THE Zanu PF government recently declared President Robert Mugabe’s birthday, February 21, a public holiday in honour of the veteran politician who turns 94 next year. However, the move has received mixed reactions from a cross section of society, including opposition parties, who dismissed it as a bootlicking exercise.
NewsDay (ND) reporters Blessed Mhlanga and Obey Manayiti yesterday interviewed Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment minister Patrick Zhuwao (PZ) over the matter and below are the excerpts of the interview:
ND: What is the significance of declaring Mugabe’s date of birth a holiday for the country? How did this come about?
PZ: As you are aware, Zanu PF youth league is an associate member of the Zimbabwe Youth Council and it is the Zanu PF youth league which has been running for the past 22 years the 21st February Movement celebrations and the youth league has got representation from several stakeholders, where as an organisation they were requested to broaden the participation of people who are engaged in that particular activity. We, as a ministry, also received representations from other stakeholders who really felt that the values that President Mugabe stands for go beyond Zanu PF. He is an undisputed icon of African’s empowerment and liberation.
ND: There are some who argue that the youth really have nothing to celebrate, given the unemployment levels sinking them in poverty under the watchful eye of Mugabe. Can you respond?
PZ: You must celebrate it while I disagree totally with those that argue that one of the things that I think is very critical is that not only must we, as a country, celebrate the national youth day. We have an International Youth Day, for the youth, which is on August 12, and we have an Africa Day, for the youth, which is on November 1.
So we celebrate as a country those international and continental dates. However, it is only befitting that we have a day where we focus on young people. It not only allows young people the opportunity to celebrate, but it also allows the nation to focus on the concerns of young people.
ND: There has been debate that this is nothing, but a Zanu PF event, which will be wiped off the national calendar once the ruling party has been pushed out of power.
PZ: That line of thinking is extremely flawed my brother. Christmas is a Christian day my brother and I am sure Zimbabwe is a multi-religious society, but we have a holiday to celebrate Christmas. We have a holiday for Christians which is Easter and everybody celebrates that particular day.
ND: In your view, do you think this declaration is justified? Is this not just bootlicking which has gone awry? Just recently, someone suggested a $1 billion Robert Mugabe University, another wants a dam named after the President, we have roads named after him. So what’s next?
PZ: My brother, when you have a luminary as big as President Mugabe, I am proud to have been part of his Executive, firstly, as a member of the politburo and, secondly, within the government and a lot of people will recognise President Mugabe as a luminary.
I am sure you noticed even in the small confines of the Sadc summit in South Africa when President Mugabe’s name was mentioned, the applause that he got was louder than anybody else.
There are some who don’t see, the idiots, fools and stupid people who do not know and cannot appreciate a good thing. These are people who have demons of poverty, who do not know the goodness in people.
ND: What is the role of the youths in Zimbabwe right now?
PZ: One of the things we want to be very clear about is that the youth have played a very crucial role in the whole developmental trajectory of Zimbabwe. For us to be an independent country, we had to go through a protracted liberation struggle and that armed struggle was actually waged by young people.
So, the youth, as a sector, have played a critical role.
Now, Frantz Fanon (author of The Wretched of the Earth) says that every generation must find its own path and it must decide on whether to succeed or fail on that path. As we move forward, what I want to do is to take direction from words by President Mugabe in 1986, when he said that our political independence must now link to economic independence.
Just as you played a vanguard role in the struggle for political power and solved the remaining contradictions of political power, you must play an equally crucial vanguard role in the struggle for economic emancipation by solving the remaining contradictions of economic power.
ND: Do you think the Mugabe in 1986 is the same Mugabe in 2017?
PZ: Oh! Mugabe in 1986 is the same Mugabe that we have today! Mugabe 1976, my brother, I will look for a video for you when he was interviewed on BBC in 1976, the principles and values that he had in 1986 are the same principles and values he has now. This is the very reason why we must celebrate the personification of those values of being steadfast.
ND: There are some who contend that Mugabe’s legacy has been destroyed by his continued hold onto power and …?
PZ: No, no, no! Mugabe’s legacy has not yet begun my brother. Mugabe’s legacy is only just beginning, Mugabe’s legacy is only now in the process of settling and establishing the foundation of the Robert Gabriel Mugabe legacy.
The Robert Gabriel Mugabe legacy is a legacy that talks to the total and complete emancipation of not only Zimbabwe, but Africa as a whole.
ND: With high levels of unemployment, potholed roads, do you honestly think we are emancipated in Zimbabwe?
PZ: Most definitely my brother, of course, we are emancipated.
ND: How? Is it not only the top leadership that’s emancipated, given that the rest have to wait in long winding queues to get their salaries? Is this emancipation?
PZ: The long queues that are in the banks are an administrative issue that must be dealt with by the monetary authorities. Oh yes, you are emancipated my brother. More than anything else, what you must understand my brother is that we have the most liberalised foreign market in the world.
ND: Is this by choice?
PZ: Whose choice do you think it is? It’s definitely our choice. It is a choice that was made by the Minister of Finance (Patrick) Chinamasa in 2009. It is our choice my brother.
ND: Was that a choice to retire a highly eroded Zimbabwe dollar that was no longer capable of buying anything, including the paper it was printed on?
PZ: Yes, it was a choice, my brother. It was a policy decision. You cannot turn around and say it was not a choice. It was a choice that we had to make and, as part of that, what you need to be able to understand is that it came from the unrelenting pressure on our economy put as a result of sanctions. Now, my brother, whenever you are under sanctions, if you fall, it’s your choice to remain lying down or to stand up.
ND: Going forward, do you think things are going to get better for Zimbabweans?
PZ: Going forward, my brother, things are becoming better for Zimbabwe, we have the most empowered nation in Africa. We already know we have the most educated people in Zimbabwe.
We have a government that is putting forward the future of the country by actually turning around to say there must be a day that is dedicated to ensuring that the youth of all generations are taken account of.