The Sunday Mail
Maj-General (Rtd) Paradzai Zimondi
IT is unfortunate that we meet to talk about the late Air Chief Marshal Perrance Shiri (Retired).
I first met him in 1974 in Tanzania at Mgagao when I went for the liberation struggle. He was already an instructor at Mgagao when I got there.
He was with Vice President Dr (Constantino) Chiwenga. So when we were training at Mgagao, we found that from the political side, Dr Chiwenga was active in ensuring that they impart proper knowledge or ideology on trainees for them to know what they were going to hold the gun for.
Air Chief Marshal Shiri (Rtd) was a physical instructor in terms of training combatants how to handle the gun, tactics and so on. He was an instructor in the artillery division, although he was also sometimes imparting ideology.
All of it was for the combatants to know what they had come to the liberation struggle for, why they had to go back and fight, and why they should hold a gun, they were very particular about that.
So I found in them hardworking and determined comrades who wanted us to win the war against the enemy. After initial training I was chosen to train for the instructor’s course which I did in 1976. We were the first group to leave Mgagao for Mozambique, the operational area, but Cde Shiri remained behind because they had to train more comrades who were coming in from home.
We were now equipped in terms of weapon handling and ideology, what we were going to fight for. Later on in 1977 because they had been arrested in Tanzania for some reason, I think you have heard about what happened there, they were released and came to Mozambique.
I was then operational myself. I was operational commander for Manica Province. When Cde Shiri came, he was appointed field operational commander for Tete.
ZANLA forces had three provinces, Tete in the North was commanded by Air Chief Marshal Shiri (Rtd) , Manica in the East was commanded by myself as Cde Tonderai Nyika and Gaza in the South East was commanded by General Edzai Chimonyo. So that was the setup.
When he went to Tete, Cde Shiri was more active than myself.
I think I was more on the soft side though I was effective. He was more on the offensive side, so you can see what type of a commander he was. He always wanted to be in the operational front. In other words he did not want to stay in Mozambique like other comrades.
Always, you would hear, Cde Shiri has gone to Mazowe or Mt Darwin. We would hear this as members of the High Command through bulletins. For a person to be a member of the High Command of ZANLA you needed to have certain qualities.
So it speaks for itself that he was appointed member of the High Command for ZANLA because they found in him the qualities that would make him an effective commander.
He carried the task of being an operational commander for Tete from 1977 until ceasefire in 1979 when the Lancaster House talks were held and we could see that the operations from that area, the blowing of tanks in Salisbury were conducted by Cde Shiri because he was the commander of that province, although he was working with other commanders.
He actually brought those comrades who hit the tanks from Mozambique into the operational area. He was a very effective and steadfast commander of ZANLA forces.
He was also a hands-on person who did not want to stay at the rear. He wanted to be at the front with the comrades. He did not want to give somebody a mission which he was not going to participate in himself.
He was like a commander who said do as I do and if the comrades see a person who is not afraid like he was, they would be very operational and they would hit the enemy because he was there himself leading by example.
Coming into Zimbabwe, he was a commander of an assembly point in the North East in Rushinga. The enemy wanted to hit them at an assembly point, but they actually attacked the enemy before they did and it became a big issue.
So we were commissioned together and he was attested into the Air Force as commander in charge of operations when the late Cde Josiah Tungamirai was the commander of the Air Force but when Cde Tungamirai retired from the Air Force, Air Chief Marshal Shiri was appointed as the commander. You can see how effective he was that if you were going to be appointed as a commander, a commander who is supposed to be commanding very expensive weaponry and jets and transport planes you will be very active.
I do not think I would have afforded to do that myself, but he was a hands-on man so he commanded the Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ) and was very successful in all the operations that the AFZ conducted in Mozambique against Renamo and in the DRC.
Eventually after all those effective operations, he retired from the AFZ after “Operation Restore Legacy” in 2017 and he was appointed Minister of Agriculture.
I was not surprised that the President appointed him to be Minister of Agriculture because I knew him, he was a hands-on man.
He was a man who would, when going into the field, put on a work suit.
He did not want to see himself as a person who was above an ordinary farmer like maybe I would do myself. So he was an effective Minister of Agriculture.
As far as I am concerned, it would be difficult to appoint a Minister of Agriculture as effective as Air Chief Marshal Shiri.
It will be difficult for somebody else because Shiri was a professional farmer himself, he liked farming. If you go to his farm today you will see how productive he was. He did soya beans and bananas like he went to agricultural college.
As far as our youths are concerned, he wanted to promote the youth in whatever he did.
Even now you can see that there are a lot of young farmers because of what Air Chief Marshal Shiri (Rtd) did when he became Minister of Agriculture.
Even when he was commander of Air Force I used to know that he wanted to promote the young guys into senior positions.
He encouraged young officers to get educated because our force is a very specialist area that you have to have people that are educated to operate the equipment and to take care of the administration or management of the Air Force.
If you get time you have to interview officers who were trained by the Air Chief Marshal in the Air Force and if you have a chance as well try to find young farmers who got to be farmers because of the encouragement by the Air Chief Marshal Shiri.
I think he was an effective commander of operations in the liberation struggle, the Air Force and when he was now commander of Agriculture as minister.
You can see that he had a vision for Zimbabwe, the country needs young people who should see their future, who should take Zimbabwe’s future in their hands because when the liberation struggle was fought it was fought by young people.
He was young when he became a guerrilla/freedom fighter. By the same token, he wanted young people of this country to fight the economic war of this country because the future of Zimbabwe lies in our young generation.
He was a person who was not afraid of the war — that is why we became friends.
When we came into the country, my young brother married his sister, the one who came after him.
So he became my tezvara (in-law).
Many people sometimes came to me and I would say that I am not the Minister of Agriculture because they wanted to come through me and say I want a piece of land please go and tell Minister Shiri.
He was always encouraging me to work very hard even from the liberation struggle. Although he worked in Tete, we used to meet as members of the High Command.
He was always encouraging comrades to work hard and be faithful in whatever they do if we were to win Zimbabwe.
He was not just a friend for nothing, but he was a friend who you could learn something from and I learnt quite a lot from Cde Shiri. He contributed a lot to me steering the ZPCS the way I did. I have lost a friend, I have lost a comrade and I have lost a person whom I will always remember. Zimbabwe has lost a gallant fighter for the liberation of this country.
A man who was looking forward to making sure that the country progresses, to make sure that the ethos of the liberation struggle are followed. It is unfortunate that we continue to lose comrades with ideas. I hope God will find somebody to give the President to appoint as minister who will work as hard as Minister Shiri.
We have lost a comrade and I have lost a friend. May his soul rest in eternal peace.
◆ Retired Major-General Paradzai Zimondi is the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) Commissioner-General. He spoke to ZBC Features Editor Abigail Tembo.