During his 81st birthday celebrations at State House, President Emmerson Mnangagwa reflected on his remarkable life, marked by numerous hardships and near-death experiences. The event, organized by First Lady Dr. Auxillia Mnangagwa and members of the First Family, gathered dignitaries, politicians, diplomats, and family members.
President Mnangagwa recounted three instances in which he narrowly escaped death. The most recent incident occurred in 2017 when he was poisoned at a ZANU PF rally in Gwanda while serving as Vice President. Swiftly airlifted to Harare and then to South Africa while unconscious, he credits his survival to Vice President Constantino Chiwenga and the First Lady.
The President’s journey began in 1959 when he joined UNIP (United National Independence Party) in Zambia, later transitioning to ZAPU and meeting nationalist leaders like Herbert Chitepo and Robert Mugabe during his time in Tanganyika (now Tanzania). He underwent military training in Egypt, where he and 13 colleagues were imprisoned for supporting Zimbabwean nationalists who were referred back home as “rebels”, for deserting Dr Joshua Nkomo after a split in the liberation movement around 1963.
The “rebels” were led by Ndabaningi Sithole and also included Cde Mugabe and Cde Enos Nkala. President Mnangagwa was the sole survivor among the group, as his colleagues were executed.
Reflecting on his time in prison, he mentioned spending ten years in a dark room at Khami Prison. His survival from the death sentence was attributed to being underage during that period. He also highlighted two other brushes with death, including an incident in Iringa, Tanzania, and his involvement with the Crocodile Gang.
“During my time, (the) age of majority was 21; that is why I survived (the death sentence) … my colleagues got hanged,” he said.
“I was the only survivor. I then spent 10 years at Khami Prison in a dark room. God has been very kind with me.
“None of my colleagues, the 13 … we were together in Egypt in 1962 and 1963… none survived.
“In China, when we trained, we were only five; no one else is alive . . . my colleagues again were hanged here … I am the only survivor, even members of the Crocodile Gang, I am the only survivor.
“I had a taste of death three times.
“First in Iringa (Tanzania), but that is a story for another day; second, when I was captured and I got my 10 years (imprisonment) because I was underage, I survived.
“The third one is very recent, in 2017, when I was poisoned there. I am here because of this young man (Vice President Constantino) Chiwenga.
“He and the First Lady were able to rush me to South Africa, where I survived.
“They tell me how I travelled, but I don’t know.
“They tell me from Gwanda (we went to) Gweru (then) to Harare; I was sleeping on Chiwenga’s lap while I was unconscious.
“So, I want my family to know that this young man saved me. He took me to South Africa. It has been a challenging journey.”
Vice President Constantino Chiwenga acknowledged the President’s resilience and the numerous adversities he has overcome throughout his life. He emphasized the importance of destiny and divine intervention in President Mnangagwa’s journey, praising his commitment to the liberation struggle and his enduring spirit.
The President humorously shared his experience of using different names, “Dambudzo” at home and “Emmerson” at school. He adopted the name “Emmerson” without his parents’ knowledge and delighted the audience with a story about his mother’s surprise upon hearing his school name during a results announcement.
He got the name Emmerson from a book he read in a school library.
“So, in the 40s, when we went to school, results would be announced on a weekend and parents would come,” he continued.
“So, class teachers would announce results class by class.
“At home, I was called Dambudzo, but at school I was Emmerson, because I had never told my parents that I had changed (my name).
“So, the teacher said ‘Emmerson, you did well in English and Arithmetic, stand up’, while pointing at me.
“But I could not stand up because I was sitting with my mother.
“When I then stood up, my mother said: ‘Hezvo! Hezvo! Ko wava kunzi ani?’”
The birthday dinner, which exceeded the President’s expectations, brought together family members, Cabinet Ministers, Vice Presidents, traditional chiefs, politicians, diplomats, and clergy. The menu featured a combination of Western and traditional dishes known for their nutritional value and medicinal properties.
First Lady Dr. Auxillia Mnangagwa emphasized the importance of women’s roles in building and uniting families, urging them to create peaceful environments free from societal vices. She also encouraged the celebration and preservation of traditional dishes for their health benefits.
President Mnangagwa’s life is a testament to resilience, sacrifice, and divine protection. As Zimbabwe celebrates his 81st birthday, his remarkable journey continues to inspire and shape the destiny of the nation.