ZANU-PF has been experiencing one of the worst political bickering among its ranks and file since the ouster of former Vice President and Second Secretary of the revolutionary party, Joice Mujuru, which has seen some senior cadres being expelled or suspended for various misdemeanours. Our Senior Writer Lovemore Ranga Mataire (LRM) yesterday spoke to the Minister of Defence Dr Sydney Sekeramayi (SS), who is also the party’s Secretary for Welfare Services for War Veterans, War Collaborators, Former Political Detainees and Restrictees in the Politburo, on his sentiments about various issues affecting the party.
LRM: Dr Sekeramayi, we meet at a time when there are apparent divisions and contestations of power within the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans’ Association. On one side we have Cde Christopher Mutsvangwa insisting he is the bona fide chairperson despite a vote of no confidence passed on him by some members of the association and on the other we have Cde Mandi Chimene saying she represents the new leadership. As the Minister of Defence and also the Zanu-PF Secretary for War Veterans Welfare, what are your sentiments regarding these apparent divisions?
SS: I believe that people can express sentiments and what should be done is to ensure that there is no misinterpretation, confusion and tension. I think let’s look at it historically, in all the countries that have been colonised, all that like in the Second World War, been subjugated by an aggressor. Those who volunteer to sacrifice especially in our case and in the case of other liberation movements in Southern African, those who volunteer to sacrifice their lives to go into unknown bushes and say I have to participate in the liberation of my country; the welfare of those must always be paramount in the thinking of the leadership. But if we take our situation after independence we went through processes, the demobilisation process and there were payments to those who had been demobilised, some remained in the defence forces, some are still serving and some have retired. Those who have retired are now part and parcel of the bona fide war veterans. When the economy was doing very well, there wasn’t as much talk about the welfare of war veterans as there is now because the country had the capacity to absorb; to channel people to work into work in the civil service, to channel people into other sectors so that they could be gainfully employed.
We moved from there to a situation where even lump-sum gratuities were paid. But we also then went into this vicious circle of the sanctions, the economy has contracted and just like any ordinary Zimbabwean the socio-economic situation is pressing everybody. People are out of work, they can hardly, in the majority of cases, cater for their own families and when you take war veterans it hit them even harder. So what needs to be done is to revive the economy so that the country, the Government has resources to cater for them especially for those who are not employed. They must have their monthly gratuities paid on time, there must be resources to enable their children to go to school, and they must have resources to enable them to get medical attention, health facilities when necessary and it is in my view an obligation, a commitment that we have that the welfare of war veterans must always be a priority.
LRM: Away from the welfare, what else can the party and Government do institutionally to ensure that the dignity of war veterans is restored?
SS: When you have sometimes the type of economic crisis that we are in, people tend to take an attitude, each man for himself and God for us all. So have people tempted even to downplay the role played by war veterans. People tend to well say the war veterans played their role and now it should be regarded as history.
It’s not history, it’s part and parcel of us, we are different generations and yes there will come a time when they would hardly be any war veterans, but the dignity, the role that the war veterans have played should never be in my view be denied, should never in my view be belittled, should never in my view be forgotten because even those who are talking, they are talking because we are now free and that freedom was to a very large extent in terms of the gun spearheaded by the war, the veterans, in terms of political ideology by the party, in terms of popular support by the masses and this is where us collectively as black Zimbabweans in unity all contributed to the liberation of the country. But let us all remember that it was the comrades who were deployed in the country armed, confronting the war machinery of the (Ian) Smith regime supported by (apartheid) South Africans. And in my view it would be completely wrong to try in any way downplay the role and the relevance of the war veterans.
LRM: What are you doing institutionally in terms of ensuring that this legacy of war veterans is maintained beyond the economic hardships that you have mentioned?
SS: As a party, it is absolutely necessary in my view that the political thrust of us being Zimbabweans should always be there. We should be able to teach the young generation where we came from, where we are and where we are going. We should be able as a party to have an institution that imparts this knowledge to the young generation and this knowledge can only be imparted by those who are still alive. They are the ones, if you watched television recently who are able to say here we were at Chimoio, there at Chimoio there was Parirenyatwa Clinic, there at Chimoio there was the Chitepo Ideological School.
That situation must also not just be oral evidence, but we should now write books where every experience from literally the time when the country was colonised up to now where this experience, which our children, our grandchildren, your children, your grandchildren will be able to read and say aaah is this what happened?
LRM: But most of your colleagues including yourself are not taking that challenge of documenting our history from their own perspectives. I ask this in the context of the fact that most of the history we have about the liberation struggle is written by white Rhodesia and this tends to distort or poison the whole narrative of the country’s struggle for independence.
SS: No, this history must be documented. Sometimes you document it very much at a personal level and sometimes you document it as a party. I went to the 50th celebration of the founding of FRELIMO and there the official history was commissioned and it is a history that had been put together by a team that had been put in place by the party, from government, civil society, from the universities, from the ordinary people, all those who had something to say and that history has been compiled. I think we are in the process of doing the same so that the truth is told to the country.
LRM: Cde Minister I ask all these questions in the context covert operations by erstwhile colonisers to roll back the map of liberation especially in Southern Africa targeting parties like Frelimo, ANC, Swapo, MPLA and Chama Cha Mapinduzi in favour of post-liberation parties. What institutional framework are you putting in place to withstand such attempts?
SS: You know this legacy, I am not in the Ministry of Education, but you will find whether it is American history, British, Russian or Chinese, all this is embedded in the textbooks at schools, the history textbooks and they don’t have to go to a particular school because the ordinary school now imparts this to the young generation as a matter of fact, it’s nothing special, but everyday the young generation from crèche are imbibing this history and this is what we need to do. Look at our history textbooks even the geography textbooks.
LRM: You are the Zanu-PF Secretary for War Veterans Welfare in the Politburo. What can you say about the current divisions bedevilling the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans’ Association where there are two factions both purporting to be the bona fide leaders of former freedom fighters?
SS: The unity of the war veterans must always be there. If there are issues where they are differences of opinion, let’s concentrate on that which unites us; identify the areas of disagreement and work out ways and means of reconciling those differences. But like in the common struggle we had people from all the corners of Zimbabwe.
The common denominator was the determination to liberate Zimbabwe and whatever differences people might have I think the common denominator should be our resolve to maintain the unity of our people and ensure a dynamic rapid socio-economic development of the country because leadership means leading people into prosperity. And that is something that must always be at the back of our minds.
So the current differences are because even Siamese twins don’t think the same way. Differences will be there, but let us not have a situation where these differences become antagonistic. Let’s resolve them amicably.
LRM: But don’t you think these differences contribute in building a negative image of the war veterans and also in a way the revolutionary Zanu-PF party by ordinary people?
SS: There is a tendency to concentrate vividly on the differences than the areas of agreement by the media.
LRM: In your paper that you presented at last year’s Zanu-PF conference in Victoria Falls as the chairperson of the liberation war heritage, you raised a number of issues concerning the need to ensure that war veterans are legitimately recognised in the structures of the party. How has that suggestion been taken up by the party?
SS: No, you have the war veterans association, but you and me must be members of the party. So the war veterans are an affiliate association, but at the individual levels the war veterans because of their history there is this that moulds them as members of the association, but as individual members of the party.
LRM: Are you implying there are others who are not members of the party?
SS: No I am simply saying the war veterans must be members of the party, because if one is an affiliate then it automatically means you are also a member of the party. What I emphasise then, now and in future is that we are all commissars, but we also have the political commissar who must be schooled in the history of the party.
LRM: Cde Minister Zanu-PF is currently embroiled in factional wars or what others call successionist politics. Would you want to comment on this disturbing development threatening the unity of the party?
SS: Some of the papers have a greater interest in emphasising areas of differences promoting division and wanting to now fragment us into the teachers there, the generals there, the doctors there, the nurses there, that fragmentation especially if it’s aimed at a political party, you can have that party being completely ravaged by that type of emphasis. Like what I have said instead of emphasising the common areas now people say Mataire is doing this and Sekeramayi is saying that and so forth and it’s being in my view more by those who want to see the party break up than those who want to see it united.
Let’s emphasise on what unite us than the differences here and there. Let me just say to you and others, given my professional training as a medical doctor I tend to want to see problem resolved rather than problems exaggerated.
Let’s begin to emphasise that which unites me and you. There will be differences even in one family, but kuti tibva tangomira pachuru emphasising those differences, why? Whose agenda are we following or whose agenda is being followed by some people?
Lovemore, maBritish, maAmericans, European Union will come vagokutenda, vagotitenda kuti Zanu-PF taive takutadzai kasi manje matiitira basa mazviparadza pachezvenyu. They will come with Union Jack stripes and stars and everything like that. Can we afford that? Ndigofamba ini mustreet or anyone with self-respect wakutendwa nemaBritish kuti you have done what we have failed to do over the years, to destroy you.
LRM: Is that what is happening now?
SS: Yes our detractors are celebrating.
LRM: Don’t you think that the problem is about indiscipline in the party where some members no longer have any respect for seniority or party procedures?
SS: The question of discipline is of paramount importance. We would not have successfully waged the liberation struggle if we were not a disciplined force and with any disciplined force there is a chain of command and we should be able to act correctly. Yes people make mistakes, but let’s create a platform where these mistakes are identified and resolved amicably.
LRM: But can you entirely blame the media for the divisions in the party or it’s actually your fellow colleagues who are instigating these divisions.
SS: Let me just emphasise one thing to you Lovemore. There is need for us to realise that after surviving all this onslaught from the detractors, let’s come together and you come one day and say since I had an interview with VaSekeramayi, the situation has changed, we no longer have potholes in Harare, Mutare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Masvingo, economy yedu yasimuka and we can now stand proudly as Zimbabweans.
You know when I look back as the then Minister of Health, Zimbabwe was so much respected at international forums to the extent that it was regarded as the African voice.
You know it really pains me. I left the country on 28 December in 1961, spent two years in Czechoslovakia and 11 years in Sweden. You know the harmony that I experienced in Sweden also shaped my attitude. So these things of fighting everyday, it’s not good.
Nowadays you hear leaders asking ko uyu ari kuiteyi pano, ko zvobva kupi? (You hear people asking why someone is at a certain function. Where is this coming from)? This must not be encouraged, let’s go back to the basics, we a revolutionary party that survived bombings in Zambia and Mozambique, nhasi toda kuzvibhomba tega. Chokwadi chichabuda pachena, rine manyanga hariputirwe. (Today we want to bomb ourselves yet we survived actual bombings in Zambia and Mozambique. The truth will always come out. You can’t keep a secret forever.) – The Southern Times.