By Ranga Mataire
Cde Rugeje’s sincerity in ensuring vibrant internal democracy in zanu-pf is widely acknowledged even by those who used to be on the other side of the political divide.
Exactly two months ago, Zanu-PF national political commissar Cde Engelbert Rugeje had a premonition that the party’s primary elections would be like no other in terms of the massive numbers of aspiring candidates and those casting votes.
Addressing a commissariat workshop for the party’s Matabeleland regional leadership in Bulawayo, Cde Rugeje said: “Party primaries are inevitable and we want to exercise internal democracy. Those who aspire to be Members of Parliament and Senators and those who aspire to be councillors should start gearing for the event.
“We want to exercise full democracy so every party member must participate. Besides satisfying the tenets of democracy, it will also give us an opportunity to prepare for the elections because the process will be similar to the way the general elections will be conducted.”
True to Cde Rugeje’s hunch, the Zanu-PF primary elections were a mammoth exercise whose reach and inclusivity had never before been experienced in the country since the dawn of independence in 1980.
Consequently, operational glitches were always going to be encountered in a massive exercise of this nature but few will doubt Cde Rugeje’s sincerity in ensuring that the process was democratic, free and fair without any imposition of candidates.
Cde Rugeje’s sincerity in ensuring vibrant internal democracy in Zanu-PF is widely acknowledged even by those who used to be on the other side of the political divide.
Writing for the Zimbabwe Independent newspaper on April 27, Innocent Batsani Ncube — who signs off as Chevening scholar at the University of London — was on point in locating the significance of the Zanu-PF primary elections.
Ncube’s view was that “the success of their (ZANU-PF) candidate selection process, underpinned by massive turnout at the primaries will be a triumph of their extensive cell-based mobilisation method and a harbinger for a strong showing at the main polls.”
What was unique about the Zanu-PF primary elections as acknowledged by Ncube was that they involved the participation of all party members from the cell level, which Cde Rugeje described as “dandemutande” or spider web network.
It is without doubt that for the first time in post-independence Zimbabwe, many party supporters had the chance to vote for a candidate of their choice.
Unlike other parties which are contemplating a “consensus” based criteria in selecting candidates, Zanu-PF has always displayed its capacity to conduct internal democratic processes.
But now that the primary elections are over, the real battle that confronts the national political commissar is to ensure the party remains a united entity ahead of the harmonised elections.
It is no easy task given the fickle nature of the contestations that characterised the primary elections.
And the man tasked with the mandate of bringing the party together is none other than Cde Rugeje, an affable man who until one has set down with him might just pass as an ordinary citizen minding his own business.
Beneath his unassuming and jovial character lies a reservoir of experience and knowledge honed from his war time experiences, his military days and an adept intellectual expose supported by several graduate and post-graduate qualifications.
One thing stands out.
The man is passionate about his country and his revolutionary ZANU-PF party, which he said reared him as a teenager and instilled a sense of discipline and the ability to execute to perfection assigned national duties.
Until his appointment as the ruling party’s national political commissar in December last year, Lt-Gen Rugeje served in various capacities in the Zimbabwe Defence Forces where his record is not only exemplary, but is without blemish.
Born in Bulawayo in 1959, the young Rugeje attended Silveira Secondary School where he was known to always come out tops in his class.
Despite his brilliance, the young Rugeje could not proceed further with his education as he became very conscious of the insidious nature of colonial rule, which not only oppressed black people but systematically ensured that they remained in servitude in the land of their birth.
In 1977, the young Rugeje made a conscious decision to join the liberation war at the age of 18 years.
He joined Zanla forces where he adopted the Chimurenga name “Sunbat”.
Armed with a unique intellectual aptitude that empowered him to rationalise situations and subordinate himself to military orders, Rugeje rose through the ranks of ZANLA to become a member of the general staff.
At the end of the liberation war, Cde Rugeje joined the newly amalgamated Zimbabwe Defence Forces as a private.
Barely three years in his position as a major, Cde Rugeje got promoted to a lieutenant colonel in 1983.
Three years later he was to become a colonel.
An astute leader well versed in Governance issues, Cde Rugeje at one time served as the commander at Inkomo Barracks with the primary unit under his command being the First Mechanised Battalion.
One of his many successes as a military leader and strategist was when he led missions in Mozambique against RENAMO when he was commander of One Commando Battalion, also known as One Commando Regiment.
It was under Cde Rugeje’s leadership that One Commando played a prominent role in assisting other units of the Zimbabwean army in vanquishing RENAMO in 1984.
Six years after a successful stint in Mozambique, Cde Rugeje was promoted to Brigadier-General.
He assumed the position of Quartermaster of the Zimbabwe National Army where again his leadership skills were exceptionally demonstrated.
His leadership skills were again called to play when Zimbabwe was involved in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). As Brig-Gen Quartermaster Staff, he was part of the military leadership that was involved in the DRC under Operation Sovereign Legitimacy.
Conscious of the post-independence existential demands and the dynamism of security matters, Cde Rugeje pursued education at various universities outside the country.
He was to graduate with a Master of Science Degree in Defence and Security Analysis from Lancaster University in the United Kingdom, a PhD in Philosophy from the University of KwaZulu Natal and is currently studying for a Post -Doctoral Research Fellowship with the University Utara of Malaysia.
Given his education background, it was befitting for him to be tasked to direct the Battle Group Commanders Course and was Commandant Zimbabwe Staff College for six years during which he transformed and attained the Associate Status with the University of Zimbabwe.
He was later appointed Director General for Policy, Public Relations and International Affairs. Cde Rugeje was involved in the drafting of the African Union Common Defence Pact and the Southern African Development Community Mutual Defence Pact.
In recognition of his professional and military abilities, Cde Rugeje was appointed Inspector General at Zimbabwe Defence Forces Headquarters, a position he held for 10 years.
He successfully attended all military courses commensurate with his ranks and appointments.
He is also a graduate of the Zimbabwe Joint Command and Staff Course Number 1. He is a member of the 1994 Royal College of Defence Studies Course.
At the turn of the millennium in 2000, Cde Rugeje was promoted to Major-General, becoming the fourth in command of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces.
Following developments that took place in November last year, Cde Rugeje was promoted to the rank of Lt. Gen in December 2017 and then retired to take up the post of National Political Commissar of the ruling Zanu-PF party.
Given his rich resume, it is almost a done deal that the “dandemutande” campaign strategy is going to deliver a massive victory for the revolutionary party, which is the sole guarantor of the founding values of self-determination, sovereignty and socio-economic rights such as land reform and economic empowerment.