Freedom Mutanda,Post Correspondent
That unassuming giant of the English language and Literature who spread the message of the international language both on radio and print, is no more and the world is indeed poorer without the ever sprightly “young” Morris.
I am not qualified to write about Morris in the same manner that John the Baptist, could not untie Jesus’ shoelaces for he was as gargantuan as they come in terms of dexterity in English and for us the Mafikizolos. Morris was a torch-bearer who led us out of darkness and constantly whipped us into line, courtesy of his ever popular “Common Errors in English” column in the family paper, The Manica Post.
However, the friendship which bound us since we met in 2007 at his brother’s house in Chipangayi allowed me to have a glimpse into what some people call the reclusive Morris who once told a student, Simbarashe Mhute, “you saw mist, mhute chaiyo,” after he had submitted a horrible composition which the no-nonsense Mtisi deemed hazy like the mist which ironically is the direct translation of Simbarashe’s surname.
Mtisi had a very good eye for expressions and when I reviewed his novel “Studying for the Grave’’ I got the shock of my life when he complimented my language.
Coming from one who never tires of criticising any work and his oft-quoted statement that a degree in English does not translate into being a competent teacher of the second language, I saw it as being put on a pedestal.
Mtisi had an analytic streak in him. He told me that when his mother passed on and his father — a teacher — decided to ship him to another school, it was because he was his mother’s pet and he couldn’t bear to see his father with another woman.
“My father sent me to learn at a school some distance away; only later in life did I realise that the reason was for me not to be a destabilising influence on my siblings for I didn’t mince my words every time I opened my mouth and would call a spade a spade,’’ he told me.
Mtisi was a man of many talents and as his sunset arrived, he had a passion for religion and was a devoted Seventh Day Adventist although from my earlier interaction with him, he had shown that he wasn’t moved by religious rhetoric.
In the 1990’s Mtisi had a thriving theatre group — “Idea One” — which made its mark in the nation’s theatre annals. The group went the length and breadth of Zimbabwe and the themes of the plays were contemporary; thus, he filled theatre houses all over Zimbabwe.
Around that time (early 1990’s) he ran an upmarket clothing line and the adverts were emblazoned in most ZUPCO buses which plied the Harare-Mutare route. So much was his fame and the wealth that comes with it that he left teaching to concentrate on his business empire along with his first love — theatre.
Having learned at Manzvire School and Chikore Mission for his O-Levels, Mtisi attended the then Gwelo Teachers’ College where he studied English. He taught at various secondary schools, chief among them being Chibuwe and St Augustine’s where he met his great friend, Mr Moses Mkoyi of the St Faith’s fame. The two became blood brothers and hardly would you talk to Morris and he fails to talk about the irrepressible Mkoyi.
He passes on before his project on profiling a liberation struggle hero, Pfepferere, at St Augustine’s sees the light of day at the movies. Mtisi loved history although he had misgivings about the subject being used by powers-that- be to further their political ideologies.
The Manica Post Editor, Hatred Zenenga, described Mtisi as “no ordinary English teacher” but the inimitable English master who voluntarily offered English Language and English Literature lessons as The Manica Post education columnist.
“It is not every teacher whose death sends an entire province into mourning. But then, MM as we affectionately called Morris Mtisi, was in a super league of his own inasfar as English Language and Literature are concerned.
At the time of his demise, MM’s dedication and passion for education had transformed the lives of thousands of learners throughout Manicaland Province and beyond. No doubt, The Manica Post will miss him.”
However, Zenenga said it would be unfair not to comment about MM’s other side.
“MM detested criticism, and would hit back in a very crude manner. He was arrogant, yes quite arrogant, and would never hide it.
“I had a torrid time editing out some direct and hard hitting comments targeted at specific schools and their headmasters in his Manica Post columns. I used to call him for some discussion and would emphasise to him the need for moderation in the criticism of schools and headmasters after having received some complaints from the schools, but he was quick to remark: ‘Why can’t I call a spade a spade?’ And with an unmistakable tone of resignation and arrogance in his voice, MM would walk away saying: ‘Okay Editor, you are the man in charge. Remove whatever you think is unacceptable.’ That was MM for you,’’ said Zenenga.
Sydney Togara, an avid follower of Mtisi articles in The Manica Post and his presentations on Diamond FM, said: “It is a great loss indeed. He is an irreplaceable figure whose shoes are too big to fit in. He is a great loss to the literary, education, Christian, girl child rights, education advocacy and media sectors.’’
He was a polymath and many an A-Level English student who passed through his hands would tell you that he had a penchant for detail and any miniscule aspect of a poem or piece of writing was important in arriving at the meaning of a piece of art.
His being a bohemian endeared him to many parents and students who revelled in his tuition.
I told him that he should be called a consultant and not a teacher and soon thereafter, to my eternal delight, I saw his change of title. His physical stature belied his intelligence and actual age.
A former colleague at Jersey High School, Mr Tobias Zimidzi, said: “Morris Mtisi spent six years at Jersey and his unparalleled fluency when speaking the Queen’s language made him a darling of the students and many copied him. He was a purist in language teaching who constantly drew students’ attention to common errors emanating from mother tongue interference. His greatest strength was in composition writing where he perfected the art of writing narrative essays.’’
A hard worker of note, Mtisi burnt the midnight oil as he worked on a series of English textbooks for the updated curriculum. When I last met him on September 16, 2019 he promised to show me when he had access to them and now …
A prominent History writer, Anyway Sadziwa, said he will always remember the MM interviews on Diamond FM and he thoroughly enjoyed reading the articles that Morris wrote.
“I am indebted to Morris’ motivational articles for me to write the History and Heritage Studies books I wrote. May His Soul Rest in Eternal Peace.’’ Sadziwa said.
Hambakahle the pride of the Ndau!