1957-63 Student Leader University of Natal. Vice-President SRC. President of Medical Students Council Students’ Council. Vice-President of Association of Medical Students of South Africa (AMSSA). Member if ZANU Youth Wing. Member PAC (South Africa)
1976-79 Delegate to Geneva Conference. Member of ZANU Central Committee, External Wing. Member of ZANU Executive and Secretary for Health. Overall Commander of the ZANLA Medical Corps.
1980 MP for Matabeleland North. Minister of Health, Zimbabwe.
Herbert Ushewokunze never knew his father. He died before the third child was born in his peasant farming family in June 1938. His mother, a devout member and chairman of the Methodist Churchwomen’s ‘Ruwadzano’ organization, applied herself to becoming a master farmer and sustaining her little family on the sale of groundnuts from her fields in the tribal trust lands near Marandellas (Marondera) where Herbert was born.
The sacrifices made in the older children’s education in order to sustain the payment of school fees for the bright youngster has not gone unnoticed by the man who was to become the first African general practitioner in Matabeleland and all-round sportsman, lover of music and drama and political science and philosophy student. He speaks of the sacrifices, together with those made in his own domestic circle. His eight children whom he has not been able to care for a while out of the country have caused him concern but no regret. United now. A further sadness when his hard-working mother, who had come to live a short 3 weeks with a newly qualified doctor son, died in 1965.
His own personal sacrifices, in giving up family life, leaving a lucrative practice and enduring the hardships of bush warfare, while he led the medical teams of the ZANLA Army, are evident today. For his remarkable career can be revealed, now that the war has brought him to the threshold of a new challenge as Minister of Health in the Zimbabwe Government.
Herbert attended a succession of primary schools: In the Sinoia (Chinhoyi) District; Madzima Methodist Circuit, south of Salisbury (Harare); Makobva Township, Bulawayo; Marshall Hartley Mission; and Waddilove Institute near Marandellas (Marondera), where he completed his standard VI certificate. His secondary schooling was less disrupted. After six years at Goromonzi School, where he was School Captain, he qualified to enter the University of Natal has a medical student.
Political awareness for Herbert Ushewokunze came through the inspiration of the late Dr. Parirenyatwa, an early casualty in the nationalist struggle for freedom. “He was a role model and a very unassuming man, simple to deal with and always ready to help with advice.” The South African experience to brought him into the youth wing of ZANU near the end of his studies and the Pan Africanist Congress in South Africa. Two college mates were Simon Mazorodze, now Deputy Minister of Health, and Oliver Munyaradze, now Deputy Minister of Finance.
When he returned home from his studies, he joined the underground movement of ZANU, operating entirely in Matabeleland. He had done his medical internship at King Edward Hospital in Durban and he had also worked at the McCord Zulu Hospital, and by the time he came home he was under the threat of expulsion from South Africa. He first worked with the then Rhodesia Railways as a Railways Medical Officer but, after the breakup of the Federation, he went into private practice in 1966. The first African to own and run a nursing home in Zimbabwe, the Marondera Polyclinic in Bulawayo. He opened private practices in Makoba Township in Gwelo (Gweru) and in Amaveni Township in Que Que. When there was a need for primary healthcare in the Gokwe area near the Binga border, he opened a charity clinic to serve the People.
During this busy time Herbert Ushewokunze was responsible for cell activities in Matabeleland. He was ordered not to surface, but performed various is valuable services as when he collected Enos Nkala from prison and sheltered him until the party could support him in 1974. Even more dangerous, as the war intensified, was his assistance with the recruitment of young freedom fighters, an offense punishable by death.
Before he made his decision to leave the country and join the freedom fighters in the mid-70s, he had to declare himself during the time of the Pearce Commission.
“I surfaced under the pressure group called the African National Council. At that time it was not yet a party. I went underground again after the rejection of the Smith-Home proposals for a settlement 1972. I surfaced in 1975, upon instruction from the leadership, to do ZANU’s ‘thing’ under the so-called ANC umbrella. I worked as the ZANU contribution to the ANC Central Committee. I became Deputy National Chairman. The clash on ways and means to achieve the African political goals soon took place with the forces of collaboration.”
Ushewokunze was accused of being a member of the third Force by the ANC umbrella central committee. But he continued to work towards the building of the fighting wing of ZANU.
He was under the command of Maurice Nyagumbo. “He used to act like an army General. At night our cars were running to the border with recruits. While the city slept we were in action. Security was very tight. I would tell the family, after I had been out until 5 a.m. and slept only until 8 a.m., that I had been out on a medical call”. He was closely watched and was once nearly caught because the police noticed that his cars were being sighted at different places at the same time. The journey from Herbert’s private nursing home in Bulawayo sometimes took them to the south-east border in the Beit Bridge area by a Plumtree, south-west of the city.
“By 1975, the police were about to bump me. I was at pains to leave the country and in 1976 I was called by the leaders to Maputo just at the time I was preparing to leave. It was getting a bit hot in here. I didn’t even say goodbye. I said I was going to my Gwelo (Gweru) surgery. I knew a route out and Comrade Nhongo was there at the border to receive me.
“I was to minister to the health needs of the refugee population, ZANLA forces, and to receive my military training. We ran both mobile and static hospitals. There were no technocrats when I arrived, and the young guerrillas who did basic first aid and had run the show so well, they needed only direction from me. I set up training cadres in the bush for both medical and paramedical personnel.”
Herbert Ushewokunze speaks of help given by the tribespeople in hiding the wounded in old caves and unknown retreats. The medics constantly aimed for more self-reliance in the bush, performing operations in the field before getting back to base. They used local anesthetics because if they were attacked before the operation was complete, they could dress the patient and run for cover with him. Even abdominal operations and reduction of fractures were done this way.
By 1977 he was desperately in need of a colleague’s help. The first to leave his lucrative practice and join him was Dr James Mvuti who was based in Lusaka. He joined the Freedom Fighters and saved many lives among the refugees. Dr Muchemwa and Dr Sekeramyi came and joined them at the end of 1977. Dr Albert Gwada also came in in 1978.
They would move up to the border, organize the medical cadres, and then keep clear of the crossing because the Rhodesians put a price on the heads of the ZANLA leaders. In order to get them, a major battle might ensue, and that would kill a lot of people because, records the doctor, they would never desert their leader. One particularly close shave was on 30th July 1978 when there was an aerial attack on one of the camps in Mozambique, but the attackers were unaware that most of the leaders were there, and they bombed only during the morning. Arial gunfire passed within a few feet of Dr Herbert Ushewokunze. “It sprayed dust up into my eyes,” he says.
Herbert Ushewokunze’s personal philosophy reveals the pattern so powerfully highlighted in the recollections of those who have been in the vanguard of the liberation struggle; a terrible discontent at the way they lived in the country, and a sense of great fulfillment as a result of their sufferings and experiences of the armed struggle.
“I was well-to-do. I had enough to eat and to spare, but there are seven million others, most of whom are not so lucky. That thought always haunted me and harrowed my soul. I could see no immediate change in the plight of Africans. Negotiation had failed and the only answer was to join the armed struggle and talk through the gun.”
“The inspiration I got was from the cadres who knew no tribalism, no regionalism and dedicated themselves to the liberation of Zimbabwe. They were a fine lot to work with. They deserve the victory that came their way. There was such a high degree of selflessness in the camps and on the battlefield. We were just brothers and sisters.”
Dr Ushewokunze has his vision to for the future: “The socio- economic system must be looked at as a whole. This holistic approach begins at grassroots level. The colonial system had people at the top who assumed that they knew what the people at the bottom wanted. It is actually the reverse. We are going to have to look from the grassroots upwards if we want to succeed with our planning for the future of our country.”