Hildegarde The Arena
IT was unthinkable in the past fortnight that Cde Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa would not only be the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, but also the Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces.
It was the most unlikely scenario but, as I write, he is now the No. 1 citizen of our nation, for the Bible says in the book of Ecclesiastes Chapter 3:1, (Amplified Version): “There is a season (a time appointed) for everything and a time for every delight and event or purpose under heaven.”
Some think it is a dream too good to be true, while others believe they are living a prolonged nightmare. Those in denial think that it is nothing but a bubble that will soon burst, and we will get back to yesterday.
These different groups should probably have a candid talk with a few Rhodesians who never thought that this country would be governed by a black person, as Ian Smith declared, “not in a thousand years”.
They eventually learnt to say, “never say never”, including Smith himself, for the Rudd Concession of October 30, 1888 had given them a sense of entitlement that everything Rhodesian (Zimbabwean) was theirs, as they described it thus: “beyond comparison the most valuable country south of the Zambezi”.
When the voice of the people echoes and says we have entered a new era, it is surprising to hear some claiming that this new dispensation is going nowhere, and not just that, to see them remain captured with factional or successionist politics.
This is a topic for another day, I guess, but who is President Mnangagwa, and what is it about him that made him land the top post? A lot has been put out as people want reassurance that the man they trusted with power will deliver good results as soon as yesterday.
For this writer, names and their meanings are always a good starting point. I looked up in the dictionary of names to see what his names mean, and this is what I discovered: Emmerson means “brave; powerful”. His middle Shona name “Dambudzo” means difficulty, complication or challenge. And Mnangagwa means, “You can but fight (me/us), but (it will all be in vain)”.
But it was Smith’s spymaster Ken Flower who in his memoirs “Serving Secretly”, published posthumously in 1987, who gives a bird’s eye view of the man who is now Zimbabwe’s President.
In the prologue, Flower writes:
“On 25 May 1980, just over a month after Zimbabwe had become an independent nation, I received a telephone call from the Minister for State Security. ‘I think you should come to see me about a report made to the Prime Minister concerning yourself.’
“Half an hour later I was shown into the minister’s office. After scant formalities he said, ‘The Prime Minister wishes you to know that the Commissioner of Police has reported to him that you have been spending much of your time recently trying to murder him.’
‘Was I named? And if so, who else?’
‘You were clearly named, and certain officers working for you.’
“The minister was watching me closely and the thought flashed through my mind that I was then and there on trial for my reputation, perhaps for my life.”
‘Does the Prime Minister expect me to defend myself, or justify my actions before him?’
‘No, he merely wishes you to know what a colleague of yours has reported concerning yourself.’
‘But how can I leave it like that? And how can I justify my actions? For instance, did the Commissioner explain that some of those implicated are officers in Special Branch which is part of the Police and under his command? Or that we have always insisted on collective responsibility at the top?’
‘No, he indicated that you were in charge of the men concerned and that they were acting under your orders.’
‘Who else heard this report, and what do you intend doing about it?’
‘I was present – no one else. The Prime Minister does not intend doing anything other than to advise you.’
‘And what, if I might ask, do you believe?’
‘I was astounded, personally, that whites would want to shop each other like that.’
‘Yes . . . Of course, I can be accused of many activities, authorised and unauthorised, and in many countries that I know I could expect to be put against a wall and shot.’
‘That is not what you are being advised. In fact, the Prime Minister told the Commissioner he was surprised . . . ’
‘I appreciate what you say, but I feel I must see the Prime Minister nevertheless.
‘It is not necessary to see him about this. He understands better than you might realise.
‘Or the Commissioner might realise?’
It is as though one is reading a thriller, where the writer saves the best for the climax. It is also unbelievable that this was Smith’s spy chief who had been at the epicentre of ensuring that the liberation struggle would be derailed, and “Rhodesians would never die”, although in reality the armed struggle claimed so many of them, leading to the talks at the Lancaster House in the British capital, London.
But this conversation happening five months into 1980 reveals so much, especially if one cares to read between the lines and ask hard questions: what does it mean now, and who is President Mnangagwa? He was 37 years and a few months old, but it is clear that Ken Flower was not putting on a show. The man was scared, and he saw into the future.
He only mentions the minister’s name halfway through the second page, keeping his readers in suspense in the meantime saying: “This was the gist of the conversation I had with the Minister, Emmerson Mnangagwa. My first meeting with him had been several weeks previously, in March, when I and the Armed Forces Commanders had gone to offer our services to the newly elected Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe.
“In a somewhat aloof though perfectly correct manner, Mnangagwa had said that I should continue in the post I had occupied for 17 years, Director-General of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), to ensure that it was controlled professionally. He had added that he would provide the political link between the organisation and Government.”
Despite having been instrumental in infiltrating both ZAPU and ZANU and their military wings, Flower in his words says, this conversation was unsettling, but also “quickly dispelled any false image I might have had of him”.
The little that he knew about the man who is now the President of Zimbabwe was that Mnangagwa “in 1963 had switched from Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) to the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and had led the first group of Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) revolutionaries to be trained in sabotage . . .”
This writer has deliberately used Ken Flower as a source because he had all the means – financial and otherwise – to know Cde Mnangagwa, but he could not break the wall around him. Why, we don’t know. Maybe it was meant for us to reach this season.
Featuring him in the prologue and the epilogue of his book mainly, speaks volumes of what he saw in the man. In the epilogue he says: “I counted myself fortunate after Independence that Mugabe and Mnangagwa were content to keep me as Intelligence/Security Adviser and Head of CIO, although we had been so clearly opposed to each other . . . Only once did Mnangagwa pass me a written instruction outlining some of his thoughts on reconstruction . . .”
Now, thus far, the Lord has taken us. In the past fortnight, President Mnangagwa made it very clear that “Operation Restore Legacy” was no child’s game, and those who want to remain stuck in the past will miss the train since it is moving with speed.
There is a major crisis of expectations from all Zimbabweans during his first 100 days in office. But it is up to the people, united in purpose, to rise to the occasion. Pride can kill and/or make us fall into oblivion, but again, it’s never too late to heed the voice of the people.
President Mnangagwa’s inaugural address showed that the days of doing things for the sake of it are over. He understands the challenges the nation is facing and is calling on everyone to be part of the change process, no matter how painful: “I implore you all to declare that NEVER AGAIN should the circumstances that have put Zimbabwe in an unfavourable position be allowed to recur or overshadow its prospects. We must work together, you, me, all of us who make up this nation,” he said.
He also appealed to Zimbabweans to bury their differences saying: “As we do so, we should never remain hostages to our past. I thus humbly appeal to all of us that we let bygones be bygones, readily embracing each other in defining a new destiny. The task at hand is that of rebuilding our great country. It principally lies with none but ourselves.”
The short statements he released on Tuesday on the moratorium given to those who externalised Zimbabwean funds, followed by the one from his meeting with heads of ministries, resonated with what he said in his inaugural speech: “In acknowledging the honour …, I recognise that the urgent tasks that beckon will not be accomplished through speeches, necessary as these may be.” As our Nigerian brothers and sisters say, “You are welcome Cde President.” But, many people are keen to know whether “kumagumo kune nyaya” has finally come and gone.