IN this wide-ranging interview with Baffour Ankomah, Editor at Large of the London-based New African magazine, Vice President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, talks broadly about his past, the liberation struggle, the long years he has been with President Robert Mugabe, the current goings-on in Zimbabwe and in zanu-pf, what the future holds for the country, and why those who think he is the leading candidate to succeed President Mugabe are wrong
Q: Is it correct also to say that the President’s strength is partly due to the calibre of the colleagues, like you and others, that he has worked with?A: I wouldn’t say so. I think the reverse is true. We have survived because we have had a leader of his calibre, not the other way round. We have benefited from his clarity of vision. He has been very clear and very principled. We have benefited from the way he deals with issues, how he interrogates issues, and how he fights for the best interests of our people. He is a lawyer, so he has an interrogative mind. So I think I will be safe to say that most of us, and I in particular, have benefited from his interrogative mind on national issues.
Q: Having fought a good fight, President Mugabe himself now talks about the twilight years. He is in the evening of his rule and life. His shoes will be difficult to fill, isn’t it?A: No doubt about that. I don’t think the next generation will be able to produce a person like him. I don’t think we can get a person even in our generation who can fill his shoes to the extent that he has been able to remain an intellectual giant in leading our people and charting a course for the African people of this region, perhaps even continentally.
The other leaders of the same calibre I can think of are Kwame Nkrumah, Sekou Toure, and Modibo Keita who in the 1950s and 60s spoke about a vision for African unity. Now those leaders are gone. Within the current African leadership, I don’t see many who fit the shoes of the founding fathers. The only one I know, without thinking much, is President Mugabe.
It will take a long time for this country to produce a man of his calibre, if at all we can. A man who would stand whatever pressure, who would stand the pressures of the West and not sacrifice what is correct for expediency, just to say for now I will forgo what is right for my people in order to be comfortable. No, Mugabe doesn’t do that. And I don’t see anybody in our region of that calibre, let alone among ourselves as Zimbabweans. We don’t have that calibre yet.
But, having worked with him for all this time, there are so many cadres who are now solid. But they are not of the same vision, character, and intellectual mettle of Mugabe. We shall miss him dearly. He is an outstanding leader and human being.
Q: Why can’t the many “solid” cadres you talk about be like Mugabe? Iron sharpens iron, isn’t it?A: I don’t know what that means, iron sharpens iron, that is English language. But I can say that most of us who have worked together in the last 40 years — in Government I can count them on my fingers — the majority were in the army. The current army commanders were very young at the time, and I can guarantee you that there is nobody in the army who is of our generation. Those who are heading the military now were junior officers during the struggle because all their commanders have either died or retired.
But the young people who are now in the leadership follow the footsteps of the President. They admire him and are committed to him both in terms of loyalty and perseverance, and they will uphold what we call “the revolutionary correct line”.
There are also colleagues in the leadership that I am hundred percent sure will continue to identify the correct line of the revolution and follow it. And the correct line is “where we ought to go”, because there is a difference between “where we want to go” as a nation and “where we ought to go”. A leader must not take the people where they want to go, but where they ought to go, whether the people or the leader want it or not, or whether it is hard or not.
Q: The Zanu-PF Government has been in power for 35 years. Would you say it has put systems in place that can be carried forward by the next generation, when the current leaders retire?A: To instil a culture of commitment and the upholding of the values of our revolution into the people, we had initially introduced a Youth Service to preach and teach patriotism to our youth. But down the line, we did not have the resources to sustain the programmes at the Youth Service centres. We felt that every child, as they grew up in this country, should put the country first and their personal interests second.
We felt that the best method was to introduce the Youth Service where when our children had reached secondary-level education, they would go and be taught the elements of patriotism. That as a nation we are where we are today because we have stood up and are ready to shed our blood for what we believe is ours. And that we must, day and night, remain masters of our destiny and masters of our resources. And we must preserve our God-given resources for ourselves and generations to come, and that anybody who wants to participate in our resources must come on our terms. That is the culture we are preaching.
But you are asking: Are we satisfied that the future generations will be able to carry on with the spirit of the revolution? We believe that they will, that for the foreseeable future we shall lie quietly in our graves. Else we may wake up from our graves if they fail to teach or continue with the resolute spirit we are imparting to them
At the moment, we are pursuing a two-pronged approach: one, to bring back our Youth Service programmes, and two, to change the curriculum in our schools so that the history of the revolution is taught and taught well. I went to school in China between 1963 and 1964, and we were taught about the Chinese Revolution, and up to this day Chinese schools still teach about the Chinese Revolution. As a result, the majority of the Chinese people today are very loyal to their country. This is because they begin at an early age to inculcate patriotism into them.
We also believe that if we introduce our revolutionary history into schools, it will help the nation to appreciate where we have come from, who we are, where we are going, and why we should continue to be who we are. It will help them to know that other nations are proud of themselves and there is no time when a British or American child ever aspires to be a Zimbabwean. In the same vein, we should also not have our children aspiring to be Americans, Indians, Chinese, and so on. They should aspire to be themselves. If we have that gravitas, then we, the current generation in the leadership, can rest well in our graves.
Q: But the commitment of the youth of today is not the same as the commitment of the youth of the 1960s. You have talked about catching them young, but what about those who are already out of school and working. How can you whip up their fervour to become committed citizens?A: Well, the generation out of school is in-between the generation in school and our generation that was directly involved in the liberation struggle. In the 1960s, our leaders decided that we must take up arms, and the youth were very enthusiastic to go to war. We had nothing to lose at the time. We had no wives and no property. The only property we had was the clothes we wore.
Now the generation out of school have wives and children; they have homes and mortgages, so to tell them to sacrifice and die for the nation (laughs), they think twice. In fact, resources are our constraint, but our goal is really to catch them young.
Q: Does your nickname Ngwena, Crocodile, have any bearing on your closeness to the other Crocodile, Gushungo?A: No, no. We didn’t even know that Mugabe’s totem was Gushungo. He was just our boss, our commander. We didn’t ask him about his totem. We only discovered much later that he too was a crocodile. Gushungo means crocodile.
After independence, I once joked with President Mugabe. He came to Gweru, the capital of my home area. So I said to him, “Mr President, you know I am a Shumba, a lion, and there is a lions’ park in Gweru where you can walk with the lions in the morning until 11 am when it becomes unsafe because the lions become a bit hungry.” In the history of the park, there has been only one incident when a lion ate the arm of a man. So I told the President: “It is now 9 am, I want us to go and walk with the lions, but don’t be afraid because I am a Shumba, a lion.”
Was the President amused? He waited till he came to the podium to give his speech and then told the people: “Mr Mnangagwa has asked me, because he is a lion himself, to go with him and walk with the lions here. Since I am the President, I am inviting him to come and swim with my crocodiles at Kutama. If he comes out alive, then I will walk with his lions.” You can see that he did not take up my offer (laughs heartily).
Q: The two of you are called crocodiles, and we know the strength of the crocodile as an animal. Do your nicknames have a bearing on the strength of your personalities?A: Honestly, I cannot interrogate the nickname given to me. Those who gave it thought it was important. But for President Mugabe, it is his totem. He is a Gushungo which means crocodile. For me it is a nickname arising from the Crocodile Group. We blew up bridges and at one time a locomotive train. And I was the ringleader.
But you know the trait of a crocodile, don’t you? It never hunts outside water. It always goes into the water to catch its prey. It never goes in the villages or in the bush looking for food. It strikes at the appropriate time. So a good guerrilla leader strikes at the appropriate time. That’s the import of the nicknames we gave each other.
Q: You spent 10 years at the Harare Central and Khami Prisons. . . ?A: And in other prisons too. I was in Salisbury Prison (now Harare Central), then at Fort Victoria, and Gray Prison in Bulawayo, and finally at Khami Maximum Prison.
Q: My last question begins with a long quote from one of your admirers …A: Who is this?
Q: You will know him when I finish the quote. He was reported to have said at your 66th birthday that you are “the only surviving member of Zanu-PF’s first Politburo meeting because in the first days the President did not attend the Politburo. All the others who attended the first meetings are now dead. I’m sure he is alive for a reason which we all know”. The admirer was implying that God has preserved you for the presidency. Interestingly, today, from inside and outside the country many people see you as the leading candidate to succeed President Mugabe. Are they right in their assessments?A: No, they are totally wrong. Before we called it a Politburo, it was the National Executive Committee or NEC. We were only 12 members. And Mugabe was chairing it. I don’t know whether every member of the NEC is dead. At least, Mugabe is there, I am there, Teurai Mujuru is there, she was the only female member of the NEC.
Then we introduced the Politburo when we came into the country from exile. Initially it was only the heads of departments of the party who were members of the Politburo. And Mugabe was chairing it again. There is no time that Mugabe was not chairing. Looking back since 1977, I have been there throughout, first as NEC member, and from 1984 when the Politburo was introduced, as a Politburo member.
Again, looking at the Politburo members from that time who are still alive, there is Mugabe, there is myself, there is Teurai Mujuru. Who else is alive? I will tell you when I remember their names. But later on, the deputy heads of departments of Zanu-PF were made Politburo members. And that brings in Sekaramayi and others. But throughout the lifespan of the NEC and Politburo, Mugabe has been chairing.
Q: And the people who see you as the leading candidate to succeed President Mugabe, are they right in their assessments?A: No, they are not informed. I think they are outside Zanu-PF. Those inside Zanu-PF know that being vice president or being a member of the Politburo or Central Committee is not a stepping-stone to becoming president. Not at all. A president is elected at the party congress. There are no conditions that you must be at this level or that level to become president. The condition is that you must be a member of Zanu-PF, and anybody can become a member of Zanu-PF. So you can’t say that because I am vice president or a member of the Politburo or a member of the Central Committee, I am nearer to becoming President.
You see, you can be on the road between the State House and Zim House, the President’s official residence across the road. You can throw a stone into the yard of the State House when you are on that road, but someone walking from here to China will arrive first before you arrive in State House if you are on that road. So that is what it is. That is how far it is!
Q: Now this is my very last question I promise: Somebody has said that Zanu-PF as a party thrives on having enemies and that if the party has no enemies, it creates one. Is that why there is so much infighting in the party currently?A: [Laughs heartily]. No, Zanu is democratic. If you create a democratic situation where people are allowed to think freely, people will not agree on anything, and this is where the healthiness of the party is. This is why the party has survived for 52 years now. It is because we allow internal debate. People debate, they disagree, agree, and agree to disagree. Others get thrown out. This is what it is.
But if you coerce people into one straight line, then it is like the MDC [the opposition Movement for Democracy Change]. It breaks! Now there are five MDCs, but there is still only one Zanu-PF in 52 years. It is because we exercise democracy where we allow people to disagree, and they can still sit together and have tea. But when it comes to issues, we differ in order to arrive at the best solution for the party, the best way forward, the best way to arrive at the correct line to preserve the party, the best way to lead the people. That is the reason. It is not creating enemies. It is creating the environment where you are allowed to air your foolishness or wisdom.