Hildegarde The Arena
CDE Robert Mugabe, I don’t know whether you will read this Arena instalment, the first such piece in a long time. I pay tribute to you, for it was a column inspired by some of the memorable events in your long walk as a revolutionary and grandmaster of Zimbabwean, regional and global politics.
It is thus befitting to say goodbye to a man who for more than five decades shaped events in our motherland. Although some might think that there was nothing good you did in your 37 years in power, only time will tell like what my friend’s son said about the legacy you bequeathed on future generations. He said that irrespective of where they will be, you gave them that sense of pride of being assertive and self-confident as Zimbabweans.
And that Cde Mugabe, no one will ever take away from you. It was never supposed to end the way it did, but as the Zimbabwe Defence Forces aptly code named their operation that started last week, “Operation Restore Legacy”, they had to intervene for we all realised that there was a small clique surrounding you that was taking advantage of you.
In my view, they had captured you to such an extent that the generality of the people could not reach you. You became a commodity they used for their selfish ends, and in the process we recognised that they did not care about the persona called Mugabe and what he stands for, and what he will mean in the reshaping of another era in Zimbabwe.
Unfortunate though the events have been, someone had to step in to rescue the revolution, which you stood for and became a symbol of, for to destroy the man Robert Mugabe and his ideals on Pan-Africanism would have been a victory that they had succeeded in destroying the liberation struggles fought not only in Zimbabwe, but across the region and continent. It is a legacy that had to be salvaged.
This is why future generations will look back and realise that events of the past week were unique to Zimbabwe, and only in Zimbabwe could we maintain such peace and quiet, go about our day-to-day business despite the presence of the military on our streets.
You taught us to be assertive and different. This is why one of the envoys sent by the Southern African Development Community chairperson, who is also South African president Jacob Zuma said the situation in Zimbabwe was “confusing”.
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told the media: “Zimbabwe is a very proud nation and they really believe in their ability to resolve their own problems. You must be very careful when you interact with them, especially when you move in as a special envoy.”
It is pride and ability that you bequeathed to us. It is on the basis of this legacy that I write this valedictory, from a very personal perspective. I was among many thousands of young Zimbabweans who welcomed you from Mozambique, vigorously campaigned so that the Patriotic Front won the first democratic elections in 1980.
We benefited from attending the University of Zimbabwe through scholarships disbursed by the World University Studies. We were also the first group to attend classes with the young men and women who had fought during the struggle, and I was highly honoured to be a part-time A-Level teacher with the University Evening School, where these freedom fighters were supplementing their studies.
The night schools around the country were complementing the vast education programme your new Government as Prime Minister had put in place — free education for that matter.
When the University of Zimbabwe conferred you with the first post-Independence honorary doctorate (honoris causa), I was again greatly honoured to do a performance together with the late poet Joseph Kumbirai and Roman Catholic nun, Sister Rosely, at such a grand occasion. Young as I was, the full import of what I was doing and did not quickly become evident. This was just, but one of the first performances.
It is only now that all the encounters I had with you as Cde Prime Minister are being downloaded from my sub-conscious, and I ask myself what it really meant then, and means now and forever.
And, I rewind the clock to November 1983 and 1986 respectively, when you Cde President (then Prime Minister), intervened in a sexual harassment case with a then very senior Government official, whose name I cannot mention.
I had to leave my job because of that and a few months later, I was shocked to hear on November 16, 1983 that your then Principal Private Secretary Cde Charles Tazvitya was sending a car to pick me up to go to State House.
Boy, was I scared! I wondered what it was all about, so too my new bosses. I recall that afternoon when I had to take one cup of coffee after another just to calm my nerves. Minutes later that November afternoon, the car arrived and in a dream-like state, I saw myself in one of your offices at State House.
I was left on my own, and this did not help the situation as I could not even look around to see the make-up of the office. Moments later, you entered the room and greeted me. After exchanging a few pleasantries, you sprung a surprise that made me wonder what it was you wanted. You asked, “Why did you leave your job?”
I recall vividly narrating to you Cde President the ordeal that I faced, and your parting words were: “I will look into the issue.” That meeting lasted about 45 minutes, and there was no secretary to minute what we talked about, at least this is what I saw.
When I returned to my workplace, everyone, especially my bosses, wanted to know why the Prime Minister wanted to see me, but I was too dazed to believe that I had actually met one of the most sought after persons on the global arena. I was grateful that you were concerned to the extent of wanting to hear my version of the story.
Three years later (1986), the issue was resurrected as there were reports that there were more young women being sexually harassed by the same official, and I was asked whether I would be prepared to bolster their cases, using my case. I agreed and went on to write you a letter on June 27, 1986, a letter which I personally delivered at your Munhumutapa offices.
That weekend, I had a theatre performance in Bulawayo and was shocked upon return to see a telephone message informing me that I had to report at the Prime Minister’s Office, Munhumutapa Building, at 8am.
This second meeting was to discuss the same issue, but the difference was that there was a secretary taking notes. I also recall that you asked me why I was wearing black, and informed you that my dad had passed on, on January 24, and you condoled me.
You also told me that the official thought that I was being used to fight an ethnic rivalry, and emphasised that I stood by my word; stood on the document that I had written to you.
Then you had this suggestion: “I will call both of you so that you can settle the issue before me.” I politely declined because I was not in the United States or Europe where I was seeking fame and fortune by making these claims.
When you asked whether I would take legal action, I also said because my family was in mourning, I would not, since I did not want them to be distracted, although they knew the issue. I also reiterated that I stood by whatever I had said regarding the issue, and said good bye: “Thank you Cde Prime Minister for listening to me.”
That was the end of the issue, until the late Editor of The Standard newspaper Mark Chavunduka in 1997 sought an interview with me, wanting the story, but I refused to divulge the official’s name.
Also when I least expected it, you toured my new workplace, and I was asked to take you around my department. What surprised me was that you still remembered my name, and even asked me whether I liked the new job.
Apart from these one-on-one interfaces, our theatre group Zambuko/Izibuko was honoured to perform at the Non-Aligned Movement Summit cultural gala for heads of State and Government, and many other high profile events where you were present.
However, I cherish the past 10 years because I realised through writing that the revolutionary in you was either being misunderstood and/or misinterpreted. But it eventually was painful to see that something was being chipped off you slowly, but surely and Arena was on the back-burner because it seemed as though there was no longer any revolution to defend. I couldn’t pretend!
As I said at the beginning, the manipulation was so evident, and we were all worried that this iconic figure’s legacy could be lost, and so too Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle. At least that is how I have interpreted events of the past few weeks.
Adios Cde President, and thank you! You remain our Elder Statesman.
May the good Lord continue to protect you!