The Sunday Mail
IN 2018, I got so excited when I was appointed Deputy Minister of Agriculture by His Excellency President Mnangagwa.
However, the excitement quickly dissipated when I learnt that I was to deputise Air Chief Marshal (Rtd) Perrance Shiri, a man with full military credentials.
I was not sure if a civilian like me and this military supremo would be compatible.
Fast forward to my first encounter with my new boss, the man was very calm and composed but the term military was ringing alarm bells in my mind.
We made introductions, each of us highlighting our backgrounds.
He told us about his role in the war of liberation and how he operated in Mbire, Dande area where I am now Member of Parliament.
From this narrative, I could tell that I was talking to a great leader who was loyal to his country.
The man spoke with passion about how he wanted us to work together to bring a turnaround to the agriculture sector. I could tell the man was results-oriented.
As days, weeks and months went by, it dawned on me that my new boss was an easy person to work with. All my fears of a military man vanished and were replaced with confidence and trust.
I realised that he wanted hard work that yielded positive results for our ministry and our country.
The man hated gossip and back-biting others in the workplace.
Each time we were having a briefing and someone was called in to explain something, my late boss would demand straight answers — he did not entertain excuses and blame games.
He was an embodiment of honesty and fairness.
I recall on two occasions when two of his very close relatives came to his office to request for land for farming purposes. He told them to approach the provincial lands offices.
They were supposed to follow the laid down land application procedure.
One would ordinarily expect the minister to use his influence to assist his relatives — that was not the case with Hon Shiri.
He would later tell us that land was supposed to be allocated fairly and equally among Zimbabweans, not on the basis of one’s closeness to the minister or anyone occupying a high position in Government.
My late boss was a strategist par excellence.
He would tell us (myself and co-deputy Minister Hon Vangelis Peter Haritatos) that as a man with military background, he wanted workable strategies when confronting challenges just as the military does when going for an operation.
In the context of our great country, we are having severe food shortages when we have abundant land.
This, he always said, was not supposed to be condoned.
The strategies that we were pursuing at the time of his death include but are not limited to massive dam construction in all provinces, increased irrigable land, massive financial support to farmers through banks and the Presidential Inputs Support, mechanising the agriculture sector as well as capacitating our extension workers.
I am happy to say the interventions got huge support from President Mnangagwa and Cabinet.
The President even went out of his way to personally source 5 000 motor bikes for extension workers. The motorbikes were officially handed over a fortnight ago to Minister Shiri at a colourful function at State House.
I am, however, saddened by the fact that my late boss will not be there to see the results of the winter wheat programme, which he, together with Vice President Chiwenga, campaigned for so aggressively.
“We must stop importing wheat when we have everything,” the late Minister would say with his deep and assertive voice.
All provinces were allocated targets in terms of hectarage to put under wheat.
Our preliminary surveys indicate that all provinces were able to surpass the 50 percent mark.
This is an achievement that will have a huge impact on food security and our economy.
I will miss the lighter moments as well.
Whenever we missed some targets, he would jokingly say:
“Vafanha ndichakumbira the President mumboendeswa kumilitary training for six months mudzoke ikoko makunzwisisa zvandiri kutaura”.
“But boss why would you want us to go for military training?” I would ask.
He would respond by saying in the military there were no excuses for missing targets and this was precisely what he wanted if we were to meet our targets.
“The country is looking up to us to deliver on food security, so we can’t afford to miss on targets,” he would buttress his position.
That is what Minister Shiri stood for. He wanted to see increased productivity on our farms.
Our Ministry is poorer without him.
He was the torch-bearer in the Ministry and with him, we were certain of getting to Vision 2030.
He was always saying we must get to Vision 2030 before 2030. That was his motto from which we derived a lot of inspiration.
To my late Boss, I say:
Go well my mentor;
Go well my role model;
Go well our hero;
We shall continue with your aspirations to make sure Zimbabwe is food secure.
◆ Douglas Karoro is the Deputy Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement.