Q: What role have you played in the formation of the National Patriotic Front, the new opposition party led by Retired Brigadier-General Ambrose Mutinhiri? Are you a member? Is the former first lady a member?
A: I’ve had quite a number of groups coming here (Blue Roof) and seeking my views. I had Mai (Joice) Mujuru earlier on introduced by Father (Fidelis) Mukonori. She came to discuss the past and then she made reference to the fact that all that was happening against her during her time with us when she was vice-president was meant to create a place for Mnangagwa, and she knew that is was coming to this, now that he is at the top. I said to her, well, if you stand for that which is right, proper, legal and constitutional, go out, find some of our young men and young women who stand for it, enrol them, there is nothing wrong about it. When she left here, she was stoned in Glen Norah and Glen View. She sustained a bruised cheek after being hit with a stone. That’s very bad.
Q: Who else has come to see you?
A: I’ve also had the likes of (Walter) Mzembi and (Makhosini) Hlongwane and they came and I think they had come through the (government) system and they had informed the system that they were coming to discuss with me. They thought what should happen is an internal dialogue. I said ‘fine, what internal dialogue?’ They said, ‘well, internal dialogue with the President, with ED. I said ‘just that?’ They said, ‘well, yes’.
Q: Tell us about Mutinhiri’s visit.
A: Then I also had Ambrose Mutinhiri who said he thinks the solution is establishing a new party. I said ‘on what principle?’ He said ‘first, to correct what has happened’. I said fine. To put paid to all falsehoods and hypocrisies that have emerged, people saying they are correcting the wrong that is surrounding the legacy of the president and at the same time they are taking action to do down that president. That evil contradiction must go. If we are supporting the president, let us say so in word and deed and not pretend to be doing so in order to cover our illicit activities against the president.
Q: Are you saying Mutinhiri came just to consult?
A: Yes, to consult, and I said fine, if you’re along those lines as you describe them I’ll support you.
Q: Is it correct to say you’re a member of the National Patriotic Front?
Q: If Mutinhiri and others get to launch the party and invite you to be a guest at the function, would you attend the event?
A: I would have to think twice before I can go because there may be others who may come and perhaps (in that case) I think I better not go.
Q: Is the former first lady a member of the National Patriotic Party?
A: No, she’s not.
Q: In that connection, we also want to know this: a statement issued by Jealousy Mawarire indicated that the idea of the formation of the party emerged in the middle of the November coup. There is also the insinuation that the people who have formed the new party were consulting you in the middle of the coup. Is that true?
A: In the middle of the coup? No.
Q: At what point, during the coup, did you get to know as commander-in-chief that the military was in the streets and yet you had not deployed it?
A: I went for a graduation (ceremony) and the boys (intelligence) came and surrounded me and said we (the Central Intelligence Organisation) are being beaten up. I said ah all is well, I’ve gone to the university and I haven’t seen anything. All the cars had been removed from the road and it was absolutely quiet. That’s when the boys (CIO) told me, that everything was being taken away from them. And that they had been beaten up.
Q: So the CIO were being intimidated even before the coup?
A: Yes, before. To clear the way.
Q: On that Monday when General Chiwenga made a statement, what did you think about it? Did you take it as seriously as the public did?
A: I thought at least Chiwenga would have informed me that they (the military) were having such and such a problem.
Q: So you thought Chiwenga would inform you?
A: Yes, to inform me what dissatisfaction they had. And at that point I said, well, we’re prepared to discuss.
Q: You thought on that Monday Chiwenga would have discussed matters with you, and then on Tuesday you went to cabinet and tanks were already moving and the public was taking pictures and posting them on social media. Were you briefed by your security apparatus what exactly was happening at that point?
A: They said that the tanks are moving to another destination, to Manicaland somewhere.
Q: The then South African president Jacob Zuma told the world, as the situation unfolded, that ‘I have spoken to president Mugabe, he is fine but is restricted’. Those were Zuma’s words. At that point, did you ask for help from president Zuma?
Q: When the South African delegation, comprising ministers, came to Harare, did you have an opportunity to meet them separately?
A: No. We met them together with the commanders.
Q: South Africa is a neighbouring country and you were under siege. Why didn’t you seek help from president Zuma?
A: They (South Africans) had spoken to the commanders and they had promised that they wouldn’t stage a coup.
Q: But did any regional leaders show concern about the coup that was unfolding? What was the attitude of the regional leaders, were they saying you should solve the matter internally or were they willing to come in? Do you feel betrayed by your regional peers?
A: In a sense, yes. But when you look at their conditions, except for South Africa, they haven’t got the capacity to intervene, but South Africa could have done much more. It did not have to send an army, but just to engage. You see this group that came here, the (South African) ministers, they gave a false impression that all was okay (and that) they had spoken not just to us but also to the soldiers. If they had spoken to the soldiers, and then gave out that there was no need for intervention because they had been assured by both sides, then the other countries just sat on their laurels and they said ah well South Africa says there’s no need (to intervene).
Q: You read a televised statement and most people assumed you would tender your resignation that night. It’s now called the “Asante sana” statement. You did not resign at that stage. Was there an intention to resign at that point?
Q: Were you toppled through a military coup?
A: Yes. What you didn’t know, Father (Fidelis) Mukonori knelt on his knees, and moved on his knees towards me, begging me to resign.
Q: Did Mukonori say who had sent him?
A: No, he was just intervening.
Q: How many people were killed during the coup?
Q: In the aftermath of what has happened and in view of your complaints, how do you think the situation can be corrected?
A: It is quite clear. Those who have created it have the responsibility to reverse it. If they don’t want to reverse it, it means they want the situation to continue, which I think is the case. They would want us perhaps to get to the national election when the environment is still very congested with fear, some people still hiding, displaced. But I don’t see the environment of campaigning being favourable to everybody.
Q: In that case, do you think the nation is ready for elections?
A: No. We are not.
Q: Do you feel betrayed by Mnangagwa whom you worked with for over 50 years?
A: Oh yes it’s a great betrayal. Worse than that of Brutus (Shakespearean character in the play Julius Caesar.
Q: But you’re the one who had appointed him vice-president.
A: Yes, sure.
Q: People will ask why you appointed him if you didn’t trust him.
A: Some developments occur after a person has been put in place. You know, even in our culture, when someone who’s ordinary is made a chief, and once he gets into position ah ah, many people start quarrelling ‘he’s taking out cattle, he’s taking our wives’. Then you begin to wonder: but this is the man who was very honest and whom the people chose to be their chief. So those things happen. People get the taste of power and the taste of power then destroys an individual. You think that you now have some glory that you never had before.
Q: When you say Mnangagwa rose to power unconstitutionally, what exactly are you referring to?
A: He was not elected. It’s quite clear. There has not been any election and we don’t like it that way.
Q: When it comes to elections, you and your government were repeatedly accused of stealing elections.
A: As for stealing elections, no. The losers, the opposition, will never ever accept the defeat. It doesn’t matter, in Africa it’s now accepted that when the opposition loses, it never accepts defeat. It’s not like Europe, no. We must always find some reason. Ah, we were cheated here, ah. It’s like that, right throughout.
Q: But people say the MDC actually won the 2008 election and that Morgan Tsvangirai had won outright but was cheated by you.
A: The 2008 election? Yes, yes, he won. We didn’t dispute that. He won but the constitution says if you are contestants who are more than two, you must win by 50 plus one.
Q: Are you saying the opposition’s claim that Tsvangirai garnered much more than the required 50 plus one is untrue?
A: Ah no. Ah no. It was 47% to 43%. We admit we had been defeated.
Q: There was a story which revealed that after the first round of the 2008 presidential election when you had been outpolled by Tsvangirai you actually said you were ready to retire. In fact, your former intelligence minister Didymus Mutasa told journalists that you had conceded defeat but were blocked by the military from stepping down. How true is this?
A: Ah no. Ah no. Mutasa is lying. We all in the party (Zanu PF) said there’s got to be a repeat in accordance with the constitution.
Q: If Tsvangirai had won 50 plus one, would you have conceded defeat?
A: Of course.
Q: But a lot of opposition supporters were killed in the run-off.
A: In the run-off? No. In the run-off Tsvangirai withdrew.
Q: Tsvangirai said he withdrew because terrible violence was unleashed on his supporters, people were killed.
A: No, he knew we would be better. Do you know why we lost 2008 (the first round)? Again, a disease amongst us: bhora musango. The likes of (General) Mujuru were fed up with me, they said I was preventing them from benefitting from companies, so they said ‘let’s get rid of Mugabe’. Our supporters were told ‘ah, you don’t have to vote for the president.
Q: Which brings us to General Solomon Mujuru’s death. People think it had something to do with Zanu PF succession issues.
A: It was just a case of someone dying. He just died. And what is fortunate for the party is that it happened away, on his farm.
Q: So you think his death was an accident?
A: Some say some Israeli (business associates) who had issues with him.
Q: Oxford researcher Miles Tendi says General Mujuru was killed by military intelligence.
A: No. Ah, he was a terrible guy. Very selfish. And a smoker. A smoker, I think this is what killed him. In Geneva (Switzerland), we burnt down a hotel and it was Mujuru again. Well, we managed to avoid trial, but it was his smoking that almost got us killed in a hotel. He was a careless smoker. An investigation established that the fire started in his room. But we denied it and said no no.
Q: Thousands of people were killed during Gukurahundi. You have come out and said it was a moment of madness. How did the atrocities come about and what can the nation do to move forward?
A: But that one, if we are to tell the truth, it’s the Ndebeles and Zapu and Zipra who should bear the blame. We had that election, in 1980, the first one, and we won, we had 57 seats and Zapu had 20. (Joshua) Nkomo actually wept dearly. They had operated in Angola—remember they had gone to Angola—they said let’s do in Zimbabwe what the MPLA has done; if we lose we will have Zero Hour. And they lost. So what happened? There was a ship of arms received by (the then Tanzanian president Julius) Nyerere in Dar es Salaam port, it came on Tazara (Tanzania-Zambia Railway). Because KK (the then Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda) preferred Nkomo to me, so KK passed on the arms, from the Soviet Union, to Zapu. But now after independence! So at Hwange Dumiso (Zipra intelligence supremo Dabengwa) had made arrangements underground to hide the arms. When the second shipment came, Nyerere then called me and said ‘Robert, what’s this?’ This is a second ship. Then he said ‘ask KK’. I asked Kaunda, you know Kaunda is a very soft man. He said ‘ah, my brother, if I wronged you I did so because the arms addressed to Zapu were always going to Zapu from the Soviet Union. I said ‘but KK, we are now independent’. He said ‘yes I’m sorry and I won’t do it again’. But the ship came and it was received by Dumiso and once again the arms were hidden in Hwange. Zipra had pledged 12 000 war veterans to join the integrated army. They left out some of their experts and in their place, because they had promised 12 000, they put mujibhas (wartime runners) to fill in those places in the army. The mujibhas were trained and they started putting on uniforms and they started earning as trained soldiers. Nothing was happening to the well-trained ones who had been left out. And they saw the mujibhas take their place for a long time and they said ‘ah no we can’t continue like this’. So some amongst them came to us, came to ED and reported that this is the arrangements we had, we put mujibhas in our place and we were left out. (They said) ‘we had arms, we hid arms here and there in Hwange’. So ED and (CIO director David) Stannard went and discovered these guns. That’s why Dumiso was arrested, that’s why he went to prison, that is why Dumiso and ED will never work together. So Dumiso was arrested. But they had already given a few weapons to some individuals who now said ‘ah is this what has happened, we have been discovered’. They started shooting in Matabeleland South and then we said okay we had a Fifth Brigade trained by North Koreans. So we said, fine, face them, you go into Matabeleland South.
Q: Did you give the Fifth Brigade carte blanche to kill people?
A: Ah no, of course you never give. You know soldiers will always be soldiers, the violence will always happen.
Q: But do you regret the situation, with the benefit of hindsight?
A: Naturally the innocent people, yes. But what I don’t accept is that we are totally to blame. Ah ah.
Q: Do you think the state has an obligation to those who lost their families and suffered loss during Gukurahundi? Does the state have an obligation to them?
A: The innocent ones. Even if they lost their lives during (Rhodesian prime minister Ian) Smith’s time, we have an obligation, yes.
Q: What can be done to prevent such atrocities from recurring?
A: We have long said let them (the victims) be known. We asked Sekeramayi to organise so that those who have been affected, those whose lives and children have been…we get to know. But that has not been done.
Q: But you commissioned an official inquiry into Gukurahundi. Why was the report never made public? The Chihambakwe Commission report. It was never published and people out there say it’s because it had evidence that atrocities were committed. Secondly, Mnangagwa says he was not to blame for Gukurahundi because he was not prime minister, he was not the minister of defence, and that he was not carrying a gun. He’s basically saying it’s your issue, not my issue.
A: Ah, but you know he was the minister of intelligence, he’s the one with Stannard, the two of them, who led that and who even led Gukurahundi. I know one of the vehicles, Dabengwa’s vehicle, which they blasted, they said he’s carrying arms.
Q: You were not to blame for Gukurahundi?
A: Ah but yes, of course, they got instructions from us. But we can’t now say the fault is with so and so and so. The fault is with the government and those it employed.
Q: Do you feel that victims and their families should be compensated?
A: Getting victims is a process which must be done thoroughly because many would come and claim.
Q: Do you acknowledge that 20 000 people were killed during Gukurahundi?
A: Ah no. I doubt the number. I doubt the number definitely, because it (the Fifth Brigade) was now pursuing just individuals who had guns. But it could be, because you do get some people with guns just being reckless, and we are seeing it now.
Reckless, they get to a place and they say what are you people saying and they start shooting there.
Q: People say you brought the military into politics and what has happened to you is a logical culmination of that. What is your view on this?
A: Ah, we never said they should come into politics. We always said the gun should be led by politics. They’ve come into politics now.
Q: If you saw the military meddling in politics, why didn’t you take decisive action to thwart them? Did you see the coup coming?
A: No I never saw it. With the education we had given them. This was the work of two people, of General Chiwenga and ED. And they’ve actually forced other people into it.
Q: People expected you to go and console Tsvangirai’s family upon his passing but you did not.
A: Well, we have not been moving. But we wrote a letter of condolence. I worked with Tsvangirai, he was prime minister then.
We were good friends and even as he was in hospital we gave him some money for his cure. We mentioned it in the letter.
Q: The state media says you want to receive your pension in cash through CBZ Bank. Do you have an account there and is that the correct position?
A: I want to correct one thing: that we demanded it to be in dollars. CBZ is our banker and when Dr (Mariyawanda) Nzuwah (the then head of the Civil Service Commission) came and we did the benefits according to the constitution, he said ‘do you prefer your package in cash or we can deposit it into your account?’ We said in cash. We didn’t demand. We would never demand.
Q: Some people are saying you should be like Zuma who has expressed support for his successor President Cyril Ramaphosa. In other words, they say you must support Mnangagwa.
A: I said, well, if she (Grace) agrees, I can get another six (wives) and have seven like Zuma. Then I have my Indian friends in Dubai, they can come and be my Guptas. Laughs. But in truth, I can be like Zuma if ED is like Ramaphosa. Laughs. And he (ED) can’t be like Ramaphosa as things are now. I suppose by reverse he can because Ramaphosa was elected and we saw the election. And we saw it was quite tight with Mama Zuma, the lead was only 200 (votes). But what was our lead? Laughs.
Q: Do you have 21 farms? This would be hypocritical for a man who always spoke about ‘one man one farm’.
A: Where are the farms? I don’t have them. I got a farm in Norton, Highfield Farm. I bought it, it’s sandy but it has one virtue, it’s close to the dam. But during a season like this one, you get nothing because it’s just water flowing on it. I built Alpha Omega dairy (in Mazowe), that is all.
Q: So you don’t have other farms?
A: That is all I have. The others belong to my children and relatives. She (Grace) has, naturally, some land around the children’s home, but as for me that is all I have.
Q: You have been accused of failing to take action against corrupt ministers and government officials during your time in office.
A: But you know, proving corruption is a difficult process. You’ve got to try people, and to find them guilty is not very easy. It’s not just ministers, even in the private sector, it’s rife.
Q: Lastly, why did you prefer to stay long in power?
A: I always listened to the people. The people still wanted me. And one other thing is I also looked at my circumstances. Nkomo is no more, (Simon) Muzenda, (Joseph) Msika, they are all gone. If I go, who would keep the party intact?
This article was first published by the Zimbabwe Independent