Sydney Sekeramayi

ZANU—Student in Sweden—Deputy Secretary of Health, Minister of State for National Security

Tor Sellström: You were a student in Sweden in the 1960s. You were also the ZANU representative there. How did you end up in Sweden?

Sydney Sekeramayi: I actually came to Sweden in June 1964 from Czechoslovakia. I had gone to Czechoslovakia after I had been expelled from school in Rhodesia. The party— then NDP and later ZAPU—organized scholarships for me and four others to go and study in Czechoslovakia, and when we had a few problems there we left. At that time, Rupiah Banda, who was the International Secretary of the Zambia Students’ Union, facilitated my coming to Sweden. He established a contact between myself and NIB—later SIDA—which resulted in a scholarship to study in Sweden.
That is how I came to Lund. But first I had to complete my secondary education, which I did at Grännaskolan. Then I came to the University of Lund, where I first studied genetics before I got into the medical school. Billy Modise, who is now the South African High Commissioner to Canada, was already in Lund, studying sociology. And, of course, Rupiah Banda, the former Zambian Foreign Minister.

Tor Sellström:  Were you appointed representative for ZANU while studying in Lund?

Sydney Sekeramayi: Yes. Well, I got to Lund when the split between ZANU and ZAPU had already occurred. I supported the ZANU side. When I got to Lund, I was interacting with Rupiah Banda and with Modise. We all felt that it was necessary to mobilize support to ZANU and ZAPU for purposes of invigorating the struggle. There were other Zimbabweans who I discovered a little later on. One was Claude Chokwenda, who was also a very active member of ZANU. Finally we had in Sweden about five students from Zimbabwe and we all happenedto support ZANU. We started to get into contact with the groups in Sweden which were supporting the liberation struggle in general in Southern Africa. By then none of the countries was yet free. Ourselves from Zimbabwe, with our colleagues from South Africa, Namibia, Angola and Mozambique, all of us formed a group that was spearheading the support, asking the Swedish organizations to support the liberation struggle in Southern Africa. This was in the early 1960s. The armed struggle had not yet taken off, so we were more concerned with mobilizing material support, especially to those people who were in prison or in detention.

Tor Sellström: I think that one of the first Swedish solidarity committees for Southern Africa was the one in Lund, which was called the South Africa Committee?

Sydney Sekeramayi: Yes, and which then had persons like Ulf Agrell, who was very active. We also had Per Garthon and others who were very supportive of our struggle.

Tor Sellström: That means that you were in Sweden when the Båstad demonstrations took place against the Davis Cup tennis match between Sweden and Rhodesia?

Sydney Sekeramayi: Yes, I was in Båstad at that time. The Africa group in Lund was very active. Båstad is near Lund, so we went there, but I was very careful about one thing. I did not want to do anything that would lead me into a situation of conflict, especially with the police. I felt that if the activities that we were promoting in support of the struggle turned into a confrontation with the Swedish police, it would not create a good impression. So when we were organizing the demonstrations against the tennis matc  all of us were saying: ‘Whatever happens, we should avoid confrontation with the Swedish police’. Sweden is basically a peaceful country and any kind of violent action would not be positively interpreted. We were very careful about that.

Tor Sellström: Sten Andersson, who later became Minister for Foreign Affairs, was brought to court because he was demonstrating on a First of May under the slogan ‘Verwoerd commits murder on African soil’. It was seen as defamation of a Head of State.

Sydney Sekeramayi: Yes, at that time Sweden was extremely peaceful. Any violent action, or even statement, was not taken very well, so we were to operate within those guidelines.

Tor Sellström: In what circles did you find support in those days? The student movement, of course?

Sydney Sekeramayi: Well, we had the student movement, which was very strongly supporting us. The National Union of Students (SFS) in Sweden and the students in Denmark, Norway and Finland, all of them, held the position that they must support the liberation struggle in Southern Africa. In my case, that also facilitated contacts between me and the Zimbabwean students who were in England. We would meet during the summer, reprogramme ourselves and see in which areas we could give maximum support in terms of ordinary dissemination of information and propaganda and in terms of collecting material things, like clothes and some money where it was possible. I remember—I think that it was in 1967 or 1968—when the party in Lusaka was having problems with their office machinery. We collected money for a Gestetner machine and sent it there. It was a humble beginning which was building up slowly.

Tor Sellström: The very first request by ZANU to SIDA came in 1969. From then on you received official assistance from Sweden?

Sydney Sekeramayi: Yes, we had a bilateral relationship.

Tor Sellström: When you were the ZANU representative in Sweden, did you also represent the organization in the other Nordic countries?

Sydney Sekeramayi: Yes, in the whole of Scandinavia. I had become Secretary General of the Zimbabwe Students’ Union in Europe, which was really the students’ wing of ZANU. I was coordinating all the student activities in the Scandinavian countries and with the larger group that was in the United Kingdom. That was one side. On the political side, I was de facto the party representative. When people like the late Herbert Chitepo and Richard Hove were going to Sweden, I was the person who facilitated their coming there to present our case. I remember when the late Chitepo came. We were able to organize meetings for him in Lund. It was also possible to take him to Stockholm. His presentation of our situation was very well received and in terms of support for us it was quite a reinforcement.

Tor Sellström: Was that in 1972?

Sydney Sekeramayi: Yes, about 1972.

Tor Sellström: When he came in October 1972 he really surprised the officials at SIDA, because he said: ‘We are going to start the armed struggle in Rhodesia and this will result in refugees pouring into Zambia. So we would like to discuss with you how we can help these refugees.’ Here was a representative from an antiimperialist liberation movement, waging armed struggle, openly telling a Western country about its military plans!

Sydney Sekeramayi: Yes. He was very clear that if you take the history of the Scandinavian countries we could not discuss military support, but we should be honest: ‘Let us tell them that we are going to wage an armed struggle. Where we will get the arms from is none of their business, but from the moral and political point of view we want them to support us.’ When he talked about launching the armed struggle in Rhodesia, it was really part of a policy that there were certain people whom you could tell the truth, because it would not help if you hid the truth from them. They would later find out and think that you were not quite honest in the presentation of your case. So we agreed: ‘Tell them that the struggle is on the way and that we expect non-military support from our Scandinavian supporters.’

Tor Sellström: It shows a large degree of trust between ZANU and SIDA?

Sydney Sekeramayi: Yes.

Tor Sellström: Perhaps it helped that you had quite a strong support base in the Swedish church due to the old relations with the mission stations?

Sydney Sekeramayi: With the mission stations, yes. And later with Emmaus Björkå. That was the organization which really got into the homes of the Swedish people, especially appealing for clothes, which we would sort out and send over. But after I got to Mozambique in 1977 and as things were beginning to unfold, I really became very scared of the situation when we were sending clothes, because in 1978 the Rhodesians were beginning to poison clothes. Imagine if they had poisoned the clothes that we were sending at that time! We were sending them to people who were in prison, who were in detention, to our leaders. It would have been a really terrible situation. I thought about it and said: ‘Oh, help me God if anything happens!’ The Rhodesians would just have been very happy. They would have poisoned the clothes and accused the Scandinavians of sending poisoned clothes.

Tor Sellström: This technique of poisoning clothes was invented here in Harare?

Sydney Sekeramayi: Yes, at the Chikurubi prison. Quite a few white guys at the university were involved, but they all left the country. Years later, I realized that this could have happened, but thank God it did not happen.

Tor Sellström: Did ZANU also get support from the otherNordic countries?

Sydney Sekeramayi: Yes, particularly from the Social Democratic Party in Denmark. In Sweden we had Sten Andersson and in Denmark we had Steen Christiansen, the secretary of the Social Democratic Party. He was very strong in supporting us and it led the Danish government, whichever coalition there was, to also support us. On a social note, Steen Christiansen was the best man when the now Foreign Affairs Minister Mudenge had his wedding, so they were very good friends right from that time. We had those contacts. In Finland it was the same. Obviously, in terms of geography Finland was a little further away, but anything that was done by the Social Democratic Party or the Liberal Party in Sweden was emulated in Finland. They would do the same. Whatever appeals we made through Pierre Schori and other leaders of the Swedish Social Democratic Party were disseminated to their friends in the other Scandinavian countries, and their support would come.

Tor Sellström: You represented a party which was outside of what has been called ‘the authentic six’. Did you feel ill treated or in a lesser position vis-à-vis the other African liberation movements— ANC, SWAPO, ZAPU, PAIGC, MPLA and FRELIMO—at the Nordic government level?

Sydney Sekeramayi: I think that at the government level there was no real difference. I am not excluding the others, but if you take the Swedish Social Democrats and the Centre Party then, whether under Thorbjörn Fälldin or earlier. Alex Chikwanda from Zambia, later Minister of Finance and also Agriculture under Kaunda, was in Sweden and he was a very good friend of Thorbjörn Fälldin’s. We had been able to make a presentation of ourselves which at the government level did not distinguish between us and ‘the authentic six’. But clearly, if there was a meeting organized by what you might call the pro-Soviet organizations of that time, we would get there and sometimes be humiliated to the extent that even if you had been sent a ticket you would be told that there was a mistake somewhere. You were not expected to attend the meeting. We would accept the situation and go back, but it also made us more committed to support the party. We were able to tell where we did not have any support and we also knew where we had support. We told our leadership in Lusaka and in Dar es Salaam in very clear terms that whatever assistance we were able to mobilize in Scandinavia was from these sectors, but from those other sectors we did not expect very much. We had no illusions. If a meeting was organized by those who called themselves ‘the authentic six’, we would not make lots of efforts to be present. But if we got there, we would make our position very clear. It slowly began to have an impact. If you take an organization like SWAPO, they knew the situation on the ground, how we worked, fighting as hard as anybody else. If you take FRELIMO, in the end they also knew and became our hosts. A change began to develop which was taking into account the objective situation of the fight for the liberation of Zimbabwe, a situation which was no longer dictated by the ideological cul-de-sac of the so-called ‘authentic six’. We were beginning to be accepted as much as our colleagues in ZAPU. But, obviously, there were others who did not want us at all. At the height of the Sino-Soviet dispute, the Soviet Union and all the allies of the Soviet Union would not hear of us. Sometimes that would be unpleasant.

Tor Sellström: You lived in Sweden and you knew of the strong anti-Communism that, for example, Olof Palme represented. At the same time, Palme was very supportive of movements like ANC of South Africa, which allegedly was influenced by Communists. How do you explain that?

Sydney Sekeramayi:  When you read Palme’s book Politik är att vilja (‘Politics Is Dedication’), I think that it to some extent explains the ideological conflict between the East and the West. But I think that he was also able to identify the fact that our situation required the type of action that we were taking and, probably, that the support that we were getting from the Soviet bloc was very coincidental, rather than deliberate. If you take Palme, having spoken to people like Mondlane, Chitepo and others, he could understand what they were saying. I think that they were able to impress on him that ‘the issue at home is not an ideological issue between Communism and capitalism. It is one of liberation. If we are able to liberate ourselves, we will be able to make up our own minds about the best ideological position to take’. In terms of bloc support there might have been some ideological contradiction, but in terms of national liberation—which Palme was supporting, for example in Vietnam, Cuba and elsewhere—I do not think that there was.

Tor Sellström: Did you co-ordinate or consult with the Nordic governments in international fora like the United Nations?

Sydney Sekeramayi: Yes, if you take the Nordic countries, you had, for example, also the Socialist International, where we were very active. That is one platform where we were given a status which enabled our leadership to communicate with the leaders of all the Scandinavian countries. And at the UN and in other international fora we would brief the Scandinavian countries very well, because we knew that they would eloquently put our position across. You had a position where the British—as much as they were opposed to UDI—tended to be protective of the Rhodesian regime. But I think that the Scandinavian spokesmen really put it in the correct moral context: ‘This issue should be looked into for what it is. Others have stood and fought for their liberation and it is in that same light that the Zimbabwean struggle should be looked at. It should not be looked at in the ideological or in the racial sense, but in the sense that there is what has been accepted by the UN, namely the principle of selfdetermination’. That is what was at stake.

Tor Sellström: Do you think that the Nordic countries played a role in broadening your diplomatic field of action?

Sydney Sekeramayi: Yes, very much so. For example, with the Labour Parties in the lead in the Nordic countries, we would be invited to the congresses of the Swedish Labour Party, the Danish Labour Party, the Norwegian Labour Party and the Finnish Labour Party. Other representatives of
independent countries—or those in the liberation struggle—also attended these congresses, so we had a platform where we would be able to spread our own message to a much larger audience.

Tor Sellström: You were also working in Sweden as a medical doctor?

Sydney Sekeramayi: Well, I did my internship and when I finished it was a question of what next? I discussed it with my leadership. I had been sent out of the country by the party. I remained in the party as part and parcel of the struggle and I felt that it was quite natural that when I had qualified as a medical doctor I should come back. Since we were not yet independent, the only country that was close to us was Zambia and I decided to go and work there. I left Sweden in 1975.

Tor Sellström: So you were in Zambia when Chitepo was assassinated?

Sydney Sekeramayi: No, that occurred when I was still in Sweden. I was working in Ängelholm. When the news came I was actually in theatre, doing surgery. One of the young doctors, who knew my political affiliation and activities, came to me and said: ‘I hear from the news that your Chairman Chitepo has been killed. Do you know anything about it?’ That was the first time, so I removed my gloves and gown, listened to the news and phoned my friends.

Tor Sellström: Sweden maintained contacts with ZANU through that crisis. That is interesting, because Sweden also gave a lot of support to Zambia, but Zambia banned ZANU?

Sydney Sekeramayi: Yes, Zambia put the ZANU leadership in prison. It was a difficult time. When I went to Zambia in about September 1975, the tension was still there. You could not speak very freely
as a member or a leader of ZANU at that time. But I was working in the hospital, so I was not
in the real limelight. The leadership was in prison and we were trying to see how best we could keep the organization together. It was a difficult time.

Tor Sellström: Kaunda has later said that it was not until he left government that he found out that one of his own ministers was working against ZANU.

Sydney Sekeramayi: Well, I think that of all the Zambian ministers who were anti-ZANU, the hardest was the former Minister of Home Affairs, Aaron Milner. He was extremely anti-ZANU. If I look at our situation after independence, I would say that when I was Minister of Health, a lot was done by Sweden in the health sector. To me it was like a continuation of where I had left. When I returned to Sweden as a Minister of Health, I went to SIDA and met all the friends. Despite the various problems that we have, sometimes you wish that we could have the kind of balance that Swedish politics struck, which centres on the goal of uplifting the generality of the people.
Of all the things that I studied in Sweden, what still strikes me when I talk with my friends is the way in which Sweden was able to organize itself and really make sure that the generality of the people, from the peasant farmers—who are now very few in Sweden—to the white and blue collar workers and the obviously affluent ones, progressed with avoidance of conflict. The position that ‘this is our country: Whatever we do, we do it together’. Where you do not have a very antagonistic relationship between, for example, capital and labour. I remember the old leader of the trade union movement, Arne Geijer. When he and the big guns from industry spoke you saw a convergence: ‘In the Swedish national interest, this is what we must do.’ I sometimes find that lacking here. You do not have the convergence of ‘let us move together in the national interest of Zimbabwe.’ You have the kind of situation where some people tend to say: Your government, as if it is not their government. It is that kind of orientation which I often wish that we would be able to build. It cannot be an event. I think that it is a process that one should consciously try to build up. We may not be able to achieve it ourselves, but I think that for our children and grandchildren we should lay a foundation where the common interest is paramount and all the other things can be set aside. Let the central common interest guide us in what we do. That is one thing that I did not learn in the textbooks, but after eleven years in Sweden and having studied Swedish politics very much in my spare time. I find that the main issue that I raise when I am resting and talking with friends is: ‘We should be able to do this and also develop a work ethic where, if work begins at eight, people get into the factory at a quarter to eight, and if work finishes at five, people get out of the factory at a quarter past five.’ That type of attitude is one of the few things that you learn by staying in a country. You cannot impact it on anybody. You cannot say: ‘Do this!’ That type of culture begins when you absorb it after eleven years. I came to Sweden when I was very young and at a very active time. When my children ask me which countries are the best, I say Zimbabwe and Sweden.

Tor Sellström: Did you feel that there was a political agenda hidden behind the Nordic support to ZANU? Did the Nordic countries try to influence you in any direction?

Sydney Sekeramayi: No, that was not really there.

Tor Sellström: Was it purely humanitarian?

Sydney Sekeramayi: It was purely humanitarian. Well, one must obviously be human. If I am assisting you, it is natural that after some time you begin to appreciate the assistance that I give you. From that appreciation you also begin to be a little curious about what it is that makes it possible for me to assist you. I think that it is only a natural development. ZANU was not very ideological in its outlook, East or West. I think that you will find that ZANU has tried to follow a middle course. When we came in we did not nationalize. People often say that the constitution stopped us from doing so. But constitutions are written. If you d  not want to follow it, you tear it up and write a new one. I think that a social democratic tendency in a positive way influenced a lot of what we were doing in the beginning. How much of that is Swedish influence on my part, or on the part of others, one does not know. But the end product has tended to be something along those lines.

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Updated 9 February 2010, 13:26

The interview was held by Tor Sellström in Harare on 27 July 1995.

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from the book Liberation in Southern Africa - Regional and Swedish Voices (2. edition) Sellström, Tor (Ed). (pdf)

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