Jonathan Moyo recounts escape from jaws of the crocodile

Prof Jonathan Moyo

NOVEMBER 21 marks three years since the late former president Robert Mugabe was ousted in a military coup, which propelled his longtime protégé Emmerson Mnangagwa to power.

The coup resulted in Mugabe’s allies being arrested while others skipped the country’s borders, fearing for their lives.

One of the most wanted persons was former Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo (JM), who was considered the Zanu PF G40 faction’s chief strategist.

Our news editor Owen Gagare and reporter Nyasha Chingono (NH) caught up with Moyo, who recounted his escape and shared his thoughts on the Mnangagwa administration.

Below are excerpts from the interview:

NH: You  worked with Mnangagwa for some time in government and, in fact, some say you supported his presidential bid at some point.

Do you think he can still implement the reforms he promised after the coup and in the run -to the 2018 elections?

JM: No, he is not capable of reform. He is the antithesis of reform. He has never pushed any reform agenda. The only agenda that he had was to seize power; to grab power. And he achieved his purpose when he ousted President Mugabe, but you are wrong in saying at one point I supported his ambitions to be president.

NH: Around 2004. Did you not support his bid?

JM: They point to Tsholotsho (Declaration of 2004), but they know that I am from Tsholotsho. And they know I, for the better part of my public life in Zimbabwe, was the shadow MP there, which I was in 2004 or the actual MP for the better part of my life.

Now, it is preposterous to find me at my home and some guy comes there, then you say I support him. He sent his emissary because he did not come himself on the particular occasion. He sent Patrick Chinamasa to speak for him…There were all these other people there, but because I am there, you say I am supporting this guy, when you know, you cannot locate me anywhere else. Did you ever see me in Kwekwe with him? Did you ever see me in Gweru with him, in Masvingo with him?

What other meeting besides Tsholotsho do you connect me with him? I have always been fascinated by this, there was a meeting in Matabeleland south, near Gwanda at Ntalale High School, the one in Tsholotsho was at Dinyane High School.

But a similar meeting full of all the sorts of people, who really supported this guy and who were part of this coup, even in November 2017 took place at Ntalale High School.

The reason I was at Dinyane is that his real supporters like Jacob Mudenda, Believe Gaule, who were running the party in Tsholotsho and Matabeleland North, in Tsholotsho that time, begged me…I was at Holiday Inn.

The weekend before that meeting in Tsholotsho, they said the reason we want you to attend is because you have done lots of stuff in Tsholotsho and if you don’t attend, it will look as if you are snubbing him.

And we want you to formally take the invitation to Harare. He was the speaker of Parliament at the time, and I refused. They spent about 10 hours begging me to do that…In fact, I was giving him a torrid time at that time.

I was on his case, and we were running articles about him smuggling gold with the Joshi brothers and others. I had gotten Johannes Tomana to be appointed to look at the gold smuggling in Kwekwe, which some Macmillan guy was doing with Mnangagwa and Tomana specified Macmillan.

I do not know how this thing slipped out. And I think partly because after Tsholotsho some of us left the government, but Mnangagwa was heavily implicated at that time in gold smuggling.

NH: It has been three years since military tanks rolled into the streets of Harare and other parts of Zimbabwe, resulting in the ouster of the late former president Mugabe.

How do you think Zimbabwe has fared since the coup?

JM: The situation speaks for itself. Zimbabwe today is a disaster zone. It is a humanitarian disaster. Some seven or so million people are facing hunger and it has been a human rights catastrophe.

Mnangagwa and his administration have brought to the fore the Gukurahundi society. As the chief enforcers and, I dare say, the architects of Gukurahundi, they have turned Zimbabwe into a Gukurahundi society.

In the 1980s Gukurahundi was in Matabeleland and parts of Midlands. Over the past three years, Gukurahundi has been brought to Harare.

The targeting of citizens, opposition leaders for abduction, torture and murder. The targeting of journalists. This is exactly what was happening in Gukurahundi.

Now it has come to town, right there in the CBD. This is what Mnangagwa has achieved. Whatever score you use, Mnangagwa has taken Zimbabwe back to its dark days. This is a public fact.

He has run away from all those things, which he said to justify the coup. Things he was given by the former British ambassador, Catriona Liang; they were coaching him. He has forgotten all those things.

All those things about the voice of the people being the voice of God are gone. All those promises about bringing democracy are gone.

If people were serious in Zimbabwe, they would understand why we said Mnangagwa was the architect of the draconian fabric of the so-called, first republic. He was Mugabe’s right-hand man for 52 years. We are not absolving Mugabe, but we are saying if you catch a thief, you let the thief speak for itself.

It is the thief that must tell us who sent it. Catch the thief and subject it to due process of the law, let the thief speak for itself. What is happening now with the regime and its laws, putting stuff about the Patriotic Act so that you do not organise against government; they are putting in the criminal code.

That is Mnangagwa in action, it is typical. The answer is clear, Mnangagwa’s performance in government has been disastrous. The government had its problems in the past, but now it’s at rock bottom.

NH: You were one of the people targeted by the military. Could you kindly tell us how you escaped from Zimbabwe during the coup?

JM: The only thing that surprised me is the discovery after the fact initially, I was told by President Mugabe on the day of the coup. My family and I left first for Kasukuwere’s house and we were attacked there and ended up at Blue Roof (Mugabe’s mansion).

NH: How did you escape to the Blue Roof and then to Mozambique?

JM: We could not have possibly left the Kasukuwere residence and gone to the Blue Roof on our own.

I can assure you that me and my family left for Kasukuwere on our own, but the rest of the story is complicated that I can’t tell you that story in these circumstances without implicating other people.

I can’t do that. The first person, who told me that they wanted to kill me was President Mugabe after he met with them (the military).

He was just seated there looking at me; he was also shocked that they wanted to kill me.  I was shocked to discover that this is what they wanted to do.

Later I read in their minutes that they were blaming me for everything. What Kasukuwere and (former Finance minister Ignatius) Chombo should have done, I was supposed to be the devil’s incarnate behind it. They alleged that I was working with some embassies in Harare and that I was doing this to bring down the government.

I was shocked then, and I am shocked now as to why they wanted to criminalise me.  They used all sorts of tricks, (Zimbabwe Manpower Development Fund) Zimdef this Zimdef that.

They can’t say Jonathan Moyo took this pen or bought this for his wife or bought this for his mother. They want to put on my shoulders everything they approved through their party structures.

If I was involved in some criminal activity, those guys would have gone after me like nobody’s business. Something which is typical of Gukurahundists is to criminalise their political opponents and weaponise the justice system.

That is how they finished off Zapu.  I was shocked to discover that if these guys had laid their hands on me, we would not be having this conversation right now.

NH: Why were you a target?

JM: They understood that we opposed them. I hear some people say, ‘why did you not you speak out when you were in government?’.

First of all, you can’t speak when you are an insider like you are outside. You will not live to see another day if you try. Some of us tried.

When I started speaking out against command agriculture looting, they said we can’t have a person inside, speaking like an opposition leader. We were speaking from inside.

From 2015 to 2017, there was warfare in Cabinet and Mnangagwa would think twice before coming to Cabinet. He always tried to hide behind Mugabe because he could not defend himself.

Mnangagwa was doing a lot of strange things as minister of Justice, including firing former chief justice (Godfrey) Chidyausiku. Mnangagwa retired Chidyausiku without the president knowing and used Chinamasa and (Prisca) Mupfumira to work out a backdoor package.

They gave him a package and said go kunorima (farming). Mugabe was shocked that his chief justice had been fired.

He met Chidyausiku at a funeral and he (Chidyausiku) said ‘I’m on retirement’ and Mugabe brought him back. It would be very useful to tell a story of why Mnangagwa retired Chidyausiku behind Mugabe’s back.

If you go into that story you will unpack Mnangagwa’s criminal mind. Also, without saying much, how did Chidyausiku die?

Who appeared to be close, giving him medical help and organising for him to go to South Africa? There are two major deaths in recent history that need to be told so that such things do not repeat again.

The Chidyausiku death and the Solomon Mujuru death. They were afraid of Chidyausiku, he was coming into government. He was going to be the next minister of Justice.

NH: You escaped with only a bag from the pictures seen on social media. Could you share with us the contents?

JM: I am acknowledging that you have put me in some sort of a fix. I cannot say this or that because you actually saw me carrying my katundu (parcel). You know the decision to take the bag was not planned.

It happened in response to the horror. We did not plan to escape. Mnangagwa escaped but clearly it was planned, he even got help from the army.

For us it was a clear and present danger, which was escalating and getting worse. We just had to go out of town and to get out through the most complicated means.

It took us more than 24 hours to get out. It was an ordeal, which involved being in a car, on foot walking, part of it on a motorbike. The decision to leave, was like if you do not leave, you are dead.

So, I had with me that bag, which I had which just happened to be in the room where I was. When I started the ordeal, I was in a room where there was that bag… What I could see is that bag and I had my passport, some documents, and the things that I had been writing.

But I was not able to access what we had left at our house that night of the coup. So that became my luggage, and I crossed Ruya River at the border with that luggage on a motorbike. I was received by Sekuru Dzenga of Dzenga Village at 4am. We rested for an hour, proceeded to catch a lift to Tete and flew to Maputo the next day. I only got a proper bag when I did some small shopping in Maputo. I was on the run until Maputo. I only got a proper bag when I did some small shopping in Maputo. I was on the run until Maputo.

NH: How did you feel when you crossed Ruya River into Mozambique?

JM: The good thing is that it was a drought, as you recall. There was a lot of sand, but no water. So, we were not afraid of crocodiles.

The crocodile thing crossed my mind, and I was saying I have left a crocodile in Harare and are we going to encounter another one. But it was a mixed feeling because we had been told that these guys (soldiers) were there.

Obviously, they had not gotten their act together because if they had encountered us there, it was going to be a very unfortunate situation. So, it was a mixed feeling because there was also relief. When you saw pictures of me on that motorbike it was at the residence of the person, who was locally in charge.

Savior (Kasukuwere) was already there, and many people see the motorbike and say, ‘you were travelling with cameras and photographers?’. No Savior was already there and he was happy to see me, so he took that photograph.

NH: I had assumed that maybe you had travelled together?

JM: Well, but travelling together is a definition. But I was so happy, I was smelling freedom and I was aware that I had just escaped death. I was in no doubt that I had escaped death.

But what I can assure you is, as I said, what you presented as a journey, to me, was an unbelievable ordeal. There was drama, stranger than fiction over the 24 hours it took us from Harare to that motorbike. There were so many close shaves, serious close shaves, more serious than fiction.

NH: I assume you had people, who were helping you during your journey. Can you also share with us the most difficult moments?

JM: I can talk of many, but the most challenging was getting out of Blue Roof. It was surrounded.

NH: Without implicating other people, how did you get out of the Blue Roof?

JM: We got out by getting out. It was not easy to get out of Blue Roof. It was relatively easier to get into Blue Roof on the coup night, because people were minding other things, you know, but to get out no.

NH: Do you plan to return to Zimbabwe at some point?

JM: I think that going to a Zimbabwe, which is under Mnangagwa will be no different from committing suicide or seeking to commit suicide. So, another way of putting your question is do you plan to commit suicide?

Remember, Zimbabwe does not belong to Mnangagwa, and Mnangagwa is not a permanent creature. So, going back to Zimbabwe, under Mnangagwa, will be committing suicide.

NH: Observers say a unity government is the panacea to Zimbabwe’s problems. What is your take on this?

JM: No, but clearly a unity of government is not a solution. Those people, who think that a unity government is the solution, they have a solution, that is looking for a problem.

Because the only time the conditions in the country were conducive, appropriate for a unity government was around the coup because there were different political interests, genuine political interests. The military coup removed all the conditions for a so-called unity government.

The effect of the coup, the major consequence, was to destroy all political formations, including Zanu PF. Zanu PF no longer exists as a political party that can engage other political parties.  It is no longer a political party.

It has just become an appendage of the army. Zimbabwe is a military state, you cannot have a unity government in a military state.

NH: Ahead of 2023, what should the opposition do so that there is a semblance of free, fair and credible elections?

JM: Under the new political order that now obtains in the country since the military coup, in a military state, as we speak, right now, there is no opposition in Zimbabwe. An opposition is not the existence of a collection of individuals, who call themselves opposition.

In political terms, it is a formation with an organised programme of action whose objective is to get political power. When you have individuals who are opposing each other, I mean, what we see about the ‘opposition in quotation marks or what is going on in the opposition field are sub formations that are opposing each other.

Now to try and project what that opposition is going to do in 2023 is unreasonable and unrealistic. The tragedy of state politics in Zimbabwe today is the absence of an organised opposition.

Because Zimbabwe is a military state, people who normally occupy this space that is normally occupied by the opposition are terrified, afraid of opposing the state or those who are wielding power in this day. They are terrified. So instead of seeking power, the individuals who are in the space that is supposed to be the opposition are seeking accommodation.

NH: So how can they improve? What should they do? How does the opposition strengthen itself to mount a formidable challenge in a military state? What kind of opposition does Zimbabwe need?

JM: It needs the kind of opposition that we saw in Sudan. And you can tell that that opposition is not in Zimbabwe. No, I do not think the issue is what should these people in opposition do. The question is always a political one.

What is society going to do to do with the situation that has arisen in Zimbabwe? Sooner or later, and we do not have to be rocket scientists to understand this; society will respond. And it may respond in ways that will surprise all of us.

But just like the sun will rise tomorrow, the Zimbabwean society will deal with the military situation that has arisen, no doubt about it. And the way the Mnangagwa administration is governing almost guarantees that the response, the societal response, is on the horizon. It’s not too far away.