I first heard about Cde Mugabe around 1962 when he was in the National Democratic Party. I didn’t get to meet him though; I just heard about him. I had been expelled from Hodgson Technical College of Zambia in 1960 for political agitation. I was now working for Unip which I had joined as a Youth League activist in Lusaka and the Copperbelt.
It was about ’62 when I heard about this firebrand in Rhodesia. When Zapu was banned, most of its leaders came to Lusaka en route to Tanganyika (now Tanzania). We were still young and could not get close to him.
I then went to Tanganyika towards the end of 1962 into ‘63. The first person I saw in Dar es Salaam was the first First Lady, Amai Sally Mugabe. She gave birth to her first child, Nhamodzenyika, and a colleague, Leonard Mudavanhu, and I visited her in hospital. They lived in Upanga at the time.
Our group later trained in China and completed training in 1964. We were deployed, making us the only six or so trained people to come into the country. So, I attended the first Zanu Congress in May (21-23) 1964. That’s when I came face-to-face with President Mugabe. He was elected Secretary-General, and as young people, we were enthused by his English when he addressed Congress: very fluent; articulate. We loved him in the youth wing. Never mind the ideology he articulated; we were more concerned about his English, his being a graduate and articulate. (laughs) That’s how I came face-to-face with President Mugabe, and then later in Highfield in 1964, now operating at his house where I stayed as part of his security. Behind the prison walls I was captured in 1965 and imprisoned.
President Mnangagwa once described his predecessor Cde Mugabe as “a father, mentor, comrade-in-arms and my leader”.
President Mugabe was already detained along with Nyagumbo, Nkala, Tekere, Morton Malianga, Leopold Takawira and Rev Sithole. I was sentenced to death. I was part of the Crocodile Group. I am the only surviving member of that group. Maybe that’s why people say “Ngwena”. I don’t know. The age of majority then was 21. I was below 21, so I escaped the noose.
My colleagues were, however, hanged. I later learnt that the President had been instrumental in my escape from death. There was a Father Swift, a Roman Catholic priest who chaplained us at Salisbury Prison. I understand that through him, Cde Mugabe appealed to Her Majesty on our behalf. I was saved based on age, but Lloyd Gundu, another colleague on death row, survived on clemency by the Crown.
From that time, we heard and read about (President Mugabe). He and others were on the detention side while we were prisoners. But we really separated for about six years when we were transferred to Khami Maximum Security Prison where we were D-Class prisoners – dangerous prisoners. We were not allowed to go out, even to see the sun – for years. I think they were still detained in Harare, Salisbury then. Even then, he encouraged all imprisoned comrades to study. That is when I began studies after two-and-a-half years in prison.
They wrote notes on small pieces of toilet paper, which were also smuggled to us. We would then hear: “Vakuru varikuti fundayi, fundayi, fundayi!” And there was a Christian Council, which would help prisoners pay for correspondence courses. I completed Ordinary and Advanced Level, and proceeded to an LLB degree.
I sat for my intermediate law degree in 1969/70. There were five of us, including the President; Eddison Zvobgo; Kesiwe Malindi and some white chap, I don’t remember his name.
We sat separately as detainees and prisoners. Only Kesiwe Malindi and the white chap failed. So, that’s where I did my education. I had been expelled before completing Form Two and also expelled from college (laughs). I saw him when I was transferred back to Salisbury Remand Prison. They used to attend church in a small chapel. We were in the “condemned” section.
I was then deported because my parents lived in Zambia. As I prepared to leave, President Mugabe smuggled a letter to me. He wanted me to take the letter to Elisha Mudenda, the Minister of Agriculture in Kaunda’s first Cabinet. I think he and Mudenda were friends at Fort Hare University in South Africa. I had not finished the degree programme when I left; I was in my third and final year.
Under the University of London, one does the intermediate programme and then another three years. In Zambia, I rejoined the revolution and wanted to go back to Mozambique, but the High Command – led by Tongogara, Rex Nhongo and others – said I should first finish the degree programme.
I was in prison for 10 years and therefore could not join fighting straight away, they said. They then arranged a scholarship for me to finish the programme at the University of Zambia. In 1976, there was the Geneva Conference, so President Mugabe and the Ndabaningi Sitholes and Chikeremas came to Lusaka.
President Mugabe had since been released from detention and we now knew each other because I had already stayed with him in Highfield. I was now mature and grown. I did not only enjoy his English; I also now enjoyed his clarity of thought, clarity of direction and how he articulated problems. (laughs) He was now a lawyer and would deal with issues in such a surgical manner that one would admire him.
There was a man to reckon with! We continued interacting. We went to Geneva and returned. I graduated and embarked on post-graduate studies. I finished in 1977 and went back to Mozambique. It was at Zanu’s Chimoio Conference that I was elected Special Assistant to the President. I now headed both Zanu and Zanla’s military and civil security, and my deputy was Sheba Gava, the late General Zvinavashe. That is when I began working under (President Mugabe) as his security advisor.
I had the advantage of being a qualified lawyer. Before VaMugabe was made President in 1977, the rule of law in the army was not strict. The commanders in the operational zones could mete out punishment without party regulations and this resulted in some people losing their lives. Sometimes natural justice was not fully applied: hearing both sides. If a person were accused, they would, sometimes, be sentenced and executed.
From 1977, President Mugabe said: “No, Cde Mnangagwa we want (1) records of every single case; (2) justice where both sides are heard.” When I did my post-graduate, I had also been practising as a prosecutor in Zambia. Therefore, I was fully aware of how to handle judicial procedures. When we tried Rugare Gumbo and others in Chimoio – in the bush of course – I was the lead prosecutor. The council found them guilty. What is important is there were now records stating dates and the types of unlawful acts committed. Normally, they could have been sentenced to death. But President Mugabe and Vice-President Muzenda conferred and then said: “Even those found guilty and the verdict is that they be sentenced to death, should not be executed. We must report back home to the full council. We must keep all those found guilty and present their cases to the full Council of Zanu.”
I would present the cases and the final decision would then be meted out. But for now, the issue is: Are you guilty or not? That is why we have Gumbo around, otherwise . . . . (leaves statement hanging). They should be thankful because VaMugabe naVaMuzenda said they must not be executed; they should be kept and the matter referred to the full Council of Zanu tawuya kuno kumusha. When we experienced attacks by the Rhodesian Air Force, we could not run around with them in case they escaped and joined the enemy. So, we dug a big hole. We lowered a ladder and after they had gone in, we pulled the ladder up. We then spread tree branches and straw over the opening. They remained in the hole, even as we fought.
Always the teacher
I worked for President Mugabe as his Special Advisor on Security Matters. He is a very consistent man. He doesn’t like being lied to. You must always be honest whether the issue pleases him or not. You must tell it as it is. And also, you must keep records. If he refers to a case, you must be able to pull out the record and see how the case was dealt with.
He is a very careful listener. Tongogara was Chief of Defence while Mayor Urimbo was Commissariat (Chief), deputised by Josiah Tungamirai. Rex deputised Tongogara. When we had High Command debates, President Mugabe would listen and listen carefully over hours; going through strategy, reports from the front, the various sectors and provinces. And President Mugabe has a fantastic memory.
When all was finished, he would say: “Okay, you reported on that and this one on that, but I think it should happen this way.” When one wanted to remember a particular point, one had to refer to notes. But he would do it offhand. We admired him so much. He is the one who introduced a kind of yearly conference in Beira to review the previous year and create a slogan for the next year like “People’s Year”, “The Year of Gukurahundi”.
He also promoted education in the camps. This is where people like Dzingai Mutumbuka, Fay Chung and others were made secretaries for education. We divided those grown enough to train and then fight, and youngsters who were weak. They were put into different camps and attended classes; some in primary and others in secondary school.
It was President Mugabe who organised for everybody to get an education. And those who got injured at the front were hospitalised. We had Mangurenje – Ushewokunze – heading our medical side, assisted by Sekeremayi. Those who recovered – not sufficiently to fight – would be sent again for education. We didn’t want them to just sit. Education was uppermost in his dealings with the party and comrades. Many people benefited from that education policy during the war – thousands of them.
Black Marxist Russian
So, I worked with him that way. I accompanied him throughout his foreign missions; when he met Nyerere, Samora or Obasanjo in Nigeria; or at the Malta Conference. I was with him at the Lancaster House Conference as his advisor, Special Assistant to the President. At Lancaster, he stood out to be extremely principled. He could not be moved from the principle that: “We have taken up arms to get back our land. Anything short of that would compromise our revolution.”
The British were very worried and that’s why they called him “The Black Marxist Russian”. In the end, when we sat as Zapu and Zanu, I mean at the top – Joshua Nkomo and his team; Mugabe and us as his team – we then reached a compromise. We said: “We shall accept political independence. The land issue: We shall defer the take-over of the land, wholesale, for 10 years. After 10 years, we shall get our land back.”
That compromise was also induced by the Americans – there was Jimmy Carter – and Commonwealth Secretary Shridath Ramphal. They put up a package for us to acquire land for our people. The President said: “In that case, if you are going to use your own resources to buy back our land, it’s okay because the money is yours, not ours. But we cannot get back the land by buying it ourselves. Those who have it never bought it from us. So, we must just get it for free.”
But, of course, when we came here the speed was very slow. The fund money was there. When this guy – Tony Blair – came into power, he said no, no . . . We then said: “If you are not prepared to give us the money, don’t because the land is here and the money is there. We shall take the land.
It is you who proposed to bring the money here for us to take our land, but if you are going to keep your money, no problem. We take our land.” We got our land back. Our task now is to make use of it. We must develop the land in our hands, in our own way, at our own pace. That’s what is important. It did not end there. President Mugabe also had to inculcate in us, as leaders, not to forget to stand guard over our revolution. “The imperialists will never surrender.
They will find ways to infiltrate us and use us to destroy our own revolution from among ourselves. So, you must always remember that we have won this independence through blood. We have won our sovereignty and got our land back through blood and we must leave this land, this legacy to generations to come solidly and fully in the hands and control of the African people of the country.”
He does not bend on that one. After Independence, I was tasked by the President to be moving between his house – Nkomo was staying in Highfield – to talk to Nkomo about coming together. He only agreed on the third trip. Both leaders – Nkomo and Mugabe – felt there was more good to be achieved together than separated. Nkomo chose to be in security services and became Home Affairs Minister. That’s how we began. Of course, we had begun working together as the Patriotic Front, even in London at Lancaster. We had also worked together under Zipa sometime back in our operations, though it didn’t last.
President Mugabe is very tolerant. He takes counsel, but not stupid counsel! If you report to him, he will interrogate you. And don’t go to him with half-baked decisions because he can prick holes into your argument. He enjoys somebody who argues. When he says “yes”, he knows that you also understand what you are talking about.
He will also have understood what you were talking about. But if you go there with a stupid thing, of course, he will say “no”. But he is very tolerant. For instance, this is Mugabe, I mean, this is at his best: Immediately after the 1980 elections; he was still Prime Minister-designate, he says: “Emmerson, I want to see Smith.” I didn’t tell him, but I wondered: “What has gone wrong with my boss? We were denouncing Smith throughout the revolution. What’s happening?”(Ian Smith opted to come with his deputy, David Smith.) We prepared the house in Mt Pleasant and they came in the evening.
David was driving, with Ian Smith in the passenger seat. But, of course, me being me – the President didn’t know and I don’t think he knows even up to now – I put some (agents) in the hedge, vane maAK (laughs). The President had not told me why he wanted to meet them, and I don’t think he had told VaMuzenda.
Then President Mugabe says to Ian Smith: “I have called you here; you are aware that my party and I have won this election. We have gone through so many difficulties, confrontations and acrimony. I know you have a following. The whites believe in you and you had your time. “This time, this country – Rhodesia – will now be called Zimbabwe, it is going to be independent. We have a sizeable white population. Even if I appeal to them, they will not listen. I want you, Ian Smith, to appeal to the white community in this country to begin a new page with us where there is no racialism. We shall work together, but as equals.” Ian Smith says: “Before I respond to your request, let me tell you something, Mr Mugabe.” We looked at each other. “You see, I represent white interests; you represent African interests. But some of your people like Muzorewa, Chikerema, Chirau and others used to talk to me. I had meetings with them. The only person I didn’t talk to is you.
So, the African people knew you are the correct leader because you did not want to go and eat or sup with me – the white person. “But all those who were supping with me when I was defending my whites’ interests have lost. So, you should thank me for not talking to you.” (laughs) The President laughed and then said: “Mr Smith, I’m serious.
I’m going to make a statement and appeal to the nation for national reconciliation.” Ah, ndopandakanzwa term yacho: national reconciliation. “Ko, Mudhara ava kufunga chii manje?” National reconciliation! They agreed and Smith said he would make a statement himself, appealing to the white community to be calm and accept the new order. The two left after coffee. I later asked the President about this reconciliation. He said: “We are reconciling everybody.
We should put the war behind us; we need peace in the country.” I thought to myself that the High Command did not know about this, but I remained silent. The President told me that he wanted to meet General Walls (Commander, Joint Operations Command), Air Marshal (Hannes) Wessels (Air Force Commander), Peter Alum (Police Commissioner) and Ken Flower (Head of CIO). So, I contacted Peter Walls.
I had his contact details because we used to meet when the elections were held. All four agreed to come in the same car as I had instructed. The meeting place was the same: Mt Pleasant, in the evening. They arrived and took seats. It was only the two of us (on our side) – President Mugabe and I. The President began: “General Walls, whether you talk about Zipra or Zanla, all these forces must now be converted from guerilla fighters to a conventional army, now that we are going to have a new dispensation. “I can’t give the responsibility to Rex Nhongo or Dumiso or Lookout Masuku. I would want you – in the new Zimbabwe – to be Commander (Defence Forces) and convert these together and establish a conventional army.” General Walls first looked at the others, stood, saluted and said: “Yes, Sir!” Ini vanga vasina kumbondiudza. Ndiri kutoshama kuti vanoda kuchengeta mhandu idzi! Isu tiri kuti: “Pasi nemhandu-uu . . . ” (laughs) But this is the boss (talking). Ini ziii. The President moved to Air Marshal Wessels. “Mr Wessels, you were bombing us left, right . . . in Zambia and Mozambique, but that has come to an end.
Whether you talk of Zanla or Zipra, we have no air force. Yes, we have sent a few comrades for training, but we have no air force. “I would want you – in the new dispensation which we have achieved through elections – to produce a new Zimbabwe Air Force, taking the old and new air forces and integrating them.” Wessels promptly rose to his feet and saluted, saying: “Yes, Sir!” Peter Alum was third. “Mr Alum, you were responsible for civil police. Yes, we had our military police in the bush, but yours are properly trained police in a civil society.”
“I don’t know where he had read all this material. VaMugabe! The President continued: “I would want you to be the Commissioner of Police in the new Zimbabwe.” Alum stood up; “Yes, Sir!” President Mugabe turned to Ken Flower. But before he could say much, Ken Flower said: “Sir, may I please speak before you do? I still have parcel bombs which I had not yet dispatched to you and Emmerson. Fortunately (for you), all my attempts did not succeed. I sent you parcel bombs in Maputo, Lusaka.” (Some of our comrades had actually been killed by parcel bombs and he confessed that he was responsible.)
“He went on: “Now because of your openness and frankness, even before you ask me, I will serve you.” We laughed. We were very happy and shook hands. We had coffee and they left. I subsequently asked the President whether I should tell vanaRex. He said I should not and that he would make an announcement. I kept quiet. It was an order. The commanders and Central Committee members heard about the national reconciliation policy when the Prime Minister-designate delivered his speech to the nation.
Mugabe was then toppled by a military coup in November 2017 which installed Mnangagwa as Zanu PF and Zimbabwe President.
That’s this man: Mugabe.