The following are excerpts from Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister Dr Christopher Mushohwe’s interview with Star FM on Thursday on the occasion of President Mugabe’s 92nd birthday to be celebrated in Masvingo today. The minister explored the life and times of President Mugabe focusing especially on his passion for education and the origins of the Presidential Scholarship Scheme. .
Let me begin by saying happy birthday to President Mugabe. This is his birthday week and I think he is about three or four days old. We all would want to say Happy Birthday to the newly born baby named Robert Gabriel Mugabe.
As you know, President Mugabe was born on the 21st of February 1924 at Kutama Mission in Zvimba, which is a Jesuit Mission station about 80km from Harare.
His late father was called Gabriel, so he was named after his father. He was a carpenter by profession. And his late mother, Mrs Bona Mugabe from the Shonhiwa family, was a teacher. She taught at Chishawasha Mission.
As you know, Chishawasha Mission is Catholic as well.
The President was born in a family of six children. There were four boys and two girls.
The President had two brothers – Raphael and Michael. Raphael passed on as a young boy but Michael died when he was a boy, perhaps just after 10 years or so and after the President, then his young brother Donato, who is also late now.
But the President had two sisters, who were Sabina (whom I’m sure most of you knew), who is late and is a national hero, and the young sister to Sabina who was called Bridget. That was the family. But as you know, the Mugabe family is actually the Karigamombe family.
Their real home area is in Kari- gamombe and not at Kutama. That’s where most of the Karigamombe people are. But they stayed at Kutama. And Mbuya Bona is from the Shonhiwa (family), which is the Kutama family. And so, ndekwana sekuru kwavakakurira.
And, the President was really mentored by Jesuit priests, especially Father O’Hea. You know Father O’Hea Hospital which was named after him at Kutama, who actually took charge and be a mentor of the youthful Robert Mugabe throughout his youthful life at Kutama.
And, of course, one thing that emerges with the young Robert Mugabe was that from the early age he was a bookworm, very studious wherever he went, whether he was herding cattle, playing with others, he would have a book in hand.
And so, he had a lot of passion in reading and very intelligent. He was, we are told, and of course his peers knew him to be somebody who adored books and really was very good and adhered to books and education.
But of course, he trained as a teacher at the young age he started teaching here in Harare at a number of schools.
Among the schools President Mugabe taught – I am sure Zimbabwe is aware that he taught at Driefontein Mission, at Mhofu in Harare and Mbizi in Highfield here, Empandeni Mission. He taught at Waddilove Mission, from there he went to Tegwani, but of course, later on he went to Zambia and taught at Chalimana Teachers’ Training College from 1955 to 1958.
Cde Mugabe then went to Ghana where he taught at Apowa Secondary School at Takoradi between 1958 and 1960. Before Cde Mugabe could teach there, he had undergone local certification at Achimota School in Ghana where he met Sally Hayfron who later became his wife, the late First Lady Sally Mugabe as you know.
He returned to Zimbabwe in 1960 in the hope that he would go back to Ghana to continue with his teaching. But, of course, at the behest of his political colleagues he joined the United Democratic Party in 1960, which was banned in 1961.
Then, of course, he joined Zapu with others, which was formed after the banning of UNDP in 1961. Before, there was a splinter group in 1963, Zanu of which he was a founding member with others, but, of course, in 1964 both political parties Zanu and Zapu were banned by the regime then. The leaders were arrested and he was one of those who was arrested together with others.
But the Zanu leadership by and large was confined at Sikhombela and then Salisbury Maximum Prison. That included Cde Mugabe and, subsequently, Cde Mugabe did earn some degrees there.
But I need to mention that before he went to Ghana to do most of the teaching that he did, he started studying with the University of South Africa. But in 1950 he then after having completed the first year of his studies in BA (English and History), he went to Fort Hare University in 1950. And in 1951 he completed the three-year degree as I have said he did only two years at Fort Hare University, but the third year he had already done before he went to Fort Hare University.
At Fort Hare he met colleagues whom he was with, among them included the likes of the late president of South Africa Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki’s father (Govan Mbeki) who was also there at the time, and other regional leaders who were there. From Zimbabwe I think there were others, I think the likes of Pswarai (pronounced Tsvarai) and others.
But there is something that many people do not know that although President Mugabe went to Fort Hare University, he does not hold a Fort Hare University degree.
He graduated yes, he studied at Fort Hare but Fort Hare then was an associate college of Rhodes University. So, the degree that he received while he studied at Fort Hare is a Rhodes degree. He normally jokes and says, inasmuch as I do not want Rhodes, there is nothing that I can do, I have to live with Rhodes on this certificate from there. But of course as I said, he came back and then he was arrested, he studied law and improved his education and he acquired some of the degrees during that time.
Of course, you know he holds seven earned degrees and 11 honorary degrees.
But I think the most important thing that I want to talk about is his passion for education. And, for a man to earn seven degrees and most of which were earned while he was under conditions of incarceration is something that speaks volumes of the man we are talking about.
The man whose birthday celebrations the nation is going to commemorate on Saturday – I don’t know of many people in Zimbabwe who have earned so many degrees while they are not even in conditions of imprisonment, confinement or restriction. But he has done it.
And so you can see from a man of that academic character, he then is someone we know loves education and he actually did help a lot of his compatriots while he was in prison in those confinements that I have made mention of.
He had colleagues for example confined with him – the likes of the late Vice President Simon Vengai Muzenda, Eddison Zvobgo, Michael Mawema you know, people like Edgar Tekere. He also was with Ndabaningi Sithole, Enos Nkala, Moton Malianga, Leopold Takawira, Maurice Nyagumbo and Edson Sithole, among others.
Those were some of the colleagues that he endured incarceration with and some of them really benefited from his assistance with their education that they did.
I must say that the story of President Mugabe having to leave Rhodesia with a colleague, Edgar Tekere, after the Zanu leadership had requested him to go and lead the armed struggle after the death of Herbert Chitepo, who many people at the time – in fact the Zambian government – believed he was assassinated by his colleagues which was proved later that it was not the case.
But, in fact, even now, there is no clearer testimony as to who killed Herbert Chitepo. If you take Peter Stiff’s book entitled “See You in November”, it clearly demonstrates how he was killed and who killed him and how they did it.
He then went to Mozambique, and of course he became the president of the party and he led the liberation struggle for many years. And you know what befell our people during the armed struggle – the massacres, in fact genocide committed by the Smith regime when the children in refugee camps, in schools, the elderly were bombed at Chimoio, Tembwe, in Zambia as well at Freedom Camp and other places
But after Independence when Zanu-PF, now the combined forces and party between Zapu and Zanu, who came and went to Lancaster as the Patriotic Front came back home, contested, won the elections and Zanu then with Zapu formed a government.
And, of course, with the political magnanimity of President Mugabe, he accommodated Abel Muzorewa the renegade and even the Rhodesians into Government.
And, of course, you know the story that he took Peter Walls, the chief killer of our people and said, strategically you remain at the helm of the new national army that was being formed from the former warring parties.
Then, of course, people like Kenny Flower was asked, and I’m actually reading Ken Flower’s book, and he was asked to remain at the helm of the Central Intelligence Organisation.
And, the police was the same, the then commissioner was requested to remain there.
And I think many people will not understand the logic, the strategic logic behind that, but it became clearer to people that that was the best thing to do, because then we would be into serious problems if he had not done that.
Peter Walls would not do anything when he was meant to be in charge of the army, so was Kenny Flower, so was the police commissioner, so that did help us.
But I really want to talk about the President’s passion for education. You know, in 1982, the end of 1981 going into 1982, the Prime Minister then decided that he could set up a window of education for the new commanders who had taken up positions in the army, in the police, in the Central Intelligence Organisation and prisons who had left education mid-stream to join the liberation struggle.
So, he surrendered three of his offices at Zimbabwe House and converted them into classrooms. And, many people don’t know this part of President Mugabe, because it was done under strict confidentiality, because at the time the new commanders could not go to public schools, the security situation was unpredictable at the time.
Ian Smith and his military people were still very much intact so it was impossible. But also some people who had been appointed as ministers who had very little educational background, who had left to join the liberation struggle while they were still in primary school, they had to benefit.
A typical example is of former Vice President Joice Mujuru who really benefited immensely. She started from nothing, and she really benefited.
I was fortunate to have been asked by the Prime Minister then to co-ordinate the programme and I co-ordinated it. As a co-ordinator who were the teachers that I was co-ordinating?
The Prime Minister himself was a teacher, the then Minister of Education Dr Dzingai Mtumbuka was co-opted as a teacher in that programme, Dr Charles Utete, who had just joined Cabinet Office was co-opted as a teacher, then Elijah Chanakira, who was the Secretary for Education, was also co-opted, into it, so was Ibbo Mandaza, who was Secretary for Manpower Development, was also co-opted.
I taught as well, in addition to my co-ordination role, in that programme. The Prime Minister then was the only one who was teaching degree programmes. He taught LLB and some of the judges of the High Court and Supreme Court were beneficiaries of that programme.
Most of the commanders currently and those who have departed benefited from that programme.
The President, who was Prime Minister then, in addition to teaching LLB, could sometimes take up A-Level economics. In his absence, I would take A-Level economics on his behalf. I also taught accounts and economics at A-Level. I taught Mai Mujuru accounts at O-Level and economics.
And so, that was done under complete secrecy, because then at the time you wouldn’t want people to know that commander did not have sufficient education, that ministers did not have sufficient education. But the President gave them that opportunity and most of the people who went through that process have attained degrees, some even PhDs.
In 1985 when the security situation was more predictable, the Prime Minister wanted more people to benefit. Then the school was moved from Zimbabwe House to Prince Edward School where most of the teachers then dropped (out) and Prince Edward schoolteachers also helped us and Cde Charamba also joined us and we continued helping them until around 1987.
Then now, everybody who should have benefited had benefited so the school was snowballed.
That school then became the precursor for the Presidential Scholarship Programme. The programme actually celebrated its 20th anniversary last year the end of 2015, having started in 1995, when the President again after discussing with President Mandela asked me to run the programme on his behalf, this time focusing on children from very poor backgrounds, children from distressed backgrounds, children from the periphery, families living in the periphery where accessibility to education was not that obvious, especially children who are intellectually gifted but whose parents or guardians or relatives could not afford to send them to university.
And, we started with Fort Hare University in 1995, with 15 students only. But in 1996 Professor Mzamane, who then was the Vice Chancellor, came to Harare to pleaded with the President if more students could be sent to Fort Hare University, recognising their capabilities and aptitude that they felt could enhance the standards of their education at Fort Hare University. And we started sending more students, getting students from every corner of Zimbabwe – be it from Binga, be it from Mwenenzi, be it from Dotito, be it from Chipinge and all areas which were disadvantaged, educationally, so that they could also benefit.
And in 2005, it was felt that perhaps we needed more students, students who would go and benefit, and do programmes which are to do with science and mathematics, by and large.
Fort Hare is a very good university, but does not have a medical school for example, does not have an engineering school, does not have acturial science school, pharmaceutical school.
So, we wanted our children to partake those programmes, and the President allowed me to try and see if I could place them in other universities. We were lucky that the calibre of our education is well-known in South African universities, that I didn’t find any difficulty in placing children in other universities.
Then, we managed to get accommodation in 15 universities in South Africa, where we have been sending our children. And currently, that programme has benefited more than 20 000 graduates from all areas of this country. We still have some students there, but not as many as we used to sent.
In fact, this year we didn’t send any students. My doctor here is a beneficiary of the programme, and so, we are very proud to have such beneficiaries. I think we have got about seven PhD graduates who benefited, who are in Government, in about three or so many ministries.
We are very happy that they decided to come back home, continue to work in Government and support Government. These students are bonded, are not expected to pay back the money, but they paid back by coming back to Zimbabwe, work at least for three years, either in the public sector or private sector as part of their contribution to the economic development of this country.
And I must say that the programme has really created such an imprint on the marginalised communities, that it’s unbelievable that 20 000 beneficiaries could not have gone to university.
And, imagine the amount of benefit that they get, because it’s not just education for themselves. It’s education which benefits their families, which benefits their communities, which benefits their areas, provinces and then nationally we benefit from that.
And so, this is the association that President Mugabe has with both education and the children, and as a three-, four-year-old, he is a good example of a child who understands that children must be given an opportunity, an opportunity to realise their dreams regardless of their social circumstances, regardless of their social background or economic background.
And so, we must always as Zimbabwe, remember that this is a rare breed of a leader who thinks not only of people at the top, but who invests his thoughts, his mind and his livelihood to the people who are right at the bottom of the social rung.
And I think as Zimbabweans go to Masvingo to celebrate on Saturday the birth of President Mugabe, they must always remember that Zimbabwe is so blessed to have the leadership of President Robert Mugabe.
I have not heard of any other Head of State who has really taken himself to the grassoots, and think more of those people who otherwise would have had no opportunity to be somebody in life. But, those are the people, those are the children that President Mugabe looks up to, to become leaders of this country. Those are the people who could have been nothing without the opportunity given to them.
Most of them are professors teaching at different universities in Zimbabwe and outside Zimbabwe. We have got medical doctors out of it. We have got pharmacists out of it; we have got engineers, we have got chartered accountants, acturial scientists – all aspects of education that you can think of.
So, we want to say to President Mugabe on behalf of Zimbabweans, those who do not know, should know that President Mugabe is a teacher. He is an academic, he is a scholar who does not just think of himself, and who believes that every Zimbabwean must be given an opportunity to realise his or her dream.
And in his programme, in fact 51 percent of the 20 000 are women and girls. And, the girls are not confined to certain disciplines. I can tell you that at the end of this year, we have got one tiny-bodied student who is graduating with a cum laude in nuclear physics. And, you can see that we have many girls who are acturial scientists.
We have got girls who are engineers – mining engineers.
I discovered some in Midlands to who are engineers at mines there, so we want to say to President Mugabe thank you very much for the opportunity that you have given most of these kids. In fact, Zimbabwe needs to know that when we entered the GNU and the Ministry of Finance was given to the opposition (Tendai) Biti declined and refused to pay.
So 2010, 2011, 2012 up to 2013 President Mugabe was actually sourcing for funding from the friends of the Scholarship, from people who sympathised with his efforts and he would pay.
And in fact I am happy to say that for last year – two days ago on Monday, we paid up all that we owed the 15 universities for 2015 and so I think we are starting on a clean slate for this year and I think that is good news to our returning students who are at universities who are continuing and their parents who were worried that their children are going back, before even last year’s money was paid, so how are they going to continue.
And we hope and pray that the programme will continue so that the President’s legacy is not terminated prematurely.
We want to see more beneficiaries.
But I also want to finally appeal to the beneficiaries wherever they are, whatever they are doing, and most of them I know are doing great things.
They must look back and help their siblings, help their families, help other deserving children who could be from their areas so that they could also get the opportunity that they got.
So I thought I should give you this background on this party of the celebration for the President’s birthday.
And this is a very important week that we must always remember as we celebrate who President Mugabe is and through his deeds, through his leadership and through his fatherly care that we enjoy on a daily basis as a nation.