To the young generation,
who will beat their own path
as they become change agents
because ‘paths are made by walking’
- Learn from history
- Forgive, but never forget
- Act on facts
- Be an internationalist
- Fight for equity
- Give every comrade a job
- Push for visible change
When discussing the current crisis in Zimbabwe, many of us have looked back to 1980 at the birth of Zimbabwe and wondered what really went wrong. For those privileged to have worked with the first Minister of Health for Zimbabwe, we have often wondered loudly, “what would Comrade Ushewokunze do?” For some answers to this question, I went back to January 1981 when I found myself in a team working with a Minister of Health under siege from the press, the white population, and some of the new African elite. To understand how a man pushing for change that could stabilize society became so disliked back in 1981, I found some explanations in his early speeches. Faced by new questions in the new century, I have revisited many of the same speeches in search of some insights that can provide a candle for lighting on part of the way ahead.
Having worked closely with the late Comrade Ushewokunze (shortened to Ushe by the popular media) for over two decades, I have tried to answer the hypothetical question by looking at what he advocated for during that tumultuous eighteen months when he was Minister of Health. For this, I have gone back to forty-odd speeches that he gave in the critical period of March 21, 1980 – April 6, 1981 to find what Ushe saw as the future for a Zimbabwe health service, which in his words was “the entry point to development”. I have pulled out seven main themes from his speeches, which are as relevant today as they were three decades ago. For the post-1980 generation, these seven elements of Ushe’s mission in Zimbabwe might come in handy once the dark clouds have lifted and a new dawn comes to Zimbabwe.
In 1980, the late Dr Herbert Silvester Masiwa Ushewokunze was appointed the first Minister of Health for an independent Zimbabwe under Prime Minister Robert Gabriel Mugabe. He remained at his post for eighteen months and was dismissed in October 1981. In that period, and in years to come when he returned to Government, he was perpetually surrounded by controversies. To his many admirers, Ushe was a man determined to change Zimbabwe in a hurry. To his detractors (and he had many), Ushe was merely a man seeking to wreck Zimbabwe. With new developments in Zimbabwe at the birth of a new millennium, the issue of what impact his mission would have had on Zimbabwe had it succeeded is no longer so clear-cut and here we now have an opportunity to debate, learn, and hopefully act.
This is not a biography, a tribute, or a history of Zimbabwe’s health service. It is a look at the public pronouncements of a man whose solutions to the problems of Zimbabwe could possibly have spared it some of the pains it faces today had his strategies found support among the elite. He recognized that while there were historical processes that could not be reversed, he was critical of the negotiations at Lancaster House in London that gave birth to independent Zimbabwe. His attitude was that the colonial government had left behind enough laws and rules to allow for the Lancaster House outcome to be pushed closer to the center away from where it had frozen Zimbabwe – as a highly unequal society based on race. To many, this was equivalent to questioning the policy of reconciliation promoted by R.G. Mugabe in 1980 and a threat to the new-found comfortable life by an African elite returning from many capitals around the world.
As Zimbabweans ponder their future in the twenty-first century, they may well reflect on Ushe’s mission in Zimbabwe as lessons for the next time they have to reconstruct national institutions.
Mungai N. Lenneiye (2015) Ushe’s Mission in Zimbabwe: Lessons in Change Management, SAPES Books, Harare