Zanu-PF using ‘spider-web’ campaign strategy: Rugeje Cde Engelbert Rugeje

THE INTERVIEW Lovemore Ranga Mataire
RM: Your appointment as ZANU-PF national political commissar was hailed by war veterans and other party membership as a positive development. What are your priority areas of concern?

ER: I was invited by his Excellency for a briefing where he outlined his expectations by way of giving me the mandate to restructure the party from cell right up to the province. The second task was (that) because we have elections that are due sometime in the middle of the year, the President directed me to be involved in the mobilisation of support for the party. So basically those were the two tasks I was given. Restructure and mobilise and ensure the party scores a massive success in the harmonised elections.

RM: How far have you fared in the execution of these tasks?

ER: I want to comment first on the restructuring. I can confirm that as far as the structures of the cells is concerned, we have done that and we continue to verify our cell structures. Why do we continue to verify our structures? There is this inevitable movement of people from time-to-time. Either some are transferred because of the demands of their employers or are newly-resettled. You know we have introduced land reform, some of our members continue to benefit through land reform and then they find themselves settling in areas where they would not have registered to vote.

So because of that movement, we are bound to conduct our restructuring particularly of the cells continuously. We have also been encouraging our lower structures — provinces, districts, branches and the cells — to make sure that our members are registered to vote and also that they appear in our party registers. The cell register comprises 50 members and they need to be aligned to the polling station where they will be voting. So because of those changes, it becomes necessary to continue restructuring ourselves to make sure that by the time we get to the elections, our cells are intact and our members know exactly where they are going to vote. It doesn’t make sense for one to claim to belong to our party and not be registered.

RM: And what have you done in terms of mobilisation?

ER: There is quite a lot that we have achieved. First, we are conducting commissariat programmes that have taken me and my commissariat staff to almost all the provinces where we are addressing our membership at cell level because the concept we have adopted this time is the concept of the web, “dandemutande”.

This strategy focuses cells in a way that links them together just like the spider does. It links its web mats so neatly and makes sure that there is connectivity. And that’s the approach we have taken as the commissariat. We are going down to the cells, mobilising them, educating them on the importance of voting; on the importance of supporting Zanu-PF given our history as a revolutionary party that has brought independence to this country. We constantly remind Zimbabweans that it is the revolutionary ZANU-PF that has addressed the main national grievance of land, which was at the core of the liberation struggle and many other issues. We have also taken the President to a number of provinces by way of Presidential tours where he meets the people and the people are introduced to him. Each visit is normally juxtaposed with a tour or inspection of economic activity of interest. Remember the President’s mantra at his inaugural address at our extraordinary congress was that it’s no longer just politics. So we in Zanu-PF follow that call by the President not to spend more time talking about politics but also focus on economic issues. When we invite the President to tour, we normally arrange that he also tours or inspects an economic activity in the province first before addressing the people. And in the process of addressing the public, he will then give further direction or update concerning the economic activity.

RM: Prior to your appointment, members of Zanu-PF had expressed concern over wanton expulsion of members without due process. What have you done to instil confidence among party members and ensure that internal contradictions are amicably dealt with?

ER: For your own information, it is not the responsibility of the national political commissar to handle disciplinary matters. That was actually a misnomer. In the current dispensation, the mandate of the national commissar as I said is to restructure and mobilise people to support the party. So I cannot be found anywhere near disciplinary cases within Zanu-PF. We have a secretary for Legal Affairs who is responsible for handling such issues and the national chairman of the party is the one chairs the National Disciplinary Committee. The national political commissar is not a member of the disciplinary committee.

It was actually a contradiction; how can you mobilise and on the other hand prosecute? How do you win the heart and minds of the people? So in the current dispensation, my responsibility is to mobilise people. Yes, there were a lot of injustices committed by my predecessor and you are aware that during our extraordinary congress held last year, a resolution was arrived at where all those members that were expelled during the previous administration, the majority of them were readmitted into the party. So there is a resolution that has sanctioned the readmission of all members that were expelled, the lifting of suspensions on all members who were suspended.

RM: In other words, you are saying all those that felt unfairly treated by the previous administration have been appeased?

ER: I don’t know about those that you perceive as still holding grievances over their treatment by the previous commissar. In actual fact, what happened is that after the resolution passed last year at our congress, members who held positions simply reverted back to their positions. I don’t see anyone still having an issue to grind because of having been ill-treated by Kasukuwere.

RM: What is your general assessment of the party structures ahead of the harmonised elections? I know you mentioned the issues of the “dandemutande” strategy, but are you happy with the state of the party as you prepare for elections?

ER: I am relatively satisfied because we have conducted an exercise to verify those structures and the result that we got after the exercise gives me satisfaction. But you know Zanu-PF is a big party and we don’t want to take chances and sit on our laurels. We find it prudent and imperative that we continuously verify our structures particularly in an election. Your know the fever, you know the euphoria and the anxiety that comes with elections and there are chances of infiltration, especially when you have other aspiring members wanting to get into the election by hook and crook and in the process create parallel structures.

So we want to guard against that, we want to get into an election with a credible structure and not a dubious one. That has happened before and we are now very alert and careful, particularly in our primary elections. We wont countenance parallel structures.

RM: Do you think all party cadres, especially those in remote areas are adequately appraised of the change of leadership that took place in November last year?

ER: Oh yes, there has been this unfounded assertion that people are not aware that there have been changes either in Zanu-PF leadership or in Government leadership. That is a myth; that is totally false. I have personally been to very, very remote areas. I was in Chipinge, (I am not saying Chipinge is a remote area) very distant areas where people believe information does not get there in time and is transmitted

accurately. I addressed a rally in Machona, which is almost close to the border with Mozambique. I addressed a rally in Kwale, which is very close to the border with South Africa and Botswana just trying to establish whether what people are alleging is true that the generality of people in rural areas don’t know that there is leadership has change. That is false. People know that VaMugabe resigned. People know that the current head of state, commander of chief and President of the Republic is Cde Mnangagwa.

People have radios, mobile phones, television sets and are on social media. Tell whoever is saying that to give us a break. I am talking from practical experience. Ranga, tell me; are you telling me that when the entire nation came out in numbers on the 18th of November in solidarity with what the Defence Forces had done; those people were foreigners? These solidarity marches were not only confined to urban areas. I come from Bikita, there were demonstrations there and there were also demonstrations in Chiredzi and everywhere. What were they demonstrating about?

In all the areas that we have travelled as commissariat, people are clamouring for President Mnangagwa regalia. Let no one mislead the nation by saying that the generality of people are not aware of the new dispensation. I get very offended when I hear some armchair critics saying such kind of things. That is reckless and mischievous statements from uninformed people.

RM: One of the issues that was at the centre of the disharmonious state of affairs in the party was lack of rigorous orientation and lack of adherence or attachment to the party’s founding ethos and principles. Highlight steps taken by the commissariat department to ensure that members are adequately educated and respect the party’s foundational ethos?

ER: I fully agree with that assertion. That there was total lack of understanding of what Zanu-PF stood for. The revolution had been hijacked by people who were not interested in championing what the party represented. The revolution had been infiltrated by fifth columnist. People who wanted to destroy the party because they did not understand the history of the party? Why people went to war to liberate this country? These were the people who were at the mantle of leadership within Zanu-PF. And I want to give you example- nobody would be trained militarily before undergoing a 21-day ideological orientation programme. You would not be able to go and cook sadza for other comrades before you were properly oriented. It was mandatory for every cadre that they go through political orientation programme.

When you transgress or flout laws or instruction, you would not be thrown out of the party as what we were seeing in the past administration- war veterans for that matter. If they had committed any crimes during the war, they would be taken through a reorientation programme that politically puts them back onto the rail. This was not the case. Your saw what the Women’s and Youth League were doing. It was a clear manifestation of lack of proper political orientation.

Although the Chitepo Ideological College existed, it was not fully utilised. There were piecemeal approaches to Chitepo programmes unlike now where we have embarked on sustainable Chitepo programmes. We have trained the national leadership of the youth league, women’s league, the war collaborators, the ex-detainees and leadership of students and civil servants to understand the importance of Zimbabwe. Chitepo ideological programmes are not only for Zanu-PF, they are for every law abiding citizen of this country. If we get an opportunity in future, we will get everyone through the Chitepo ideological College. If you look at other countries- like China today, those programmes of political education are critical in ensuring that people know their identity. People must know that despite our differences, we are Zimbabweans first before being anything. We fall under one flag.

Look at the so-called old democracies. They have opposition of political parties but you don’t see them calling for the suffering of fellow citizens. When they are out there, they speak with one voice whether they are democrats, republicans, labour or conservatives- they all put the interests of their country first. It is unlike in our case where we have a situation where we have someone goes to America to castigate your own country-push for and support measures that bring agony to your own people. That’s murder.

RM: Let’s go back to internal party matters. How far have you gone in vetting and processing applications of aspiring councillors and legislators?

ER: It’s an ongoing process and will notify you when we are done with the exercise. It’s progressing well and that’s the only thing I can comment on that.

RM: What are the basic requirements that the party is looking at in vetting an aspiring councillor?

ER: Our guidelines are very clear. In the case of a councillor, one must be in our structures at branch or cell level for more than five years, you must be a fully subscribed member and not in arrears, you must be an individual of impeccable standing in society without a criminal record. Constitutionally, you must be above 18 years and for senatorial you must be above 40 years.

RM: What about war veterans who might have been in structures but are active party cadres?

ER: For all war veterans, there is a waiver. We don’t consider any position you have held in the party. All that is needed is to authenticate that you are a genuine war veteran. You can contest for any position you want. But one must not have a criminal record.

RM: When is the party manifesto going to be launched? I am asking this question because when I spoke to the party spokesperson last week, he categorically said the manifesto would be ready this week.

ER: It will be launched very soon.

RM: How soon is soon Cde Rugeje?

ER: The time resides in the future. There are other processes that precedes the launch of the manifesto otherwise we get ourselves onto a gridlock.

RM: What are your general sentiments regarding some G40 members who have continued to denigrate the new dispensation including calling all those who support President Mnangagwa EDIOTS?

ER: I have not come across anybody who talks directly to me in a negative way about the new dispensation except reading it in the Press. Usually I don’t want to talk about other people from other parties. I don’t want to talk about Jonathan Moyo or Zhuwao. I can’t be diverted from my mandate because of what Jonathan Moyo said.

RM: Is it not within your purview to also protect the image and integrity of the party from unnecessary battering and misconceptions?

ER: That is the role of S.K Moyo who is the chief public relations of the party. He is the one who should talk about that. My mandate is to restructure and mobile party cadres. I can’t get out that closet. I don’t waste my time talking about other political parties. We will meet at the elections.

RM: There are reports that the leader of the National People’s Party Joice Mujuru and other former members like Didymus Mutasa and Rugare Gumbo are reconsidering re-joining Zanu-PF. How far true are those reports?

ER: I am yet to hear about that but what I can tell you is that Mai Mujuru is most welcome. We welcome anybody who wants to join us- provided they apply and submit their applications to the secretary for administration. We don’t care which party you are coming from. So if Mai Mujuru wants to come, the door is open as long as she is coming without any conditions. But you know when someone is coming back, you start from the cell level. You are aware that almost everyone belongs to the cell. So when one joins, he/she must start at the cell level.

RM: But what safety nests have you put in place to ensure that you don’t just accept some counter-revolutionary elements that will destabilise the party?

ER: We have a very competent security department whose work was in the past frustrated by the same elements I have alluded to before. But now that they have been given enough space to exercise their duties, they will definitely do a thorough job.

RM: There are sentiments that Zanu-PF is not campaigning and is not visible on the ground. How do you respond to such sentiments?

ER: Who is really saying that? Do you really understand this ‘dandemutande’ strategy? I told you that I was at cells. People think that because they don’t read me in the papers or see me on television, then I am not visible. Let those who say we are not visible live in that delusion – they will meet us at the elections. What’s the point in having rallies when you have not verified whether we have structures on the ground or not? What’s the point of having rallies when we have not verified whether our members are registered? We don’t want to grandstand. It’s not the first time we have contested the elections and it’s not the first time we are going to win elections.

RM: Lastly, Zimbabwe celebrated its 38th independence anniversay from British colonial rule. What is your message to Zimbabweans regarding this day?

ER: Independence Day always brings joy and a reminder of the journey we have travelled as a country. Independence is for everybody. It’s not a party issue. My clarion call is unity and more unity. We don’t want violence. Let’s find harmonious ways of resolving our differences. It really boggles the mind when people start saying Rugeje is selling out when they see me talking to an opposition member. Who doesn’t have relatives in MDC? Who doesn’t have relatives in Zanu-P? We must show maturity as a nation. 38 years of independence is not a joke.- The Southern Times.

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