President Mnangagwa’s advisor dies

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s adviser and one of Zimbabwe’s finest scientists with a number of international patents (legal rights to inventions) to his name Professor Robson Mafoti has died, a family source says.

He was 74.

The source says Mafoti died in India where he was receiving medical attention.

Mafoti, an industrial chemical scientist of note who made his name in the United States, was Chief Executive of the Scientific and Industrial Research and Development Centre (Sirdc) until recently.

He was now doing farming in Beatrice, about 60km south of Harare.

Mafoti was born in Wedza on 11 June 1949.

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He first attended school at the Methodist Church-run Chematendere Primary School from 1956 to 1961.

In 1962, he dropped out of school due to financial problems.

After that, he left Wedza and went to stay with his uncle in Bulawayo. While there he took him Gampo Primary School at Matshobane Township, named after Ndebele King Mzilikazi’s father Matshobane Khumalo.

A number of townships, roads, schools, amenities and other facilities in Bulawayo are named after Mzilikazi and his descendants as well as the ruling monarchical elites of the time.

Mafoti did his primary school there until he finished Standard 6.

In 1966, Mafoti enrolled at Mzilikazi High School, named after King Mzilikazi, which was opened in 1965 to serve blacks during the colonial era.

He finished his O’levels in 1969.

In one interview, Mafoti once said his biggest motivation was staying close to prominent business executive Sijabuliso Biyam.

“At high school, I was good in science. I had a natural inclination for sciences. Science and mathematics became my favourite subjects. I just loved the practical aspect of science. This was quite fascinating to me,” he once said.

“I just could not write like historians. I was too scientific in my approach. I didn’t have the gift for the arts.”
Mafoti’s other major inspiration came from Godfrey Motsisi, a South African science teacher who taught in Bulawayo before he later became a principal at Fletcher High in the early 1970s.

“Motsisi was a good scientist. He was inspirational in many ways. He led a good life and together with white teachers at Mzilikazi they taught me to love sciences,” Mafoti said.

Mafoti then left Zimbabwe for Swaziland, now Eswatini, where he enrolled at Waterford Kamhlaba School, a multiracial school were he studied for his A’levels from 1972 to 1973.

During that time, he said met renowned eye surgeon Dr Solomon Guramatunhu and many other young Zimbabweans who later succeeded in life.

After completing his A’levels, Mafoti got a place to study at the University of Sussex in England, but failed to secure a scholarship.

So he had to join the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland (UBLS) near Roma town in Lesotho in 1974 after getting a scholarship from a Geneva-based organisation. That was the same university where Dr Bernard Chidzero, Zimbabwe’s late Finance minister, went to.

While there he met the likes of Aleck Mashingaidze (former Central Intelligence Organisation Director-General), Stan Mudenge (the late Foreign Affairs minister) and many others.

During the same year, 1977, he taught briefly in Lesotho, but later left to study for MSc in the United States after getting a scholarship from the African American Institute.

He also taught at Amaveni Secondary School in Kwekwe.

Mafoti got a MSc in analytical chemistry from Texas Southern University (1980), a MSc and PhD both in organic chemistry from Rice University in Houston, Texas, (1985).

After completing his education, he ventured into the corporate world.

In 1985 he joined the Bayer Corporation (US) researcher centre, originally a German firm which was taken over by the Americans after WWII.

After working for five years at Bayer, he was voted the Most Proliferous Inventor.

“I had 13 patents which were issued in one year at Bayer in 1990,” Mafoti said in that interview.

“Invention is by serendipity. You cannot dream about it, no.”

His inventions were in the field paints, plastics, decorative surfaces, sealants and adhesives.

Mafoti left Bayer Corporation and joined Wilson-Art International to expand his industrial experience in 1995.
In Austin, he oversaw growth of Wilson-Art International from an annual turnover of US$500 million a year to US$1.2 billion a year by 1999 through research, product development and marketing.

Mafoti invented laminate flooring materials which were scratch-resistant, not prone to moisture attack and less slippery.

In the first year when flooring materials were commercialised, Wilson-Art sales hit US$250 million. The owners sold the company and invested the millions of dollars they had raked in on the stock exchange.

Mafoti moved to Dallas in 2000 and joined Schneer Morehead Inc as a technical director of research and development for sealants and adhesives.

However, he stay there was short-lived as his mother died in 2002, forcing him to come back home where he became Sirdic chief executive for 20 years – from 2003 until 2023.

FACT FILE: Professor Robson Mafoti:
– Died today aged 74;
– Ex-Chief Executive of SIRDC since July 2003 – 2023;
– Renowned industrial scientist with several international patents to his name;
– Global work experience covering research and development, patenting, intellectual property licensing, manufacturing and commercialisation of research outcomes;
– Distinguished career working in the United States and for German companies where he held various research and leadership positions;
– Held BSc degree in Chemistry and Biology, an MSc degree in Analytical Chemistry as well as MSc and PhD degrees (both in Organic Chemistry);
– Published extensively in refereed journals and is a member of the following professional societies: American Chemical Society, PhiLambda Epsilon Chemical Honour Society and the Polymeric Materials, Science and Engineering Society;
– Was a board member of several organisations, including the Industrial Development Corporation, Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education and Chinhoyi University of Technology where he was chairperson of Council; and
served in the Presidential Advisory Council.

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