This is an edited transcript of an interview between Emmerson Mnangagwa, president of Zimbabwe, and Alec Russell of the Financial Times in Harare on Tuesday January 16.
Mnangagwa’s relations with Mugabe now
Q: Do you still speak to the former president? When did you last speak to him?
A: Just before he left for Singapore [in mid December]we chatted. Before he left for Singapore. He said he wanted to go Singapore, I said, Sir, you’re most welcome. I will give every facilitation for you to proceed to Singapore. Then that was that. Then the list of people going to Singapore came to me. There were 38. A delegation of 38. So I phoned back and said, chef . . . That’s what we call each other. Boss, you’re going for a medical check-up; why do you want 38 people? Then he says, Emmerson, I don’t know that list. No one even told me. I never told you? Yes, OK. He says, I don’t know that there are 38 people. I know it’s myself, my wife, and my family. And we are hardly 10. I don’t know where the other 30 . . . I said no, I have a list here of 36 plus yourself and the wife will be 38. So I can’t just approve 38 people just for you for a medical check-up; no. You know the new dispensation, I mean, we are trying . . . I have cut down the cabinet. It’s a leaner cabinet. And I’m also saying no minister travels first-class and so on. So I’m cutting expenses and that can’t be understood if you are going to go for medical check up with a big number. He says, Emmerson . . . He never says Mr. President, he just calls me . . . Just said Emmerson. Emmerson, send me that list. So I called the protocol people. Then they sent the list to him and they reduced the number down to 21. He says I can’t reduce any further; this is the number. That’s the number that then went. With him, it became 22, but the others were 21. He was then the 22. Then he went . . . But when he went in a 767 it carried these 22 people also to Singapore. Then when I was told I said no, this is not good. If the press hears that we’ve taken the former president on this huge plane, it’s extravagant and so on. And it was published that it cost $6m. So we then said we must look for a smaller plane to go and pick him back when he finishes. Fortunately when he was there, he then phoned back but he didn’t talk to me; he talked to my directors. He said, you see, it’s very absurd that the president allowed me to come with a 676 when we’re so small delegation. Can you look for a smaller plane to pick me back? This is him. So the message arrived. So I gave instructions to the minister of transport and my officials. Somehow, the communication didn’t reach Air Zimbabwe on time. Then they sent again the 767.
Q: But how is he now? He was in power for 37 years, and now . . .
A: Just now he’s OK. Because when he came last week he sent me a summary of his medical report showing that . . . Just thanking me for having gone there, and then a small written report by Dr Matenga showing that he had a very successful and satisfactory medical check-up and he is back and he will be going back in April. This time when he goes back we will make sure he goes with a smaller plane as he asked.
His history with Mugabe
Q: When and how did you first meet Mugabe?
A: We’ve been together for about 54 years when I was a student and also when I went for military training in Egypt as well as in China. He was responsible for sending my group in September ’63 for military training in China, where I spent some time in the military academy in Nanjing. Graduated from there, came back to Rhodesia then, and attended the first Zanu conference in Gweru where he was elected secretary-general of the party. Our main task was to recruit young men at the time for military training abroad. We were called the Crocodile Group.
Q: Who called you the Crocodile Group?
A: Reverend Sithole. I’m the only survivor. We received communication from Mugabe that there will be a liberation committee meeting in Dar es Salaam; can you do some sabotage in the country . . . to show that the battle was active in the country. So, as a result of that, I blew up a train.
Prison and torture
A: I was later captured. I was put in this . . . Butcher House A20, yes. Butcher House A20: it’s a room at Harare Central Police Station . . . No, Salisbury Central Police Station. We were then tortured there. What they do is there’s a bar . . . See, like, that one doesn’t cross. There’s a bar from one end of the wall to the other end of the wall. Then there are hooks like in a butchery. Then they put a leg, then one leg goes through the hook, then the hook on the other side of your leg. Then they pull the table away so you have your head hanging down with your legs up there. You are hanging Upside down. Then they hit you and they hit you. So I become unconscious, of course. They take you off, then they say again, you trained in China? I said no. On one occasion they took me to a room; they were foolish. They took me to a room, opened a window on the second floor of the building. A TNT slab, then a fuse with a blasting cap. Then they put the blasting cap into the TNT slab. Then they light it. Now, because I was trained in military engineering, I knew that the size of the TNT, if it blows, we’ll all perish. And there was Inspector Beans, Bradshaw, and Smith. These are the guys who are doing this. So they knew that . . . They opened the window. They knew that when the fuse comes and of course before the blasting cap blows, I would throw it away. But I knew that I would keep it. And they know that if it blows, if they allow it to explode . . . they will all die. So, I kept it. Before it could blow, one of the guys jumped and threw it! They said you will go to prison but before that we will castrate you. Then you go for five years. I said in my mind, if I’m castrated, I’ll be in jail for five years, then I’m released. Then I’m nobody. It’s better to die a man. Then I said, OK. Of the crimes you listed here, I’ve done one, two, three. They said, just the one is enough: you will get hanged. That’s why I was not castrated. Then I went to court, sentenced to death. But then when they came to the question of age . . . At that time the age of majority was 21, and I wasn’t 21. That’s how I survived; then I got 10 years’ imprisonment.
Last year’s showdown with Robert and Grace Mugabe
A: There was this group called the G40 group, led by the former First Lady . . . using the former First Lady as their means to achieve their objectives. But the man who was an obstacle to their agenda was myself. I was the most senior person after Mugabe in the party and I had so much support and popular among the people, and they knew they couldn’t achieve what they wanted to achieve with me in the party and with me on my feet. So, this is what happened. Then they mooted an agenda of rallies. One thing emerged very clearly: that the only two people who would address the rallies, that is the First Lady first, the former First Lady, and then the president. The First Lady began just attacking me from nowhere: that my body language shows that I’m ambitious, the way I dance . . . At the Gwanda rally, I was taken ill.
The alleged poisoning
A: Then I was airlifted to South Africa, where it has been proved that I had been poisoned.
Q: Did the doctors work out what the poison was?
A: Yes; they say it was called a hard metal arsenic toxin. Arsenic toxin, something like that. That’s the class of poison. And it’s not easy to come round with it. They say it is colourless, it is tasteless, and the areas where it could be found are possibly two. Three initially, professors in that area eliminated this one, and it was left with two countries. Russia and Israel. So it’s possible it came from Russia. They were surprised that I survived because then you’ve heart attack, what they called cardiac arrest. Then the verdict of death would be death by cardiac arrest. So they kept me, you know, washing this out, I had something like 28 one side, you know, what do they call these sachets? In one side. And then the other side to wash the stuff out. So last week . . . This was in August. Last week I went there. They have now declared that I am now OK. It’s not visible anymore. The poison was testable, but not totally clear. But it means it’s not testable. That’s what they said. So maybe I’m the same club with you.
Q: Have the police worked out what happened? Is there an investigation?
A: Maybe doctors did. It could be food poisoning. There nine categories of food poisoning. All the nine were negative. Which means the poisoning was not food poisoning. Then the second category is three categories. That is from your urine, from your blood, from your tissues. They took those again, and the type of poisons which they could identify, it was all negative. So what was left are these . . . What they say, hard metal poisons. Which, then, they had to seek external expertise to identify. So after about two months, six weeks or thereabouts, they were able to identify the type of metal.
Q: Do you know who did it?
A: I suspect. I suspect as to who did it. They are still good friends of mine. I now suspect that they now know that I know. They now know that I know.
A: After the First Lady castigates me (at a rally), I shake her hand. I said thank you very much. She becomes even more annoyed. Then the next day there was a rally. I didn’t go to that one but I listened. So, I was being castigated there as a snake. And to deal with this snake you must crush the head. And this snake is Mnangagwa, we must crush the head, not beat the tail or the body. She went berserk on that one. At that stage now I believed she was not mentally OK. Then the next day I was fired at about four o’clock. I got a letter. In the terms of section so and so, you are fired with immediate effect.
Q: Signed by the president?
A: By H.E. Former President. So I then left my office immediately; I went home. But when I arrived home within two hours or so some colleagues . . . Some officers from security services came and said, Sir, we are part of a group which is charged with the task to eliminate you. So you must leave now. To where? Said just leave, don’t know where you can go, but just leave. Because we are going to pick you tonight and we will poison you, we will kill you, then put a string around your neck and say you hanged yourself. That’s the end of story. But we felt you have not committed any crime, so leave. I said, look, I can never leave my country; you can go and do what you want to do. They pleaded, you must leave. Then they left. After they left I decided to leave. When they were saying so, my wife was there. Then I left. My two sons . . . Three. No. My elder son, twin sons. They said they will accompany me. I said OK, come with me to the border. So we drove over the night. We reached the border by the morning. We arrived at the border. This side of the border, Zimbabwe border, they clear us. Passport was cleared. But there’s a boom; they lift the boom for you to cross on the Mozambican side. They didn’t lift the boom; they said, no, no. You can’t go through; we have instructions that you should not go . . . You should not leave the country. Oh, OK. If I am not leaving the country then I go back. They said, no, you can’t go back into Zimbabwe. I said, oh, you’re crazy. What crime have I committed? I must just go back. So as I was walking back to my car this guy says, no, no, you can’t go . . . We must get . . . No, I’m not arrested; I have no crime. So I’m going back. You’ve stopped me from going to Mozambique so I’m leaving. Then they said, police, police, police!
Q: Did you think at one moment, why don’t I ring the president? This must be a terrible mistake. If I speak to him, it will be all right?
A: I knew he was not in control of himself. I was aware he was under the grasp of this group. Then I went to a friend’s house. In the evening around about eight o’clock I took off with one of my sons. We went through about 30km or so because we walked from about half past eight in the evening until 7:30 in the morning. We reached Mozambique. A friend sent a small plane and it picked me to South Africa. Once in South Africa, after about two days, there was a lot of speculation where I was. I was in Mozambique, I was in China . . .
Q: For the record, did you go to China or not?
A: No, no, I was in South Africa . . . Then things began happening back home here. I think the first thing was the army making some statements here.
Q: Did they contact you before making the statement?
A: No, there was no contact at that stage; there was nothing. Then later there was another statement by the chief of staff, general . . . The first one was made by CDF, commander defence forces Chiwenga. Then the second . . . I think on the second day or so I saw another statement by chief of staff, major general . . . At the time he was a Major General SB Moyo. Then talks began. You should know better; some talks began. Now, I was seeing this from outside so the sequence may not be very accurate. Talks began, negotiations conducted . . . There was this guy from the Roman Catholic Church, Father Mukonori; he was the intermediary between the military and the First Family. When the party began to institute impeachment proceedings, I think the President realised that this was not a joke and if they proceed he would be stripped of all the powers and perhaps even be arrested. At that stage I also phoned the president from South Africa. Then the president said, Emmerson, chef, he said where are you? I said I was in South Africa. Why are you in South Africa? I said, but you fired me. You’re forgetting you fired me. Come, come, come. I said, no, it’s my security there. He says, no. I want you here at State House because I want to resolve these issues with you here. So I realised the old man was not clear of what was happening. Perhaps he’d even forgotten that he had fired me. So I said no, I couldn’t come. But he was imploring me to come back and join him in the State House to resolve these issues. The following day he stepped down. Then I was contacted by both General Chiwenga and SB Moyo. Both contacted me and we discussed, they said, come. Oh no, no, I said no, I cannot come immediately. I have to pay my respects to the people who have kept me for the last 14, 15 days in South Africa.
Relations with Mugabe now
Q: Do you still speak to him? When did you last speak to him?
A: Just before he left for Singapore we chatted. Before he left for Singapore. He said he wanted to go Singapore, I said, Sir, you’re most welcome. I will give every facilitation for you to proceed to Singapore. Then that was that. Then the list of people going to Singapore came to me. There were 38. A delegation of 38. So I phoned back and said, chef . . . That’s what we call each other. Boss, you’re going for a medical check-up; why do you want 38 people? Then he says, Emmerson, I don’t know that list. No one even told me. I never told you? Yes, OK. He says, I don’t know that there are 38 people. I know it’s myself, my wife, and my family. And we are hardly 10. I don’t know where the other 30 . . . I said no, I have a list here of 36 plus yourself and the wife will be 38. So I can’t just approve 38 people just for you for a medical check-up; no. You know the new dispensation, I mean, we are trying . . . I have cut down the cabinet. It’s a leaner cabinet. And I’m also saying no minister travels first-class and so on. So I’m cutting expenses and that can’t be understood if you are going to go for medical check up with a big number. He says, Emmerson . . . He never says Mr. President, he just calls me . . . Just said Emmerson. Emmerson, send me that list. So I called the protocol people. Then they sent the list to him and they reduced the number down to 21. He says I can’t reduce any further; this is the number. That’s the number that then went. With him, it became 22, but the others were 21. He was then the 22. Then he went . . . But when he went in a 767 it carried these 22 people also to Singapore. Then when I was told I said no, this is not good. If the press hears that we’ve taken the former president on this huge plane, it’s extravagant and so on. And it was published that it cost $6m. So we then said we must look for a smaller plane to go and pick him back when he finishes. Fortunately when he was there, he then phoned back but he didn’t talk to me; he talked to my directors. He said, you see, it’s very absurd that the president allowed me to come with a 676 when we’re so small delegation. Can you look for a smaller plane to pick me back? This is him. So the message arrived. So I gave instructions to the minister of transport and my officials. Somehow, the communication didn’t reach Air Zimbabwe on time. Then they sent again the 767.
Q: But how is he now? He was in power for 37 years, and now . . .
A: Just now he’s OK. Because when he came last week he sent me a summary of his medical report showing that . . . Just thanking me for having gone there, and then a small written report by Dr Matenga showing that he had a very successful and satisfactory medical check-up and he is back and he will be going back in April. This time when he goes back we will make sure he goes with a smaller plane as he asked.
Q: Will Mr Mugabe have amnesty for . . . If there are any judicial investigations into any abuses that may have happened under him? Is that . . .
A: In terms of the Constitution, a sitting president is immune. But a retired president loses that immunity. But I don’t see any possibility of us taking to court or prosecuting him for anything. As far as I am concerned, as far as my administration is concerned, he’s our father figure, he’s our . . . The father of our . . . The founding father.
Q: The founding father of the nation.
A: The founding father of our nation. We will respect him; we want to keep that legacy. He is our icon, we’ll do everything in our power to keep him happy, to keep him secure, to keep him comfortable to the end.
His drinking policy
A: In 1978, one of our members of the High Command in Zanla forces, Peter Baya, member of the High Command, died of liver cirrhosis. One day at night, our commander called us senior commanders and said, look, we are in this war not to die from drink. We must die from bullets and not from drink or landmines. So each one must take a vow to say perhaps for a week you don’t drink, another week you drink. Or a month you don’t drink and a month you drink. I chose to drink six months and abstain totally . . . No wine, no beer, no whisky, for six months. I took my oath that time. I’ve kept it up to today. From 1978 to date, yes, I’ve kept it up; never broken. This is my wet season. From July 1 to December 31 is six months. That’s my dry season. From January 1 to June 30 it’s my wet season.
Q: And does your family say . . . Is your character different in the different six months?
A: I think they are happier during the wet season.
Q: What about international monitors for the election, will you accept Commonwealth monitors?
A: After pronouncing that Zimbabwe’s open for business, Zimbabwe wants to reintegrate with the international community; Zimbabwe will accept those who accept her. We want fair, free, credible elections. In the past the countries who imposed sanctions on us, we would allow them to send an observer if they so desired. But those who had pronounced themselves against us, who predetermined that our elections would not be free and fair, were not allowed to come in. But now with this new disposition I don’t feel threatened by anything. I would want that the United Nations should come, the EU should come. If the Commonwealth were requesting to come, I am disposed to consider their application to come. The same with other countries; the more we have observations across — and I don’t think we have anything to hide. I’m preaching this day in, day out; I would contradict myself if I say, I will be discriminatory. But of course if some people made conclusions now, we know the elections will not be free and fair, so they cannot come and observe; they have made decisions before the election’s taken place.
Q: The opposition criticise your party over the voters’ roll, the independence of the head of the election commission and the role of state media. Will you change your approach on that?
A: The election commission is called ZEC, Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. Currently there’s no head. The head resigned, the chairperson of the commission, Justice Rita Makarau, resigned. I believe that by Friday I will have appointed another — this week. If the vice-chairman is a man, the chairperson must be a woman, so I’m looking for a woman. Secondly, the woman must have been a judge or a lawyer qualified to be a judge. I had names brought to me by the chief justice to say which judges — the head of the Law Society — which persons. So we of course have several women who sent in their CVs and I believe by tomorrow or Friday — because there must be consultation between me and, in Parliament, the speaker and the Justice Commission — I believe that by Friday this will have been completed because I gave them the names last week. Then I’ll appoint one.
Q: Will it be an independent person or someone from Zanu-PF?
A: We believe that we need somebody with integrity, an impeccable record in terms of his or her CV. That’s what will guide us.
Q: You’ve been criticised for donating vehicles to tribal chiefs, which has been accused of being an act of . . . vote-buying. A mistake?
A: The chiefs are on the government payroll. One of their conditions of service is to give them motor vehicles. Whether there’s an election or there’s no election we’ll still give them the motor vehicles and their salary or allowance, whatever. This was done by the former administration, except that they had not been given so I’ve gone ahead to give them. In fact the later vehicles I’ve given have not been bought by this administration; they were bought by the former administration. It has nothing to do with vote-buying and so on; it’s a part of the conditions of service of those chiefs.
Q: You mentioned the possible Commonwealth observer mission. Are you going to apply to rejoin the Commonwealth?
A: It’s not my priority but I believe that when we shall have interaction with the British — because when I had the envoy from Prime Minister — is it May, Theresa May? — they raised that issue. When we have engagement they want to raise the issue about us joining the Commonwealth. I said I’ll be happy to deal with that. At the time of that envoy I had just been inaugurated and didn’t even have a cabinet. I can’t make a sole decision on my own but I believe after the AU (African Union) in February or thereabouts we should be having direct discussions with the UK and that issue will arise. I personally have nothing against the Commonwealth club so we will discuss that issue when we come to meeting the British. I personally have no hard feelings against the . . . because the issue on which we differed is behind us. We had differed with the Commonwealth on the land reform programme. That is behind us. I don’t see what difference [?] us any more now.
Q: You’ve talked about possible compensation for people who had to leave their farms. How is this going to be funded?
A: That is an ongoing exercise. In terms of our law we are obligated to compensate any developments on land which was compulsorily acquired under the land reform programme. And some farmers have been already compensated but the large number of them have not and we are continuously raising funds on the fiscus for that compensation, although the persons affected are not too happy because the pressure’s very strong. So I have promised that I will not breach that commitment by government; we shall continue to honour the compensation on the improvements on land as a result of the land reform programme, yes.
Q: If you are to attract the foreign investors that, most people would agree, Zimbabwe’s economy needs, title and property rights are incredibly important. This is the big thing on the minds of would-be investors. How will you reassure them?
A: To the extent that we honour property rights in relation to land, we’ve introduced the 99-year lease tenure. We don’t have freehold any more, although we still have people holding freehold land but we have now legislated for 99-year leases which are transferable. This is where we’re going and we don’t see a person getting worried, being granted a 99-year lease; very few people live beyond 99 years but if they do they can always renew. That is with regard to agricultural land. Of course our land has different categories. The communal lands which have [unclear] people on them; there is no limit, it is a freehold. But agricultural land is a 99-year lease, yes.
Q: The economy is in a fragile state.
Q: How are you going to attract these fabled foreign investors back if you want them?
A: We must look at how our economy is in that state. The answer is that, from the year 2000, when sanctions came in — the year 2000? It’s now 16, 17 years — 18 years of sanctions where our currency crashed totally to be meaningless totally, where lines of credit were cut overnight, where our lines of credit with countries literally or almost literally again came to a stop. That affected overnight — 44 per cent of our programmes suddenly were denied access to finance, access to lines of credit and the economy slumped, both the mining sector and the agriculture sector, and so on. But the last four years have seen the resurgence and recovery of our agricultural sector. You know our country is primarily an agricultural economy. Fortunately two years ago or thereabouts I was made responsible for agriculture and value-addition and appreciation, food security and nutrition. I was made responsible for those. Then I introduced “command agriculture”, you must have read about it. It was criticised . . . that it would fail and so on. But this is voluntary. What we did was that we said — Zimbabwe had insufficient food, it had food insecurity. For the last two, three decades we have suffered from food insecurity; importing food into Zimbabwe. But from this last season going forward, that won’t happen again. We have created a model which I championed or created where we say how much grain we want for the year to feed the country. We want 1.5m, 1.6m metric tonnes of grain to feed the nation and we need 0.5m metric tonnes of grain as a strategic reserve if anything happens, so altogether this gives you 2m metric tonnes. Now we say, how much land, how many hectares of land do we need to produce that amount of grain if a hectare gives you five tonnes as a minimum? This gives you 400,000 hectares of land to be put under grain. Then you say, now I want people to volunteer their land, if you have 200 hectares, 400 hectares, you may decide to say, I’m putting 50 hectares into the programme or the entire farm on to the programme or just a portion of the farm on to the programme. If you give us 100 hectares into the programme, my people worked out, they know how much diesel you’re going to use on 100 hectares, how much fertiliser you’re going to use on 100 hectares, how much seed you would want on 100 hectares, how much chemicals you’d use on 100 hectares and how much ploughing power you need for 100 hectares. We give you all that. So the farmer has not time to go and look for finance from the bank or go and look from a line of credit from an oil company or from a fertiliser company or from a chemical company; everything’s brought to your farm and there’s a programme which shows you how to prepare your land, when to plough and when to irrigate, when to spray and so on. You are guaranteed a minimum of five tonnes per hectare. The majority of us get far more than five tonnes per hectare. I am a farmer myself. If I get nine tonnes I will have failed but I always get 10 or more tonnes per hectare but the cost of running a hectare is about US$1,000 so three tonnes can pay for the hectare. If you have produced the minimum yield of five, you still have two tonnes for yourself after clearing your loan.
Q: So it’s about productivity . . .
A: Yes, the cost of productivity. I had an oversubscription of members coming on board and then how different is it? This is a six-month period. The fiscus, the Ministry of Finance has no capacity to provide that financing so what we did was at first I called all the oil companies, financial houses, fertiliser companies, chemical houses, the trade unions, farmers’ unions and so on, the stakeholders in agricultural production, all of them, for two days we met. Initially they were not co-operative; they said, government or this government was . . . We said, well, this is a new — we want to have a new situation and this is a model, you are guaranteed to get your money this time around. After interrogating the process and the model, they all agreed. Those who supply fuel have supplied it in advance; those who supply fertiliser supplied it in advance; chemicals the same . . . Everything was supplied in advance because they knew it’s tight. Every farmer would obviously produce five tonnes. The three tonnes will pay their loan — actually it’s two-point-something tonnes, which would pay the loan, so there’s an excess of two tonnes, so it went ahead. When the farmer produces, he wants to be paid. Where do I get the money from? So I called the 11 major millers in the country, sat with them and said, how much money do you spend on importation of grain? About $1bn; 980 or so per year for importation of grain. I said, now we are banning you from importing grain — each one buys grain not for the full year but in quarters, so we give them money for the quarter — so give me money for the quarter, if you are giving me money for the quarter I pay the farmer, the farmer delivers the maize to your grain marketing boards and then you go and withdraw your maize and we deduct it from what you have given in advance. So through the funds from the millers I’m paying the farmer and the farmer delivers the maize and the miller takes the maize to mill for that quarter, deducting it from the amount. So if you wanted 6,000 a year and in the quarter it’s just about 15,000 metric tonnes, for the three months they can go and withdraw maize from the grain marketing board, 15,000 tonnes is [unclear] and deducted from the amount he’s given me so everybody’s happy. Then that goes well if there are good rains but in the event that there is no rain, we said, OK, we must have a model which gives us food security whether it’s a good season or there’s drought. When there’s drought, we said, how much land under irrigation do we need to produce the same quantity of grain? We discovered that we need just in excess of 300,000 hectares of land, which will be irrigated and obviously the yields will be above five tonnes. But at this stage — two years ago — no, last year in 2016 — or two years ago — we only had about 159,000 hectares of land under irrigation but we need 300,000 hectares of land under irrigation. Whether there’s rain or no rain if we irrigate that amount of land we have more than two million metric tonnes of grain. So we’ve now increased the number of hectares under irrigation. I’m sure now they’ve increased the number of hectares under irrigation but the minimum we want is 300,000. When they restart, it doesn’t matter whether there’s good rain or there’s drought, we will feed the country. In the area of agriculture and beneficiation we are saying, yes, we are now at production level with a model, now we’re moving on to the second cost; this is processing, value-addition and beneficiation. Then the marketing; these are the three steps we are following. I can say, we have said bye-bye now to food insecurity for Zimbabwe, which will be a food-basket again for the region.
Q: Is it dead now?
A: Not really in the mortuary. It is at the departure lounge rather than the mortuary.
Q: It’s an important point this. Readers of the FT are very interested in this.
A: It was broken into three. The first part relates to depletable resources or the extractive resources sector; that is the mining sector, depletable or extractive sector — that’s mining. Then the second is — what do you call it? — non-depletable resources. Under the first one, the depletable, the extractive sector, the law was that it must be 51 per cent government, 49 the investor. The minute you land at the Harare airport, 51 per cent of your money is ours, 49 per cent of it is yours. But if you go into manufacturing, it’s negotiable. There is local participation but there is no insistence on 51/49. Then if you go into the reserved sector like salons for the girls, that is reserved for — small groceries — reserved for our local people. I have revised that and say the entire economy is open, except for two minerals: diamonds and platinum. The rest you can think about — it could be lithium, coal, gas, chrome, nickel, whatever, manufacturing, industrial, infrastructure — it’s open.
Q: That part is dead.
A: No. It’s in the departure lounge, going to get fresh air, to be alive. That’s what is there now but of course we still have the reserved sector but even the reserved sector are saying if there are specific requirements like technology coming in, skills coming in, we’ll open it to people to come in. But otherwise now the indigenisation applies only in relation to those two minerals.
Q: What about government expenditure? The consensus view is that it’s too high.
Q: It’s impossible to sustain at this level for an economy of your size. What are you going to do about government expenditure?
A: Two facts stick out: when the economy was doing well it catered for broader social requirements; heath, education, infrastructure, housing and so on. Suddenly the economy collapsed but the health needs did not collapse, the need of education did not collapse, all social needs never collapsed, they remain the same. So the level of expenditure still remained but the revenue base collapsed so if you understand that then you appreciate what we are going through.
His economic model
Q: What’s your vision? The China model or the western model?
A: Let me say that we introduced the Look East policy but that was a survival policy. The east stood by us through thick and thin. This is why in my inauguration speech I said, we shall maintain our old friends and take on board those who are willing to become our friends. This was to take care of those who stood by us when the west closed doors against us so countries like China, Brazil, perhaps Russia, India did not close doors on us, they continued to trade with us. They continued to give us soft loans and so on, make projects with us and to some extent they helped us to survive. So although now there is a green light from most of the western countries — talk about Britain, talk about Germany, talk about Spain, talk about France — they’re all showing green, indicative, positive lights for co-operation, opening doors for us in the way, impressing that but we are not forgetting our old friends. We will continue to impress them and continue to interact and deepen our economic co-operation with them but there’s now a broader spectrum where we can go fishing.
Q: Some people I’ve spoken to in the last day or so — talk about Deng Xiaoping as being a model to you, someone who transformed an economy and China’s trajectory, but a strong hand at the tiller. Another analogy would be Paul Kagame. Do you have a model?
A: No. I know I met Deng Xiaoping with President Mugabe, I think, around 1977 or 1978 but let me assure you, I am not Deng Xiaoping . . . but people say the way we are looking at reviving the economy is similar to how Deng Xiaoping did it. But those are their analyses and I think we are doing it on the concrete situation and the facts and the environment existing in my country and if the way we are doing it becomes similar to what Deng Xiaoping did, let it be. But this is what I think is best for my country, best for our people; we open up, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We must impress those of technology, skills, ICT to assist us to move forward, jump and catch up with the rest of the world.
Q: So you’re open to everyone.
Q: China’s relationship with Africa has expanded massively in recent years and Zimbabwe’s had a very good relationship with Beijing. But there have been the critics. Thabo Mbeki when he was president sounded a note of caution. He suggested there is a risk of a new colonial relationship. Do you agree?
A: From what I know — I am a graduate from a (Chinese) military school. There’s no history of colonisation by the Chinese — except Tibet might argue on that score. There’s no indication of (China) colonising any country. They may have different reasons for their embracing the continent, the African continent, because they’re offering various platforms for funding. From their point of view they may have other reasons why they’re doing it. In my view, I think they would also want to have markets. And Africa, the continent is over a billion now. And the huge economy would want to participate in that market of that number. And of course, in terms of influence, most African countries are reluctant and wary about their relations with . . . Most want to break away, like we did ourselves with the British. But now we feel more strong in that issues, the British should now respect us. They know Zimbabwe is quite independent, the independent thinking, and their own . . . At that score we can relate and move forward. So I believe that China would also want a foothold of influence on the African continent, but through economic relations, economic co-operation, rather than political and domination of that nature. I think this is how they look at it. From our point of view, in particular from Zimbabwe’s point of view, this is a country that has stood by us in critical times, and will continue to relate to them. And for my administration, I’ll be going to China in April. I hope when I go there to be able to negotiate mega-deals in the area of infrastructure development, the construction of railways in the new networks in Zimbabwe. Dualisation of the highways in Zimbabwe. Also, attracting the Chinese in the area of agriculture where we need to do beneficiation. Although, in some cases, they would want to take the raw materials to China. But we would want to pursue them, no, the companies should come here. And also, we are aware, with over 400 British companies in Zimbabwe, but most of them went down, they suffered, because when sanctions were imposed they stopped financing and supporting the domestic British companies in Zimbabwe and they’ve gone down. They are very much behind in terms of the machinery and the tools. There has not been any retooling of these factories. So that point is that most of the machinery in China, they range from the poorest into the best. You can go low, you can go middle, you can go high-tech. With China.
Ties with Britain
Q: What about the old colonial power? What’s your relationship with Britain?
A: Breaking out of, Brex . . . How do you call it? Brexit, yes it’s a good thing because they will need us. And we will make sure we become very close to them. So what they’ve lost with Brexit they can come and recover from Zimbabwe. And we benefit them, the benefit, that’s the way. It’s a win-win situation. It’s a win-win situation. This is how I look at it myself. I don’t think they’ve any question of domination, no, which I think is a question of mutual relationship. And most importantly, the education system is British. And it’s easier to develop more scientists here with Britain, English-speaking and so on. So it’s far much easier. But we will not put our eggs in one basket as before. Because for instance now I have no doubt we’re going to fly our Hawks again. But for the last 18 years we could not fly our Hawks because Britain was the only country which could give us the spares. And so for the last 18 years they were down. But now with the good lady who is there . . . And with this guy, Johnson . . . Boris. Next year at our independence we’ll be flying Hawks. Because we’re going to now have good relationships with this good lady. And something very interesting as well that Zimbabwe has enjoyed the best relationships with Britain under female prime ministers. They should have continuously female prime ministers. Because they are more sensible than their male counterparts. Yes, I think they are more sensible.
Q: What’s your message to the Queen, the head of the Commonwealth?
A: I can assure you, the Queen has never had any hard feelings towards this country. And we are clear, even our former president was clear, and he told us that the Queen has no hard feelings towards us. We have no hard feelings towards the Queen. The guy we didn’t like is that young man, Tony Blair. I don’t know where he is now.
Q: The economy is heavily indebted. Some people suggest that maybe there should be a scrapping of the bond notes? Has anyone suggested that?
A: No. Fortunately, for instance when the AfreximBank came to visit us on the table was a discussion for a loan of 600m to advance to Zimbabwe. But when I presented my programme and my vision they were so impressed and they upped the facility to 1.5bn. You see? Because they are happy with the way we are going. They are happy with our vision, the way we intended to open up the economy and so on. So we believe that given time we are going to recover. The biggest bad thing we have is the arrears that we have with the banking [?] institutions and so on. But we believe that with what we are doing, for instance, our diamonds, after what we have done now, the projection is that it is going to double from about one million to three million . . . Triple. Yes, from one million to three million carats next year. Or is it this year or next year? That is very important. Also, we have opened our chrome. We banned in the past the exportation of chrome, we’ve opened that. And so far we are three times more than before we opened in terms of the revenue stream coming from that sector. The same with tourism. I think we’ve increased by 20 per cent or 23 per cent, I don’t know. It is also increasing. Now you can see these are indicative indicators to show that the economy is . . . Actually, the minister of finance has raised up the GDP growth. It was 2.7, it came to 3.5, now they are talking about 4.7. And it’s selected to continue to go up. So with that I believe that we should be able to build capacity to deal with our arrears.
Q: But you’d still be looking for a debt relief programme from the IMF and the World Bank?
A: One of the things Britain would want to discuss. May want to review and discuss with us is the question of looking at our debt. I’m now very excited with that. Very excited. Yes. And actually Britain supported us during the Lima, conference in Lima. And they would want us to go back to those promises and move forward. So it’s very promising.
Politics of liberation movements
Q: Can a liberation movement that’s been in power for 30 or 40 years, can it change? Or does it need to leave office, as happened to Congress in India, before it can change?
A: A liberation movement is a question about people. And the ones who formed it are not the same people who are still there now. As time passes, new persons, new generations of persons, of leadership, come to the helm to lead forward. We take on board their exposure to international trade, to international markets, to international best world practice. And that comes on board. And that helps them to modernise themselves, otherwise they remain behind. So I believe that as long as we allow the internal democracy in our party we shall continue to have these young girls and boys coming into leadership. We have been exposed to Oxford itself, to Harvard, to various institutions abroad, and they bring these skills into the party, and they can be assured that who is alive.
His nickname and his faith
Q: The Crocodile name. Does it bother you?
A: No, it has been given to me for a long, long time, during the war and so on. But it arose from what I have explained when in 1964, when we were deployed. That’s how we . . . Perhaps I’m the only surviving member of that group. So it doesn’t bother me. But we, the African people, have totems. I’m not a crocodile, I’m a lion. I’m a shumba. Yes. So that doesn’t bother me at all. No, I’ve got used to it. But many people think that I’m of that totem. No, it was a result of a deployment back in 1964.
Q: People have said you have a strong faith. That you are a very committed Christian. How important is this?
A: I am a Methodist. But because I’m president I go to various church occasions. When I’m invited, I attend the other churches. But as a family we are Methodists. Yes, we are Methodist.
Q: And why did you adopt this faith? Because I think you’re a born-again, aren’t you? You came to it late in life?
A: I was baptised a long time back. When we were young we became so revolutionary that we felt that the churches or missionaries, when they came to Africa or to our country, they helped us, they helped our people, to be docile. And not to fight colonialism. So there was a period when we revolted against missionaries and Christianity. And then also when we went to train in China there is no Christianity there. They believe you produce food and eat. There’s no question of this ideology. So we went through the war and so on. But after the war and so on and you were back home, and you are back with your parents again, then you get again readmitted into the faith, like that. This is where they say born-again.
Q: Have you considered on behalf of Zimbabwe formally acknowledging what happened in Matabeleland? And even making an apology?
A: Not as an individual. Though the incidents, the commission or omission of that period by the government of the day, of that period, both are to the former vice-president, Joshua Nkomo, and the former president, Mugabe, they have pronounced themselves on behalf of the administration of the day, that it was a moment of madness. And as a result of that position we all came together, all sides came together, and agreed on the Unity Accord, and put this thing behind us. And any individual complaints or need for assistance can be treated that way. So that it can be attended to like any other citizen in the country. That will be done. We have passed the bill called the National Healing and Reconciliation Bill, that’s passed, I signed it into law. That will be a platform where these complaints or challenges can be addressed, and they were taking elderly people from the entire community, who are elderly, who can deal with these issues. And advise use precisely on these issues, this is how we can deal it, and how we can handle these issues. So, but overall we don’t want to live in the past. We can never go back to the past. We need, from the past we must carry on what is good. But never what is bad. We must promote that which is good and go into the future expounding on love, unity, hard work. That’s what we need now.
Q: But if you acknowledge the past, don’t you think that will make it even easier to move forward?
A: This is what I’m saying. From the past we must take the good that the past has in our history. And leave behind that which is bad. We don’t want that to be repeated, ever, this is what I am saying. You follow?
The death penalty
A: For instance in my administration I don’t think I will allow the death penalty, which, as an individual, I dislike. I think this time in cabinet I might win the game.
Q: So you will annul the death penalty?
A: This is not a party issue, it’s a national issue. But I am convinced that it is not . . . It is time that Zimbabwe moves away from death penalty. You can have life imprisonment, you can have long sentences. But I’m against the death penalty. But I must convince cabinet to move forward and join the rest of most of the countries in the world. Well, some of the developed countries still have death penalty. But I think on that score there are still medieval.
Q: So how soon could that happen, that could happen quite quickly?
Q: Ending the death penalty, that could . . . ?
A: No, I’m saying if it were party policy it would end quickly because it’s a party decision. This we have declared is individual processes on the matter. We must allow people not to work on the basis of party directive but on personal conscience.