President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his predecessor, Robert Mugabe, are laying the ground for talks to thaw frosty relations between them, the Daily News can exclusively reveal.
The first face-to-face meeting between the erstwhile comrades since the soft coup that ousted Mugabe last November is likely to be held mid next month.
Relations between Mugabe and his former protégé are at an all-time low as the former president accuses his successor of ruling the country “illegally”.
Mnangagwa has responded by rebuking Mugabe, saying he has no time for an old man with a propensity to forget things.
Despite publicly puffing their chests and feigning bravado, the Daily News can reveal that the man who was at the centre of delicate talks that led to Mugabe’s forced resignation last November — Roman Catholic cleric Father Fidelis Mukonori — has yet again been dispatched by the “new dispensation” to intervene and try to sweet-talk Mugabe into silence and engagement with Mnangagwa.
Mukonori, along with businessman Jimayi Muduvuri, who is the patron of the Zimbabwe Amalgamated Churches Council, initially visited the former president on Friday last week and then on Tuesday this week to set the ball rolling.
While details of the discussion remain a closely-guarded secret, speculation has it that the mediators are preparing the ground for talks between Mugabe and Mnangagwa by defining the rules of engagement and establishing substantive issues from both sides to form the agenda of the discussions.
Contacted for comment, Mukonori said “yes, I visited him” but declined to comment further, saying he was attending to something with the police.
On the other hand, Muduvuri fumed “who told you that”?
Mnangagwa’s spokesperson, George Charamba, was not picking up his mobile.
Although Muduvuri and Mukonori could not be drawn into commenting on the issue, the former recently indicated that he will try to bring the two leaders to the talking table to repair a relationship of nearly 60 years that was broken by Mnangagwa’s dismissal from both government and Zanu PF in November last year.
A few days after Mnangagwa’s dismissal, the military responded by stepping into the administration of the country and Zanu PF in a soft coup that ousted Mugabe after 37 years of continuous rule.
“Now, as the church, we are saying that whoever is pushing Mugabe back into politics is wrong. It is evil to abuse such an elderly person. Mnangagwa came to power to defend this revolution and all churches are behind the president. Some have asked me to engage the former president so that the two find each other and I have already done that,” Muduvuri told the Daily News on March 11.
While Mugabe had been allowed to lead a quiet life after losing power, the tables were turned when he started speaking out against Mnangagwa through an interview granted to local and foreign journalists at his palatial Borrowdale home, popularly known as the Blue Roof.
During the interview, he berated Mnangagwa for seizing power and said his successor betrayed him.
Mugabe also left the door open for talks with Mnangagwa, saying: “I don’t hate Emmerson, I brought him into government. I would want to work with him. But he must be proper, he is improper where he is. Illegal”.
Since then, the new administration has toughened its stance against him with an investigation against former first lady Grace Mugabe now underway over allegations of illegal ivory trade.
Workers at the Blue Roof who confided in the Daily News said Mugabe was desperate to live a quiet life as long as he is left in peace.
“He was literally crying on Tuesday saying that all the other veterans like (Josiah) Tongogara, (Herbert) Chitepo, (Joshua) Nkomo, (Simon) Muzenda are all gone; he said he thought he would rely on Mnangagwa but he has abandoned him,” the source privy to the engagements said.
Sources said in one of his recent meetings with Mugabe, Mukonori reportedly brought documents detailing Grace’s alleged dealings in Zimbabwe and South Africa with the trade in ivory taking centre stage.
However, the source told the Daily News that the former first lady said she had nothing to hide and was ready for her day in court.
On Friday last week, Grace was with her sister and the wife of former minister of Mines Walter Chidhakwa when Mukonori’s team spent more than six hours in talks with Mugabe, sources told the Daily News.
At the first meeting, the source said, Mugabe expressed concern with Mnangagwa’s Cabinet because of the presence of soldiers.
“He was concerned by the presence of soldiers in Cabinet and he said they have no business there and must go back to the barracks. When he was asked if he was part of the National Patriotic Front, he said people now take advantage of him because of old age but he will never leave Zanu PF,” the source said.
Throughout their engagements, Grace has been occupying herself with other staff while her husband engages the intermediaries.
Mukonori and Muduvuri’s mediation comes a few weeks after former ministers Walter Mzembi and Makhosini Hlongwane had approached Mugabe with a proposal to mediate between him and Mnangagwa.
Mugabe recently revealed that he believed that Mzembi and Hlongwane had been sent to him by the system (government).
Mugabe resigned in November last year after 37 years in power, following a military intervention as parliamentarians initiated an impeachment process against him.
Earlier, thousands of people had marched from the historic Zimbabwe Grounds in Highfield — ironically the venue of Mugabe’s triumphal return rally back in 1980 — heading towards State House, calling for him to resign.
The former president, who is widely regarded as the architect of Zimbabwe’s economic collapse, was later to be recalled by his party’s extraordinary central committee meeting that also booted out his wife Grace and other Generation 40 (G40) kingpins Jonathan Moyo, Saviour Kasukuwere and Mugabe’s nephew Patrick Zhuwao among others.
The three are in self-imposed exile.