FORMER president Robert Mugabe says he has no doubt in his mind that his dramatic toppling by the military last November in a turbulent week full of fire and fury — which changed the course of Zimbabwean history — was through a “coup d’etat”.
Speaking for the first time to local and foreign journalists who had separately requested to interview him, Mugabe, who initially was reluctant throughout the military intervention and afterwards to describe his ouster as a “coup”, yesterday put it bluntly:
“It was a coup d’etat,” he said. “It was truly a military takeover. I don’t know what you would want to call it.”
However, he was also equally quick to extend an olive branch to his protégé and successor President Emmerson Mnangagwa, suggesting there were two options in the post-coup dispensation to move forward: talking and helping the new government to secure constitutional legality and legitimacy, or persisting on the unconstitutional path.
“Those who created this situation have a responsibility to address and correct it; if they don’t want and don’t do so, it means they want the country to continue on an unconstitutional path, which seems to be the case, but we are prepared to talk.”
Mugabe, indicating he had worked well with Mnangagwa until the desire for power overwhelmed him, continued: “I don’t hate Emmerson; I brought him into my government. In fact, I would want to work with him, but he must be proper and legal. If he wants us to discuss how to undo this disgrace they have imposed on us, we must accept we need to obey the law, we must be a constitutional state.”
Indicating he does not want to come back to power, Mugabe also says he feels betrayed by Mnangagwa “whom I nurtured and saved from being hanged in prison” during the liberation struggle. Mugabe fired Mnangagwa before he bounced back via a coup. “It was a great betrayal; like Brutus,” he said.
This was in reference to Marcus Brutus, a Roman politician, who played a leading role in the assassination of his close ally Julius Caesar, a buccaneering and conquering Roman general central to the events that led to the demise of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire.
The story is well-captured in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar.
Mugabe suggested the local military takeover was a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.
On Sadc and the African Union’s handling of the Zimbabwe situation, Mugabe says he feels former South African president Jacob Zuma and his African colleagues did not tackle the situation properly.
“In a way I feel betrayed, but you have to also look at their conditions. Besides South Africa, most of them did not have the capacity to intervene. South Africa could have done more, but it didn’t. They set a bad precedent.”
Joking about demands that he must emulate Zuma and leave power gracefully and quietly, Mugabe said: “When I read this I laughed and called her (Grace) to come and listen to the story. I said they want me to marry six wives like Zuma, would you agree? If she agrees, I can marry six wives like Zuma; have my own Guptas, yes I have some Indian friends and do things like that. Well, (on a more serious note) the truth is I can only be like Zuma if Mnangagwa is like (South African President) Cyril Ramaphosa; he came through internal party elections, the race was quite tight, hence Madam (Nkosazana) Dlamini-Zuma lost by less than 200 votes.”
From the moment it began on November 14 last year in a tense Harare political environment characterised by an acrimonious Zanu PF succession battle and reached its zenith the following day on November 15 — with the army insisting it was not announcing a military takeover — Zimbabwe’s internal strife, which had deteriorated to cutthroat levels, did not play out like an ordinary coup. The military and, later, politicians, were at pains to insist it was not a coup at all.
Despite brutally targeting Zanu PF political enemies and opponents within the security system, the army was friendly to the public. There were no street curfews, no violent crackdowns on ordinary civilians, no hardcore military junta taking control of the levers of power, no state of emergency, suspension of the constitution and no martial law.
Instead, the military embraced citizens and its commanders were shown chatting and posing for photos with their commander-in-chief from whom they had then supposedly wrested power. Mugabe was paraded chatting with his captors who saluted him, while thousands of protesters in the streets climbed on tanks and personnel armoured carriers to enjoy and pose for selfies with soldiers.
Although during his address to the nation after protests things looked tense and suspicious on television, Mugabe said he delivered his “Asante Sana” speech with no intention to resign at that point. He says the idea was to go to congress for Zanu PF to elect new leaders, but his wife Grace was out of the equation.
Mugabe says initially he did not believe the military was going to take over. “I didn’t think (former Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) commander retired General Constantino) Chiwenga would do that. I thought if they had problems, they would call and we sit down, talk and resolve the problem. We also thought we had educated them enough and they wouldn’t do such things.”
Mugabe says he was not fully aware of what was going on around him at the time, especially after the intelligence services and their bosses were “neutralised”. Even as the coup unfolded in the full glare of publicity and in days that followed, he was not clear on the explosive situation.
The volatile crisis was equally confusing to many. At first, it bore all the hallmarks of a coup: The military had seized control of Mugabe’s office, his house from outside, parliament and the state broadcaster ZBC in Harare. Soldiers had also been deployed at the city’s international airport named after Mugabe just days before that, and the President was marooned at his “Blue Roof” mansion in Borrowdale in Harare.
When the then Chief-of-Staff (Quartermaster) of the Zimbabwe National Army, retired Major General Sibusiso Moyo, now Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, appeared on ZBC Television in the early hours of November 15 last year, he put the military spin on the situation.
“To both our people and the world beyond our borders, we wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover of government,” Moyo said. “As soon as we accomplish our mission, we expect (the) situation to return to normalcy.”
Rarely have movers and shakers in a military coup been at such pains to insist that the opposite was true. This confused people, including Sadc and the AU. Issues got more bewildering when Mugabe was allowed to officiate at a university graduation in the middle of a supposed coup.
“We were shocked all of us,” he said. “But in the midst of the situation we had remained calm; we wanted to see what would happen next and in the end.”
Mugabe says he was shocked to see old tanks from the WWI era rolling down the streets and hearing news of people being attacked. He said his former ministers, Ignatius Chombo, Jonathan Moyo and Saviour Kasukuwere, among others, were targeted.
While the coup was on, Mugabe says Moyo and Kasukuwere called his wife Grace “crying they were being killed” and needed urgent rescue. A security team was then dispatched to rescue them with their wives and five children. He said his family, however, told Moyo and Kasukuwere to leave and from there “we don’t know where they went”.
Mugabe says he is surprised government is harassing his domestic workers, cooks and gardeners, interrogating them frequently about the whereabouts of the two.
“We don’t know where they are,” he said. “How would domestic workers and gardeners know where they are?”
Mugabe says former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono and Catholic priest Father Fidelis Mukonori played a major role to ensure peace and stability during the coup and transition. “Father Mukunori went down on his knees and crawled to me begging me to resign,” he said
In the middle of the crisis, Mugabe says he and his wife at some point threw in the towel and told Chiwenga that “if it is power that you want, just take over and stop killing people”. He says Chiwenga denied harbouring power ambitions.
But Mugabe insists that the coup was Mnangagwa and Chiwenga’s project, not the whole military. He also says even though he wanted to talk to Mnangagwa to resolve the situation amicably, he was forced to resign under immense pressure from the military, protestors, Zanu PF Central Committee and parliament, as well as mediators and other people, even though he believes the crowds that swarmed the streets demanding his exit were “opposition MDC supporters”.
He says his Zanu PF supporters were never given a chance to say what they felt about the situation.
During the demonstrations, Mugabe and his family watched the unfolding drama on television, but were occasionally interrupted by mediators, who also included government officials.
Mugabe also spoke about elections, saying the country is not ready for that given the current environment. He also denied using violence, intimidation and fear to influence and steal elections, saying the late MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai “won in 2008, but that was not enough” as he did not garner the required threshold to rule.
Confronted on Zimbabwe’s other numerous problems like the economic ruin and associated issues, human rights violations, his scorched earth policies, primitive accumulation of wealth and international isolation, Mugabe brushed them aside and refused to take responsibility. He also refused to take full responsibility for Gukurahundi, saying while people were killed by overzealous soldiers, “Zapu and Zipra are also to blame”.
Questioned on 20 000 people massacred in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces by the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade during Gukurahundi, he said: “I doubt the number, but well it could be because you get some people with guns behaving recklessly.”
Mugabe blamed Mnangagwa and his intelligence officers for leading the bloody campaign, but admitted they got direction from him and “the system”.
“It was Mnangagwa and (former Central Intelligence Organisation Director-Internal Dan Stannard) who led the operation,” he said. “Yes of course, they got instructions from us. So the fault is with the government and those it deployed.”
Asked about the late retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru’s death, he said his government was not involved. He described Mujuru, though, as a “terrible guy”, saying he smoked and drank too much to the point of “burning down a hotel in Geneva” although “we defended him”.
Regarding militarisation of politics, “we never invited the army into politics, we always said politics leads the gun”. Mugabe also spoke about corruption, saying it was difficult to nail down corrupt elements through legal processes. He denied having 21 farms and looting while in power. He said the farms referred to belong to his family, relatives and clan members.
On the new opposition National Patriotic Front led by retired Brigadier-General and his former minister Ambrose Mutinhiri, Mugabe said he was consulted on that and many other unrelated issues, but he is not a member of the party. He also said Grace is not involved in the new party. You can watch Mugabe's full SABC interview here
– Zimbabwe Independent