By AG Mutambara
One of the unique opportunities I enjoy, while serving in the Inclusive Government from 2009 to 2013, is spending a lot of time in bilateral discussions with Robert Mugabe.
Just the two of us. We sit at State House and chat for hours. Mugabe is relaxed and, being a great storyteller, he entertains my inquisitive mind for hours on end.
It becomes a ritual for us to discuss government business and then digress onto other subjects, in particular history and global affairs.
Our conversations run through the entire duration of the GNU.
In that same period, I also spend a lot of time in extensive discussions with other liberation icons such as Edgar Tekere, Solomon Mujuru, Joseph Msika, Nathan Shamuyarira and Wilfred Mhanda.
My primary objective is to consolidate my understanding of the liberation struggle by engaging some of the key players in that epic journey to Zimbabwe’s independence. As already indicated, President Mugabe and I spend a lot of time together talking.
We cover everything and anything.
These are intimate interactions that give me profound insights into Robert Mugabe – the political gladiator.
Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle is our focus.
Early on, in our conversations, I am very keen to understand the story behind Ndabaningi Sithole’s loss of the leadership of ZANU.
“Tell me about the Reverend. What happened?’’ Mugabe charmingly smiles and says: “Let me tell you a story.
It all happened at one meeting during the Summit on Zimbabwe organised by the Frontline States Presidents in Dar es Salaam in September 1976 just before the Geneva Conference, held later that year from October to December.
Chairing the meeting is President Julius Nyerere. Also present are Presidents Samora Machel and Kenneth Kaunda.
The entire Zimbabwean political leadership – Joshua Nkomo, Abel Muzorewa, Ndabaningi Sithole, Edgar Tekere and I – all of us were there.
Nyerere really liked Sithole who had done a book on him.
On the other hand, Nyerere never really liked me – he had this antipathy towards me throughout our national liberation struggle. He only started warming up to me after the independence of Zimbabwe. Anyway, back to the matter at hand; Nyerere starts by asking Sithole: “Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole, which party do you belong to?’
Sithole thought about it for a moment and gave what he thought was the politically correct answer.
“I belong to the African National Council (ANC), which is led by Bishop Abel Muzorewa.’
In his mind, Sithole figured that the Southern African Presidents wanted unity and would be firmly in favour of the ANC umbrella organisation that they had imposed on the Zimbabwean nationalists through the signing of the Lusaka Declaration on 9 December 1974.
However, the ANC was already unravelling with infighting between Joshua Nkomo and Abel Muzorewa’s supporters. We of ZANU were never interested in that ANC charade.
Yaingove tamba wakachenjera. (It was just a deceptive power play).
Nyerere felt Sithole had given the wrong answer and wanted to assist his favourite Zimbabwean nationalist.
So he says: ‘Reverend Sithole, I am going to ask you again.
Which party do you belong to?’
Sithole, being the aggressive and self- assured type, becomes agitated and angrily responds: “I have already told you. I belong to the ANC, which is led by Bishop Abel Muzorewa!’
Nyerere then says: ‘It is fine and in order. I hear you loud and clear Reverend Sithole,’ and proceeds with his round-robin exercise. “Joshua Nkomo, which party do you belong to?’ Nkomo says: ‘ZAPU.’ “Robert Mugabe, which party do you belong to?’ I say: ‘ZANU’.
‘Edgar Tekere, which party do you belong to?’ Tekere says: “ZANU.”
At that point in the description of the events, President Mugabe bursts into uncontrolled laughter.
When he gathers his composure, he continues with the narration: “You see, Professor Mutambara, your man rejected the party – ZANU – in front of everyone!
Even his friend Nyerere could not help him. What did you want us to do?
There you have it, Sithole openly dissociated himself from ZANU in favour of Muzorewa’s ANC.
He categorically declared himself so to the Presidents of the Frontline States. It is an open-and-shut case, Professor Mutambara!
Anyway, two days after that meeting, Sithole, realising that he had made a monumental blunder, calls a press conference and declares: “I am pulling my ZANU out of the ANC.’ What a clumsy overgrown baby! Who does such amateurish flip-flopping?
Absolute political insanity!”
Another rip-roaring fit of laughter follows from Bona’s son.
What I find striking is that Robert Mugabe does not bother to give me the traditional accusations that are levelled, at the point in 1976, against Sithole:
“A sell- out who denounces the armed struggle in the dock, his deposition by his colleagues in prison, not paying attention to fighters’ needs when he came out of prison, not defending the arrested ZANU Dare ReChimurenga and High Command leadership after Herbert Chitepo’s death in Zambia, general lack of commitment to the armed struggle and debilitating cowardice.”
What this says to me is that while these transgressions are officially and formally advanced as constituting the rationale for Sithole’s deposition, at the root of it all is just a Game of Thrones – a power play where political actors outmanoeuvre each other as unbridled ambition and an inordinate lust for influence and control pervade all judgements and decisions.
Liberation struggle values and principles, and grand narratives of revolution, just become convenient tools in pursuit of power by individuals and groups.
Trickery, subterfuge, deceit, deception, disinformation and cold-blooded murder are acceptable instruments.
At the end of our discussion, in a more reflective mood, Mugabe is fairly charitable to Sithole and says:
“I blame lack of experience for all the mistakes and mishaps that Ndabaningi Sithole went through.
Of course, he meant well.
We were all operating in uncharted territory.
In any case, politics is a blunt instrument, Professor Mutambara. If you use it to carry out a Caesarean operation, you might deliver the baby, but many organs will be damaged in the process.
The mother might even die!
That is politics for you.
Fast forward to November 2017, when Robert Mugabe is taken out by a coup d’état, and in his apoplectic fury, he publicly supports the opposition in the 30 July 2018 general elections.
The ZANU-PF war veterans and the party’s top leadership are absolutely disgusted and angered.
Through Victor Matemadanda, Mabel Chinomona and Oppah Muchinguri, they advance rabid and incredulous accusations against Mugabe which are not very dissimilar from those levelled against Ndabaningi Sithole when he was deposed in 1975: “Robert Mugabe has always been a sell-out. He did not do any fighting. Since Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, he has been working with the West to undermine the country’’.
They incredulously lambast him.
For these shameless and mindless ZANU-PF functionaries to dish out these charges against Mugabe in 2018 after having worked with him as their leader for 40 years, from 1977 to 2017, is beyond absurd. It is dumbfounding.
It is rich indeed. Why would you have a sell-out as your frontman for all those years?
Why install such a man as the leader of the country for 37 years? Of course, the vitriolic attacks are hollow and without meaning, just as similar allegations were vacuous against Ndabaningi Sithole.
The charges are just meant to suit the new circumstances of power. For Robert Mugabe, maybe it is the revenge of history, as the narrative of deception and deceit comes full circle.
He is getting a taste of his own medicine.
It also means historians and scholars must revisit the allegations levelled against all individuals and groups that fell out of favour with the ZANU-PF leadership over the years – such as Ndabaningi Sithole, the ZIPA commanders, the Gumbo-Hamadziripi group, Edgar Tekere, Joice Mujuru and indeed, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
That charge sheet against Mnangagwa read out by SK Moyo fits into the ZANU modus operandi.
Evidently, transgressions and misdemeanours are fabricated to justify and explain away the retributive actions against the perceived rebels, thus paving the way for a new dispensation.
The objective is the delegitimization of rivals, thus justifying their political and sometimes physical elimination.
That is the ZANU style, playbook, and modus operandi.
Nothing has changed since the liberation struggle.