Elita Chikwati Senior Reporter
NATIONAL liberation fighter, retired Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ) Commander, and Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement Air Chief Marshal Perrance Shiri (Rtd), who died early yesterday after a short illness at the age of 65, has been declared a national hero.
President Mnangagwa described the liberation war stalwart as a man who served his country with distinction as the Zanu PF Politburo unanimously agreed he should be declared a national hero.
The President said Cde Shiri worked very hard during his short stint as the Minister of Agriculture, a critical Government department that was reviving the whole rural economy under the Second Republic.
Minister Shiri was instrumental in revamping the agriculture sector to boost production through different projects and programmes, including the recently launched John Deere mechanisation programme.
“I have learnt with utter shock and a deep sense of grief of the death early this morning of Air Chief Marshal (Rtd) Perrance Shiri, our Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement after a short illness.
“A stalwart of our war of National liberation, Cde Shiri ranked high among our leading Zanla field commanders whose contribution to the national liberation struggle was simply valiant and outstanding.
“His commitment to the liberation of his country and his people amply showed when he alongside our Vice President General Constantino Chiwenga abandoned his studies at Mt Saint Mary’s Mission School in Wedza in 1973, and defied all odds to join the liberation struggle at a very tender age,” he said.
The President said after having been fully trained and battle-hardened, Cde Shiri rose through the ranks to become the overall commander of Tete Province, one of the hottest fronts during the country’s fierce war of independence.
He said under his command, several spectacular missions against the enemy were carried out among them the 1978 blasting of oil tanks in Salisbury, itself the heart and citadel of the settler power.
“Indeed, that military action which was undertaken by a specialised Zanla Unit which he mentored reverberated well beyond the immediate theatre of war and proved a turning point in our struggle for national liberation.
“After the struggle, he would continue serving his country in the military, including playing a salutary role in the integration process by which erstwhile warring armies were reoriented and re-moulded into a cohesive national army. Later, he would be redeployed to the Air Force of Zimbabwe, becoming our second indigenous Air Force of Zimbabwe Commander after the late Cde Josiah Tungamirai.
“While he discharged his onerous command duties he still found time to further his education in the process acquiring several professional qualifications and two masters degrees in the fields of business and development. Always focused, hardworking and hands on, the late Minister Shiri was key to revamping our food security. Barely a month ago, we launched an agricultural equipment initiative he concluded with an American company, John Deere. Except for his untimely demise we would have launched yet another of his many initiatives on mechanisation this time with the republic of Belarus,” he said.
“It was also during his short-lived ministerial tenure that he reached out to and opened negotiations with white former commercial farmers with a view to breaking the impasse over the age-old national land question. Only this morning we signed a historic agreement with the former farmers, itself a crowning moment for his tireless efforts. Sadly, as fate would have it, he would not live to witness this historic moment.
“On behalf of the party Zanu PF, Government, the Zimbabwe Defence Forces of which he was a long standing member, my family and on my own behalf, I wish to express my heartfelt condolences to the entire Shiri family especially his children who now stand orphaned. As they go through the painful motions of deep grief.
“I urge them to find comfort and solace in the distinguished role and career of continuous service which their farther gave to his country. He remains our hero, making his demise a blow we all keenly feel and share. May his dear soul rest in eternal peace,” he said.
In what was testimonial of Cde Shiri’s work as a minister, the President had in the morning of yesterday presided over the signing ceremony of the historic US$3,5 billion Global Compensation Deed between Government and representatives of white farmers after protracted negations in which Cde Shiri played a pivotal role.
Born Bigboy Samson Chikerema on January 11, 1955, ACM Shiri grew up in Chikomba and joined Zanla as an 18-year-old rising to the High Command in 1977.
At independence, he joined the Zimbabwe National Army and was promoted to the rank of Brigadier in 1982.
He was later transferred to the Air Force of Zimbabwe as Air Commodore in 1984 and in 1986, Cde Shiri took up a place at the Royal College of Defence Studies in London, the defence institution that trains top British officers.
After a spell as AFZ Chief of Staff in the rank of Air Vice Marshal, he was appointed Commander of the Air Force of Zimbabwe in 1992 and promoted to Air Marshal, the rank he held until his retirement when he was given a step up to Air Chief Marshal on the retired list.
As minister in charge of agriculture, he played a major role in expanding the Command Agriculture programme and ensuring its viability and success as it was converted into a commercial programme backed by the Government.
Cde Shiri believed very strongly that Zimbabwean farmers could lead economic growth and could become exceptionally productive.
He died at the time when he was spearheading the Agricultural Recovery Plan which included the Pfumvudza concept, which is meant to boost household food security and ensure farming become a business to smallholder farmers.