George Charamba, the man who served former president Robert Mugabe for over 30 years and mediated the veteran ruler’s resignation under pressure from the military and his party, has lifted the lid on the fallen strongman’s final moments in power.
Charamba, who has seamlessly traded garments and is now speaking on behalf of the new man in charge, Emmerson Mnangagwa, revealed exclusively to the Daily News on Sunday that during the turbulent two weeks that Mugabe was placed under house arrest as the army took control of the country, the nonagenarian tried frantically to keep his job by attempting to restore Mnangagwa’s vice presidency.
Just before the military intervention, Mnangagwa had been sacked for showing “traits of disloyalty”, abruptly removing a favourite to succeed him and boosting the likelihood of his wife, Grace, becoming his next deputy and potential successor.
Mnangagwa then fled “assassins” for “a safe place.”
On Friday, Mugabe’s successor sensationally claimed that he was tipped of the plot to assassinate him by one of the hit men given a mission to eliminate him just after he was given his marching orders.
Mnangagwa recounted a scuffle at the Mozambican border where officials attempted to shoot him, but were disarmed by one of his twin sons, and said he skipped the border and walked in-between strings to avoid landmines heading to Beira where he found a small plane that had arrived from South Africa to pick him up and then flew to Johannesburg.
He then asked for political asylum, through that country’s Speaker of Parliament, Baleka Mbete.
From there, Mnangagwa, who fought alongside Mugabe in a guerrilla war and went on to become a feared security chief, issued a statement saying he had been “vilified beyond measure” and was being “hounded by minnows who have no liberation credentials.”
“I will return to Zimbabwe to lead you,” Mnangagwa said in a damning statement.
Charamba told the Daily News on Sunday that the under-siege former president — placed under house arrest and faced with 60 000 Zimbabweans protesting and demanding that he quits at the Zimbabwe Grounds where he was inaugurated as prime minister in 1980 — tried to reconnect with his former deputy to restore his position in the party and government so as to survive the imminent deposal.
He narrated how army generals gave him a “chilling message” that he and other negotiators were to transmit to Mugabe during the dying hours of his 37-year rule.
“During the negotiations, we were shuttling between Josiah Magamba Tongogara (former KGVI) barracks and the Blue Roof (Mugabe’s residence). We were summoned to Josiah Magamba Tongogara to meet the command element of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, this was myself, (Catholic priest) Father Mukonori and Aaron Nhepera, who was the deputy director-general of the CIO (Central Intelligence Organisation). And we were given an appraisal of the situation.
“They gave us the scenarios that were at play, which were that the povo and also students were threatening to go to the Blue Roof and that there was a possibility of harm to the president. The second was the party had instituted impeachment procedures which were going to take him from being a liberation icon to a common criminal,” Charamba said.
“The commanders sent us with a very chilling message, they said ‘please go and get the president to appreciate the gravity of the situation out there.’ There was the possibility of a Libyan scenario where the president would have been dragged out of the Blue Roof and lynched. It was going to be possible because the soldiers said ‘we cannot turn our guns on civilians who are marching against the president and spill blood.’ I started visualising an image of Muammar Gaddafi, I literally went argh argh!”
Gaddafi, the deposed leader of Libya, was captured and killed on October 20, 2011 during the Battle of Sirte.
He was found hiding in a culvert west of Sirte and captured by National Transitional Council (NTC) forces.
Gaddafi was killed shortly afterwards.
The NTC initially claimed he died from injuries sustained in a fire-fight when loyalist forces attempted to free him, although videos of his last moments show rebel fighters beating him and one of them s0d0mising him with a bayonet before he was shot several times as he begged for his life.
“The second scenario of impeachment, they said ‘if the impeachment starts, we cannot stop it because that would be to start a coup d’état’,” Charamba told the Daily News on Sunday.
“The third message was to say ‘we are fast losing control of the process.’ The process was to have Mugabe restored as substantive leader of this country and then decide on his own to say I am tired I am handing over power. But there were those processes that were taking place and if they would have happened, there was no longer any legacy to restore.”
As events unfolded, Mugabe and Mnangagwa got to speak over the phone, with Mugabe ordering his return so that they could deal with the issues together.
This had followed a letter which Mnangagwa had sent to Mugabe after he had been fired, which, according to Charamba, had made Mugabe regret firing him.
“Before the intervention, ED writes to the president and I saw it, through structures of government. It read: ‘Comrade President, I thank you for saving my neck when I would have been executed by the Rhodesian government. Thank you for protecting me in jail and encouraging me to read to become a lawyer. Thank you for appointing me a personal assistant. I thank you for giving me positions of trust including security and other portfolios. But today my enemies have triumphed and I accept it’,” Charamba said.
“When I was shown that letter, I cried and said to the person who showed me, ‘has the president seen this letter, and he said I sent it to his office. I knew after reading it he will revise his decision on Emmerson.
“True to my prediction he was moved. What I know is that the president was working around a formula to reconnect and restore his position.
“And during the last hours, the president and Mnangagwa spoke through father Mukonori’s phone and the president said ‘Emmerson where are you?; And he replied, ‘Shefu I am in South Africa.’ ‘Why are you in South Africa? He replied: ‘I had to leave the country because elements in security close to me told me they wanted to eliminate me.’
“VaMugabe said: ‘To tell the truth, I wasn’t aware.’ And I believed him because a lot was being done behind his back.
“So, as the conversation continued, he said, ‘Can you come back? After the letter you wrote, I thought we were going to reconnect and I was going to restore your position in the party and in government. ED said: ‘If you want me to come back, I will come back.’ The president said ‘I want you to come back now, now, now, so we can handle the situation together’.”
Charamba said Mugabe finally decided to resign after having considered the dimensions that had been pointed out by the Zimbabwe Defence Forces.
But according to the presidential spokesperson, Mugabe wanted to go on his own terms.
“On the last day, we were joined by Gideon Gono and then Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi. The president said to me ‘Charamba, I don’t want the world to say I have resigned because I fear impeachment.’ I haven’t committed any crimes. If they want, let them go ahead. I will answer to them,” Charamba said.
“I said shefu, you are concentrating on one dimension; there are others which are there which indicated harm to your well-being. This was about the time the impeachment process was about to begin.
“Even the first lady was behind Mugabe’s decision to resign. And he said what would my resigning mean? And he was told if you do it now, the impeachment could stop.
“The then Justice minister Happyton Bonyongwe, the Attorney-General (AG) Prince Machaya and the chief secretary (to the President and Cabinet) Misheck Sibanda were called in to join our meeting. VaMugabe tried to speak to National Assembly speaker Jacob Mudenda to stop the process and Mudenda refused.
“He (Mugabe) said you go and draft my letter of resignation. It was me typing, the AG looking at the legality and Sibanda looking at the formatting. We went to HE with it and there was no single correction.
“The moment was too painful for me. I had not slept from day one, I couldn’t even stand.”
Charamba said there should be a distinction between Operation Restore Legacy and the political process that took place.
“The operation was launched because there had been abuse of a 93-year-old. We would not have gotten to elections in that situation and something terrible would have happened.
“There are several things that happened. There was a march at the Zimbabwe Grounds and threats to go to the Blue Roof. There was a party process which had seen him being recalled as the president of the party.
“There was the impeachment process that had been instituted. Another aspect is that when he called a Cabinet meeting, seven ministers attended and by 10 o’clock, only one had been left, which means that loyalty had gone.
“And when you have a president who can no longer command institutions he is supposed to lead, there is a problem. But what should be noted is that VaMugabe never refused to step down, he wanted to do it in his own way, but there were those issues I have mentioned.”