times citing his work on land in Zimbabwe. This was no minor thing given what had been a systematic effort to blackout the work of his institute and the financial strangulation it was being subjected to. But he took it all in stride. However I do know for sure that he took pride from the knowledge that he and his team had beaten the media blackout. He also knew he had won the intellectual battle.
Towards the end of his life he had shifted his interests towards two new concerns. One was the productivity of the newly acquired farms and the other was the emerging social differentiation in the new agrarian dispensations. These are two questions that arise after any major land reform such as the one that Zimbabwe carried out. He had problems raising funds for this research programme. It is sad that death has denied him the time to pursue research in these areas.
His departure has deprived us not only of a major scholar but also of one of the outstanding pillars of the African social sciences institutional architecture.
Sam loved the research community and was generous with his time as many scholars visiting Harare will testify.
Sam and I became close family friends. Members of my family and I will miss his humility, care, warmth and kindness.