Former Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet Dr Charles Utete has been declared a national hero and will be buried at the National Heroes Acre in Harare tomorrow. He will become the first civil servant to be interred at the national shrine.
Dr Utete (77) collapsed and died at his Highlands, Harare, home last Friday.
Zanu-PF Secretary for Administration Ignatius Chombo yesterday announced to the Utete family that President Mugabe, the Politburo and Central Committee members unanimously agreed to confer national hero status on Dr Utete after considering the role he played in setting up the structures of the current civil service.
“Politburo and Central Committee members all agreed that Dr Utete be declared a national hero and we briefed President Mugabe and the Acting President Phelekezela Mpoko. The President agreed that he should be declared a national hero,” he said.
He said the President was saddened by Dr Utete’s untimely death.
“We are all still shocked by his death and I would want to sincerely express my deepest sympathy to the family on this hour of bereavement. The family and the country has lost a great leader,” said Chombo, who is also Home Affairs Minister.
Dr Utete’s body is scheduled to arrive at Madziyire Primary School at Nharira Shopping Centre in Chikomba District, Mashonaland East Province at 10am today, and mourners are advised to gather at the said Primary School.
In an interview, Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet Dr Misheck Sibanda said civil servants felt honoured by the declaration.
“From the perspective of the OPC and on behalf of all civil servants, we feel highly honoured that the pioneer of our civil service development has been accorded such a status of national hero. He certainly deserved this declaration because of the work that he did in building a viable civil service bureaucracy as you heard being articulated by several speakers this morning,” he said
Dr Sibanda said it was now a challenge for those that had remained to fulfil Dr Utete’s vision.
Family spokesperson Dr Joseph Bwakura applauded Government and Zanu-PF for according Dr Utete such a befitting status.
“As a family we are happy with this recognition that has been accorded to Dr Utete. It is an honour to the family and to the people he served and we would like to thank you for this,” he said.
Chombo was accompanied by Primary and Secondary Education Minister Dr Lazarus Dokora, Commander Zimbabwe Defence Forces General Constantine Chiwenga, Air Force of Zimbabwe Commander Air Marshal Perrance Shiri, Public Service Commission chairperson Dr Mariyawanda Nzuwa, and Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Permanent Secretary Mr George Charamba, among other senior Government officials.
On Friday, Dr Sibanda said Government had lost a great advisor who passionately worked for his country even after retiring. He said Dr Utete literally worked alone in the early 1980s in setting up the structures of the current civil service bureaucracy.
“Dr Utete is my predecessor. He was the first black secretary to the Prime Minister then appointed in 1980,” said Dr Sibanda.
He then became the first Chief Secretary to the President when the President’s position was transformed then from Prime Minister to Executive President until his retirement in 2003. I then succeeded him. Some of us had known Dr Utete first as an intellectual. He was a senior lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe in political science when I was an ordinary lecturer myself in the department of history at the same university.
“We were working together then in the political field supporting Zanu at that point. He was the treasurer of what then was known as the Zanu district for Salisbury which then extended from Mazowe, Christon Bank, that is up to Waterfalls covering all the high-density areas and I was the secretary for publicity and the late (Ambassador Tichaona) Jokonya was our chairman. So we had known each other.”
Continued Dr Sibanda: “Then in Government in his position as the Secretary to the President, naturally he was the head of our civil service.
“He played a pivotal role in shaping our civil service bureaucracy and at point before the appointment of black chairpersons of the civil service it meant he was working with outgoing European bureaucracy. So what it meant was that he was virtually working alone to shape the most vibrant, most disciplined and able civil service bureaucracy which I can tell you we are proud of in the sub region.”
Dr Utete played a crucial role in the Africanisation of the civil service bureaucracy while at the same time assisting the Prime Minister and the President later in terms of setting up the administrative structures of the ministries and their functions.
As Secretary to Cabinet he was in charge of ensuring that the Cabinet system is structured in a manner that was within the framework of best practice.
After his retirement, Dr Utete continued to advise Government on several key issues.
“He naturally, because of the centrality of position, remained chief advisor also to the President,” said Dr Sibanda.
Dr Utete retired in 2003.
“After his retirement I made recommendations to the President that we set an advisory unit in Government comprising senior civil servants who had retired and he was chairman of that advisory policy think tank, meaning that he interfaced with me and my colleagues in advising us on pertinent issues relating to the civil service, in development programmes, and also in major aspects of economic reform.
“He died while serving in that position. He had retired but we were working closely together. So to some of us, we have lost a big pillar in our civil service reforms. So he had become the institutional memory of Government.
“So whenever we wanted to start something we had to check with, as it where, the living archive to say ‘can we start this’, then he will say ‘no’, that was already done and it was done like this, like that.
“In fact, myself learning from that experience I then thought the best thing was now to document whatever we do so that we actually have an archive and the publications we have been having in the office are a result also of his advice.
“We had to rely on his memory. But now we are documenting so we had lots of plans we were working on and it is a big loss to us in Government.”
Dr Utete is survived by his wife Verna and five children.
Mourners are gathered at 4 Adelaide Close in Highlands.