Tendai Mugabe Senior Reporter—
Former Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet Dr Charles Utete has died. He was 77. Dr Utete collapsed at his Highlands, Harare, home yesterday morning.
Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet Dr Misheck Sibanda confirmed Dr Utete’s demise. In an interview with The Herald yesterday, Dr Sibanda said Government had lost a great advisor who passionately worked for his country.
He said Dr Utete literally worked alone in the early 1980s in setting up the structures of the current civil service bureaucracy. “Dr Utete is my predecessor. He was the first black secretary to the Prime Minister then appointed in 1980,” said Sibanda.
“He then became the first Chief Secretary to the President when the President’s position was transformed then from Prime to Executive President until his retirement in 2003. I then succeeded him. Dr Utete is a big loss to all of us. Some of us had known Dr Utete first as an intellectual he was a senior lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe in political science when I was an ordinary lecturer myself in the department of history at the same university.
“We were working together then in the political field supporting Zanu at that point. He was the treasurer of what then was known as the Zanu district for Salisbury which then extended from Mazowe, Christonbank that is up to Waterfalls covering all the high-density areas and I was the secretary for publicity and the late (Ambassador Tichaona) Jokonya was our chairman. So we had known each other.”
Continued Dr Sibanda: “Then in Government in his position as the Secretary to the President, naturally he was the head of our civil service.
“He played a pivotal role in shaping our civil service bureaucracy and at point before the appointment of black chairpersons of the civil service it meant he was working with outgoing European bureaucracy. So what it meant was that he was virtually working alone to shape the most vibrant, most disciplined and able civil service bureaucracy which I can tell you we are proud of in the sub region.
“The early reforms that happened which included the implementation of the rapid Africanisation of the civil service bureaucracy, he was superintending that and also assisting in organising, advising the Prime Minister and the President later in terms of setting up the administrative structures of the ministries, their functions.
“Also as Secretary to Cabinet he was in charge of ensuring that the Cabinet system is structured in a manner that was within the framework of best practice as other countries and he was also Secretary to the President meaning that he assisted the President in supervising the management of Government in other words interfacing between the President and all ministers in the civil service bureaucracy.”
After his retirement, Dr Utete continued to advise Government on several key issues. “He naturally, because of the centrality of position, remained chief advisor also to the President,” said Dr Sibanda.
“He retired in 2003 but after his retirement I made recommendations to the President that we set an advisory unit in Government comprising senior civil servants who had retired and he was chairman of that advisory policy think tank, meaning that he interfaced with me and my colleagues in advising us on pertinent issues relating to the civil service, in development programmes, and also in major aspects of economic reform.
“He died while serving in that position. He had retired but we were working closely together. So to some of us, we have lost a big pillar in our civil service reforms. So he had become the institutional memory of Government.
“So whenever we wanted to start something we had to check with, as it where, the living archive to say ‘can we start this’, then he will say ‘no’, that was already done and it was done like this, like that. In fact, myself learning from that experience I then thought the best thing was now to document whatever we do so that actually have an archive and the publications we have been having in the office is a result also of his advice. We had to rely on his memory. But now we are documenting so we had lots of plans we were working on and it’s a big loss to us in Government.
“On behalf of Government I want to sincerely express my deepest sympathy to the family on this hour of bereavement. The family has lost the leader of the house and I am informed that he was the only son in a family of five. The rest were daughters so he was also a leader of the family. So the family had indeed lost a great pillar and us in Government I am saying also the loss has been with us and his void will be missed for a long time to come. So may his soul rest in peace.”
Dr Utete was the immediate past chairman of the Zimbabwe Newspapers group. On behalf of the group, Zimpapers chief executive officer Mr Pikirayi Deketeke said: “The board, management and staff of Zimpapers extend their heartfelt condolences to the Utete family and the nation on the untimely death of long serving civil servant and immediate past board chairman Dr Charles Utete.”
Dr Utete is survived by his wife Verna and five children. Mourners are gathered at 4 Adelaide Close in Highlands and burial arrangements will be announced in due course.