VERNON BENELE Mwamuka, the first black architect, still stands out as one of the foremost and most prominent architects Zimbabwe ever produced. In his architectural portfolio, he has to his name the imposing Southampton Life Centre (now Intermarket Life Centre), Construction House, Kopje Plaza, Old Mutual Centre, the Four Ways Mall in Johannesburg and the Joina Centre project (Harare)which is set to become the largest city development in years.
Other most significant projects that brought him praise and respect include Africa University (Mutare),the National University of Science and Technology (Bulawayo), Harare Domestic Airport, BulawayoInternational Airport,FOURWAYS MALL in Johanesburg (South Africa) the School of Hotel and Catering (Bulawayo) and a chain of post offices strewnacross the country.

All these completed commissions attest to Mwamuka’s creative identity. His works have left a very unique aesthetic impact on the immediate environment of the structures revitalising the surrounding urban expanse as in the case of the Kopje Plaza (West of Harare's skyline). The Kopje Plaza changed the sky of the Kopje area where a number of neglected buildings had become an eyesore and a sign of urban decay.
Not only did the Plaza succeed as a retail and office centre, but it also helped to propel the Kopje areainto its phenomenal redevelopment boom. This, in the years when there was a lot of construction activity, at least helped to reverse urban decay.


Mwamuka’s distinctly identifiable commissions have become a source of pride which gives Zimbabweans a huge cause for celebrating one of the country’sphilosophical and architectural icon. The buildings he designed, stand today as a tribute to the renowned architect’s attention to buildings that also capture his passion to blend the intimate relationship of topography and materials in siteplanning.

He is also credited for building elegant residential homes and small scale works for top company executives ((in zimbabwe) such as Pindi Nyandoro, Charity Murandu, Albert Nhau, Shingai Mutasa and Kennedy Mandevhani among others.

He also designed his beautiful house in the leafy Borrowdale suburb but unfortunately died before hecould move in.
Mwamuka died in a road accident on December 30 2001 when the car he was travelling in was involved in a head on collision with another at the 196km peg along the Bulawayo-Harare highway.
He was aged 46 at the time. He was returning from Bulawayo where had attended agroundbreaking ceremony of the re-building of the Bulawayo International Airport –renamed the JoshuaMqabuko Nkomo International Airport. Mwamuka was one of the driving forces behind the callto establish a school of architecture in Zimbabwe.
“It is still very distressing….to note that 12 years after independence, we still do not have a school ofarchitecture when Botswana and Zambia boast a schooleach,” he once lamented way back in 1992. “Without a school, there is no active development of the profession as such and there is no way we candevelop architecture which is indigenous to this country, hence our urgent need for such a school,”Mwamuka said when he was the president of the Institute of Architects of Zimbabwe. His exceptional intellectual talent was blended with uncompromising patriotism.
“We need those who are prepared to stay here and get to grips with Zimbabwean conditions,” he once said. Mwamuka was also vocal and called for Zimbabwean architecture firms to start taking positive steps to employ black architects.

In the 1980s and 1990s, black architects trained
outside Zimbabwe could not get employed by local firms
which were white dominated. “We need more blacks to come into the profession since there were not many who ever thought of joining the
profession before,” he said.

Today Zimbabwe has a school of architecture at Nust
thanks to his advocacy. Friends in the engineering and business fraternity say Mwamuka was humble, a true and principled professional
and a gifted and man of exceptional talent. They say he was a charismatic personality who paid extreme detail to his work and who apart from pressure of work managed to touch the hearts and lives of
others who needed assistance.


“It was his passion (architecture). Anything to do with art, creativity and education was his passion,”says Mrs Margaret Mwamuka, the wife of the late architect at her Borrowdale home.
“I believe his father, Mr Arthur Mwamuka, one of the first black contractors in the early 1950s in Rusapewas influential in his career. That’s where all his passion came from. “When we were still dating he would take me to see buildings. He would say: ‘Tarisa uone, look at thatbuilding. He loved buildings.”She says her husband’s favourite designs were the Kopje Plaza, Intermarket Life Centre and Nust in Bulawayo.
“In Harare, the Kopje Plaza and Southampton Life Centre were his best designs. He would talk about them endlessly. He would take the kids to just look at the buildings,” says Mrs Mwamuka.
“Sometimes he forgot that we were not all architects. He didn’t like short cuts in his works. He feltstrongly that his work and creativity would not come out.” Mwamuka was not materialistic and the love of science, technology and education was the main driving force behind his work. “Money was not his thing, it was the work. A lot of people owed him millions of dollars, but he wouldn’t worry much, he soldiered on with his work,” Mrs Mwamuka says.
“Whenever we went around some major cities in other countries, he would take pictures of buildingseverywhere we went,” she says.
“Vernon was not a deeply religious person but he was very generous in everything he did. He was passionate about his country. He always said he would work things from within despite the numerous challenges he faced in his work. And this is what inspires me to go on. It keeps me going.”
Mwamuka paid fees for students to study architecture overseas. “He helped many students and wanted more blacks to take architecture. He loved sciences and loved to help young people. I learnt a lot from him. I’m grateful for that,” the widow says recalling the life of her husband.

“He was not materialistic in nature. He left a good legacy for my children and the youth in this country.I would be happy if one of my children take up architecture. Kids today are so much fascinated aboutmoney and banking and not sciences,” she says. “He didn’t like the easy route to fame and fortune.
One thing that he said is that you get a lot of satisfaction from working from the bottom right to thetop. When you reflect back you get a lot of satisfaction than rising quickly through corruptionand connections,” Mrs Mwamuka says.

“Vernon had his education and brains. He did not need connections or deals to get going. He relied on his personal skills and education to excel. It wasn’t about money and buying people, but skills and
education that mattered most to him,” she says. Mwamuka was born on January 12, 1955, at Bonda Mission and did his primary education at Vengere Primary School in Rusape.


He did his secondary education at St Augustine’s Mission, Penhalonga. After passing his A’levels with flying colours – 3’A’s and a ‘B’ in maths, physics, biology and chemistry, he enrolled briefly at the University of Zimbabwe in 1975. By September of that year, he got a scholarship to study architecture at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. He completed his studies in 1978 and proceeded to do a post graduate diploma in architecture in London.
After completing this diploma, Mwamuka left for the United States where he worked for DBTM, anarchitectural firm, between 1979 and 1980. The lure of an independent Zimbabwe was too strong forhim. He returned home in 1981 and joined the ministry of construction.
After working in the civil service, he later joined an architectural firm, Harvey Buffet, where he rose tobecome a senior partner and the firm changed its name to Harvey Buffet Mwamuka Mercuri.
Around the early 1990s he broke away with another Italian born senior partner Eugene Mercuri and formed the Mwamuka Mercuri and Associate Architects.“It was hard when we started this firm. We used our Datsun Pulsar car,” says Mrs Mwamuka.Mwamuka met his childhood sweetheart Margaret in the late 1970s in Sakubva, Mutare just before he left for overseas.

“We had a saying: ‘When we meet, if the relationship works it will be mission accomplished, if we fail, itwill be mission impossible,” Mrs Mwamuka says recalling the time when his late husband left for theUK.
“He was a very private person and never wanted achurch wedding. Pomp and ceremony wasn’t for him. So we settled for a private wedding in June 1990 at the Chisipite United Methodist Church,” she says. “They were only two witnesses and the pastor.” “Vernon loved simplicity. He loved substance and ofcourse, his Scotch Whisky.”
“We have to encourage our children to value education and hard work. Life is about giving back to society.
Its not about being billionaires but about having a decent life, God fearing honest and humble people thanbeing greedy billionaires,” she says. “We have to teach our children that Zimbabwe through science and technology can be a better country.”