One of the most integral people in my life, Peter Roebuck, has died. He was 55. A universally respected commentator and journalist, Peter Roebuck was in Cape Town covering the current cricket series between Australia and South Africa at the time of his unfortunate death.
The full details remain murky at this stage but the Western Cape Police Department says he committed suicide following a brief interrogation. I have lost a mentor, a friend and a parent and certainly the cricketing world has lost the most amazing writer and commentator of all time.
I first met Peter in 1999 at the Harare Sports Ground while he was covering a cricket match between Australia and Zimbabwe – a chance meeting that would be a defining moment in my life.
I had just recently been moved to an orphanage home in Belvedere called St Joseph’s House for Boys where I had developed an interest in marimba playing and joined the home band – becoming its captain almost immediately.
On this particular day the band had been hired out to provide entertainment at the Australia-Zimbabwe cricket match, and no sooner had we finished playing than I went on a mission, as captain, to look for someone with a phone that I could borrow to call for the bus. It was at this moment that I bumped into the Australian commentator.
“I don’t own a cell phone, my boy, but if you give me a number I’ll sort something out for you,” he said. “But who do I say wants the bus?”
“I’m the captain of the band, sir, and my name is Psychology Maziwisa,” I retorted. When he called the home, he told them “Captain Psychology” wants the bus to come now! And he would address me as such for many years to come.
While waiting for the arrival of the bus, he sat me down and embarked on what appeared to be a fishing expedition. He was keen to understand my exact circumstances and seemed quite evidently touched by my story. We exchanged contacts and he would visit me at St Joseph’s a day or two before departing for Australia.
At this point I was studying for my Ordinary Level exams and I think it’s fair to say that it was Peter’s guidance that bolstered my prospects perhaps more than anything else. His philosophy as he would tell me was that, “Everyone deserves a chance in life.”
Seeing a huge opportunity for myself and determined to improve not just my own life but that of my siblings, I felt motivated and started to believe in myself. I sat for my “O” Levels in that state of mind and passed reasonably well – a result that prompted another visit from Peter.
From that moment on, I became his full responsibility. He paid for my “A” Level tuition as well as my other educational requirements and promised to return again in April of 2002 – and he did.
During that visit we established a special bond, a father-son relationship which went a long way in helping me recover from the earlier loss of my traditional parents. Peter didn’t have all the answers, nor was he a saint, but his big heart made him a very special man in my life – an exceptional and extraordinary one.
And as the bond between us grew, so did his plans. His initial arrangement was to buy a house in Bulawayo but, he reckoned, the political situation in Zimbabwe at the time wasn’t exactly sustainable.
In the circumstances, and soon after completing my “A” Levels, he suggested he build a house in South Africa instead and get me enrolled at a South African university. And so in the summer of 2003 Peter Roebuck built a mansion in the KwaZulu Natal Midlands and left me in the care of a youngish couple, Andrew and Larika Dickason, until his next return to South Africa in 2004. My life had changed drastically for the better. He would help found a charity (Learning for a Better World, LBW Trust) a few years later which supports underprivileged children from cricket-playing countries attending tertiary education.
Through his generosity, I was able to read law at the University of KwaZulu Natal where I would also become the first non-South African SRC deputy president.
Of course we didn’t agree on everything and our relationship would become rather acrimonious in the last days. For example he was strongly opposed to my decision to work with Zimbabwe’s Indigenisation Minister, Saviour Kasukuwere.
There was something he loathed about Zanu-PF, something unquantifiably massive and something I couldn’t quite understand despite the incessant debates we had on the matter. “I want to be credited for having raised a Mandela not a Mugabe,” he told me early this year.
But that decision was for me to make and my candidness in that regard upset him pretty considerably. Besides, I argued, Mandela and Mugabe were two sides of the same coin – both longed for the total emancipation of their people. But he wasn’t convinced.
The following was his last email to me, which email I didn’t but probably should have replied to:
Alas the time has come for us to part company.
The fact that I have not become a Facebook friend has been observed and my response to the picture with Mugabe is known.
It is one thing to support a party that I hold responsible for mass murder, torture, election rigging and millions of early deaths, another to advance their cause.
Bear in mind that people under my wing have seen their houses burnt down, been tortured, seen terrible things, been forced to sign petitions etc.
We have one thing in common – politics is our driving force.
I named my first house after Lech Walesa.
Accordingly you must know that becoming involved in Zanu was going to cause a rupture.
Rest assured I wish you no personal ill.
Indeed I admired one article you wrote about Zanu becoming a political party not a liberation party (incidentally I agree with many of Zanu’s current policies even as I despise its methods).
I don’t care which side wins elections provided they are genuine. People can choose their leaders, that is the beginning and end of it as far as I am concerned.
Rest assured, too, that this parting does not affect Integrity [my brother] in any way.
He is doing fine work at Sunrise and shortly is to become one of its leaders.
Had a long talk with him this morning outliving the position.
Best of luck son,
Peter Roebuck was a caring man in a league of his own who believed in the simple truth that everyone deserves a chance. He afforded me a fair chance in life – an indulgence for which I’ll always be eternally grateful. And, quite frankly, that’s what makes his passing all the more devastating. It’s unbelievably sad news.
My hope is that, given Peter’s rarity and generosity of heart, many across the world will be inspired, if not to do the same, then to emulate the deeds of this great man who, by rights, deserves everyone’s respect and admiration.
It is no small thing to take anyone under one’s wing and to proceed to nurture them with everything one has, including one’s own resources. For what it’s worth Peter had over 35 Zimbabweans in his capable care at the time of his death and my guess is that he had spent something in the region of $500,000 of his personal funds to help realise some African dreams.
Put it this way: whatever the precise circumstances of his death he has left the world a better place.