Q: So you created what is called a “bogey” in this country?
A: What is a bogey?
Q: A kind of false flag, where people might think it was the villagers of Svosve who started it on their own, but in reality it was the party that set them up as a front or catalyst?
A: Exactly! It was a party decision. So our comrades understood the message when the people of Svosve started the action. Remember our motto during the war was, “Politics leads the gun”. The gun never leads our politics. The gun must receive instructions from politics, not the other way round. So when the action started at Svosve, our people throughout the country began to take land from the white farmers.
Then the British were angry, and said, “This is chaotic, you must stop it”. They had forgotten that in 1989 when they sold us 500 Land Rovers to be used by the police, they inserted a clause in the protocol which said we couldn’t use the Land Rovers in riotous situations.
At the time, we were having trouble with a rowdy group of students at the University of Zimbabwe led by Arthur Mutambara who became the deputy prime minister in the Inclusive Government in 2009. The students were making a lot of noise and throwing stones at Government officials. But the British did not want our police to use the Land Rovers to quell student riots, so they put that clause in the protocol.
But now, all of a sudden, when the farm invasions started in 2000, the British started asking us to quell the situation. We said, “no, the Land Rovers you sold us cannot be used by the police in riotous situations”. So we allowed the farm invasions to continue.
Q: But now that you have the land back, why is the economy still struggling?
A: I am coming to that. So we got back our land, but the British and their friends in America, Europe, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand slammed economic and other sanctions on us! Before the land reform began, we had almost 40 percent to 45 percent of our national budget supported by programmes by the IMF, World Bank, bilateral donors, multilateral donors, lines of credit, and so on. But all this stopped overnight! This 40 to 45 percent support was cut. So many projects were stopped.
After imposing the sanctions on us, Britain and its allies prohibited their financial and other companies from dealing with us. So all of a sudden, all lines of credit and foreign funding dried up totally. We were now on our own. But look at what is happening in Greece currently, no country, not even the USA or Britain can survive without the government being able to borrow money either from domestic sources or externally. But we were prevented from borrowing from international sources even though our domestic sources had dried up. Our local banks were suffering from the sanctions themselves.
Q: Was it why the economy imploded?
A: Yes, but we survived! The most important thing is that our people have now developed the culture of believing in themselves. Come winter, come summer, come storm, they will remain Zimbabweans! They will remain solid.
So Britain and its friends have failed. It doesn’t matter what happens, the biggest pride a people can have is to be independent. After all, God has given us everything, we have sunshine, we have rains, we have minerals, and we now have the land. We shall work the land and survive on our own.
You asked about the economy imploding. It did. In a massive way! It fell to the ground. If it was on the 20th floor, it hit the ground floor. And then they attacked our currency, which became almost totally useless. It went to 12 digits. They totally destroyed our currency and we could not finance ourselves. It was difficult because we could not earn enough foreign currency.
Q: In the end, you decided to introduce “enemy currency” as legal tender in Zimbabwe?
A: (Laughs). This is what happened. In December 2008, the President formed a committee of which I was one of the five members. That committee decided that we should introduce a foreign currency or currencies as legal tender in Zimbabwe as a fightback against the attempts to destroy our cur- rency.
At first we thought we could use the South African rand. So we sent our central bank governor at the time, Gideon Gono, to go and see his counterpart in South Africa, Tito Mboweni. Mboweni was the governor of the South African Reserve Bank and the first black to hold the post. But Mboweni gave us several conditions, which, when we looked at them, we said no we cannot accept.
So we looked at the regulations of both the Bank of England and the American Federal Reserve. We studied them both and discovered that we could introduce their currencies as legal tender here without consulting them. Interestingly, these were the very countries at the forefront of the attack on our currency. So in February 2009 we crafted a statement which Patrick Chinamasa, the then acting finance minister, read to the nation, introducing the US dollar and a basket of other currencies as legal tender in Zimbabwe. Since then, I don’t think the enemy has found a formula to fight their currency here.
Q: There were also other sticking points on the agenda, weren’t they?
A: Yes, it took four months debating at Lancaster House. The other discussing points were demobilisation of our fighters and stopping the war. It took a lot of time to agree on the mechanics of doing that.
In the end, we agreed in the early hours of the morning to the proposals on the table. Zanu was more radical than Zapu, but we decided together to make compromises and get things moving. It was about 3 am or 4 am when we finally decided that we would get our independence on the terms discussed, because we were also confronted by the fact that we couldn’t continue to be adamant and see our comrades dying at the warfront. People were dying on both sides. So we decided that we would stop the war and within a period of 10 years suffer the indignity of not having our land back or doing nothing on the land issue.
Q: Tell us, there are critics who say the government took its eyes off the land issue because you wanted to play the good boy to the white world. There are others who also say the government did not take a radical stance on the land issue in the first 20 years because African leaders, particularly Ben Bella of Algeria, pleaded with Zimbabwe to die a little in order to free South Africa. Which is which?
A: All those factors came into play. At the time the focus was not on South Africa, it was on Zimbabwe. But if we had insisted on not accepting the Lancaster House deal, it meant that South Africa would not become independent for a long time. But if we gained independence in Zimbabwe, Apartheid South Africa would be more exposed because now the ANC would have another operating base in Zimbabwe. South Africa would now have a broader frontline to contend with.
At the time, Mozambique had fallen to FRELIMO. Namibia was still under the control of South Africa, but Angola had fallen to the MPLA. However, Ian Smith was acting as a buffer between Zambia and South Africa. But Botswana was independent, and if Zimbabwe became independent, it meant South Africa was now surrendered by independent states, and together we would be driving the frontiers of freedom closer to strangle South Africa.
That was a factor we considered. And to a country what is 10 years? In the life of a person, 10 years may be important, but to a country it is not. So we accepted the 10 years’ clause on the land issue, and we agreed that we would not focus too much on the land issue because we were anxious that Apartheid South Africa would take a hard position on granting independence to the black people.
However, in 1993-94, when I was minister of justice, we took a decision to put in place legislation for land acquisition. Nelson Mandela had been freed in 1991 and discussions on black independence were going on. As a result, we felt that we had to go slow to allow the process in South Africa to settle. So the situation in South Africa settled, but they are far disadvantaged than us. The compromise in South Africa was real compromise, and it will take them a long time to come out of it.
Q: You are against the death penalty. Why?
A: I will tell you. When I was sentenced to death, in fact if you go to Harare Central Prison, if you enter from the open yard, on your left is the Condemned Section where I stayed in Room 2. Across that room was a door to another room where, if people were hanged, their bodies dropped. So my colleagues and other people were being hanged, and their bodies were dropping into that room, and I was hearing them drop.
Every Sunday, sometimes after two or three weeks, they would open the doors to the cells and call the names of those to be hanged. They would take them upstairs on Sunday evening and keep them there for the whole of Monday, and on Tuesday, a bell would sound continuously for one hour, and when the sound died down, they began hanging. The bodies would then drop into the room across mine. I didn’t like it at all. So I told myself that if I survived the life sentence, I would become a lawyer and oppose the death penalty.
When I survived, in fact I did my education in prison by correspondence. I didn’t have much education at the time, so I did my O and A levels and my law degree in prison and became a lawyer. And I have not changed. I am still opposed to the death penalty.
For the first 12 years after independence when I was minister of justice, no one was hanged in this country. I refused to sign the papers, because those papers have to be signed first by the minister of justice before being passed on to the President for the final signature. And I refused to sign them. Fortunately the President did not fire me.
Now, again, as minister of justice, I find myself in the same situation. Death penalty papers come across my desk, and I am not signing them. In fact, now we have been able to improve the situation because under the new Constitution, women and persons under 18 years of age cannot be hanged anymore. And fortunately for me, I was not hanged in the past because I was 18 when the majority age was 21, and now, under the new Constitution, anybody above 71 years cannot be hanged. And I am 73.
Q: Zimbabwe is a unitary state, but if you hear the talk coming from Matabeleland, you might think the opposite is true. What is your view on that?
A: Zimbabwe is a democracy and people are allowed to dream. But the truth is that Zimbabwe is a unitary state. I often talk about it. It is a unitary state and those who dream about secession will not be allowed to break up the country. But we will not imprison a person for advocating for secession. You can continue to dream in a democracy. But we are a unitary state and nobody can change that status.
Q: From the outside, Zimbabwe appears to be tightly united. But from the inside, you begin to hear minorities, even within the dominant Shona group, saying the Zezerus are monopolising power and that the other smaller units are disadvantaged. What is the government doing to appease such murmuring within the union?
A: We have about 16 Shona languages, and if the President of the country comes from one of the 16, the 15 say we are disadvantaged, and if he shifts to Number 11, the others will say they are disadvantaged. No, the issue is if we have the best person of the day elected as the leader, that should be it, we should forge ahead. We can’t build a wall around ourselves and think about divisions. Where will that lead us?
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.
- feedback: [email protected]