Silveira House, a Jesuit centre for Development and Social Justice in Harare, will this Friday celebrate 50 years of faithful and fruitful partnerships with mainly the impoverished communities of Zimbabwe.
Founded in December 1964 by Father John Dove, who unfortunately died in June this year at the ripe age of 92, the centre has been at the heart of the social transformation agenda in the country, helping Zimbabweans negotiate their way during the volatile liberation struggle, the transition to a new Zimbabwe, the hardships of the post-independence state, and the ever challenging fight against poverty.
Back then in 1964, Father Dove’s first programme at the centre was to teach ‘civics’ – a word which in effect meant ‘politics.’ It was based on the old Sodality method SEE, JUDGE and ACT, which itself was based on the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. With time, to the Civics was added Industrial Relations, Farming co-operatives, youth work, women’s clubs, appropriate technology and many other programmes.
Before Independence, Silveira House provided space for all the nationalist leaders, including President Robert Mugabe,to discuss their ideas with ordinary citizens. After independence, trade unionists, like the late former President of Zambia, Fredrick Chiluba and former Zimbabwean Prime Minister,Morgan Tsvangirai, were also nurtured at the centre to facilitate for productive industrial relations.
Speaking ahead of the golden jubilee celebrations set for the Silveira House grounds, Fatherr Gibson Munyoro, who is the Director of Silveira House, was full of joy and anticipation:
“These are joyful times indeed, were we are celebrating 50 years of social justice work, 50 years of community development work, 50 years of accompanying people from poverty to some dignified world especially in the rural areas, and poor urban centres…
“For me I think it’s not only a celebration of Silveira House work, but I think it’s a celebration of the collective effort by funding partners, by Silveira House, by fellow implementing partners, the local leaders, the Church, and the Jesuits in this province.”
Ashley Honzeri, a Jesuit scholastic working at Silveira House also shared the joy and believes that “the jubilee is special to us because there are not many NGO’s that have survived in Zimbabwe for this long. Many folded up a few years after starting. Silveira House has gone through many phases; it has seen this country through its Independence, and its many years of difficulty like 2008.
“It’s an organisation that has not only been focusing on one area of programmimg, but has been modifying itself to be responsive to the needs of the people at different times.”
This is indeed a time to say thank you to many friends of the institution as well, and in particular Misereor, who have financially supported Silveira House since 1968. Mr Hipler from Misereor is naturally accorded Guest of Honour status for the Friday event.
There are many positives that have accrued out of the 5 decades of hard work at the centre. One distinct achievement of Silveira House has been the official recognition in the constitution and in schools, of minority groups and minority languages like Tonga and Venda. These are now taught in primary schools and some teacher training colleges are now training teachers for that.
Fr Munyoro knows life has not been smooth sailing for the past 50 years for the institution; In fact there was trouble from day one when Fr Dove was starting Silveira House. There was a lot of resistance within the Church, the Jesuits and many people who just didn’t appreciate the aspect of the Church building a centre for social justice. That was painful because Fr Dove was getting resistance from the people who were supposed to support him.
There is a long list of beneficiaries of Silveira House and one proud member on that list is Dr Herbert Murerwa, a former Minister of Finance, who was amongst the first youths to be trained by Father Dove, and on Friday, he will have the honour to share his testimony with others.
As part of the celebrations on Friday, Silveira House will launch a book “Looking Back Into the Future” which has information from various people who have passed through or interacted significantly with the institution.
There are more than 2000 guest invited and amongst them will be Sithembiso Nyoni, Minister of Small and Medium Enterprises, who has worked with Silveira House for a long time and is a regular guest at the institution. Also in attendance will be government Ministers, Walter Chidhakwa of mines and Professor Jonathan Moyo of Media,Information and broadcasting Services