‘His face glowed with relief’

2017-11-26 05:59
FILE: Robert Mugabe in 2016. (Jekesai Njikizana, AFP)

FILE: Robert Mugabe in 2016. (Jekesai Njikizana, AFP)

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‘President Mugabe knew me before I knew him.

When he was locked up [by the Rhodesian colonial government for making subversive statements], I was still a boy.

When we met after December 8 1974, he already knew me. After that, we were always in touch.

His sister worked with us at Silveira House [the Jesuit Social Justice and Development Centre]. Sabina Mugabe was working with us, she worked with us for 17 years.

His other sister, Bridgette, later joined us. So I got to know the whole family, including their mother, Bona.

I know everyone in the family.

This week, discussions led to Mugabe deciding that it was time for him to go.

We were a team of three – me, [Mugabe’s spokesperson] George Charamba and [former reserve bank governor] Gideon Gono – and we met with the generals.

Mugabe saw in practical terms how the people had gone out onto the streets and expressed themselves. These are citizens. He is a man with a heart for the people.

He realised that things had gone wrong. He knows his soldiers, especially his generals. And they were very clear that they were doing this to protect his legacy, and the legacy of the country, and the legacy of the party.

He represents the founding fathers of Zimbabwe.

His legacy was crucial and therefore they were doing it for him. And he understood that they were doing this for him.

As the discussions continued, the president increasingly realised that it was time for him to step down.

Not emotional

On the last day [of his presidency], he was definitely convinced. I sat with him for several hours. We know each other.

He was not bitter. At no time did he lose his cool. He understood the situation.

And on Tuesday late afternoon, we kept discussing and he accepted and said: ‘Yes, I understand that I should resign.’ We talked.

The talks were calm. The intensity in the calmness – try to imagine that.

When I am faced with an issue, or a crisis, I am trained as a Jesuit priest, I do not panic.

I do not make decisions in the face of panic because that kind of decision will be a bad decision.

But the president was already planning to leave after the elections next year.

He was not emotional at all.

He made a call to the speaker of Parliament and said: ‘I would like to write a letter to you, it is my resignation.’

And for the speaker, the impeachment process was already running in Parliament. So the president said: ‘Okay, I just want a bit of time to write my letter.’

I think one has to understand that the speaker was on edge. By law, he could not stop the [impeachment] process [already under way] and his hands were tied.

But the president was not asking for the process to be stopped.

All he wanted in the end was for us to call Cabinet’s chief secretary, we had to call the minister of justice, and we had to call the attorney-general, and we said to them: ‘Can we put these things together and tell them the letter was on its way [so he could avoid impeachment]?’

We had been talking all along. You must understand that there were preceding issues to his resignation.

Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is now the president, was expected in the country but had not arrived yet. That was the first issue.

The second issue was the president’s letter.

The attorney-general said to us: ‘It’s okay, you can write your letter now, sign the letter, we will accept it and give it to the speaker and the minister of justice.’

After the president looked at the letter and he read it and he signed, he put it in an envelope. His face just glowed.

It was like a sign of relief, and not a sign of tension or a sign of bitterness – no. The face just glowed. It was done. It was a total acceptance of the situation.

He believes he has done what he has had to do [in office], but it is unfortunate that it ended up this way.

But, certainly, he was going to stand down next year.

President Mugabe has been called many, many names. But I don’t think he loses his sleep over it.

He made no demands as a condition of his resignation.

That which the former head of state will be granted will be done according to the law.

He didn’t demand anything, but definitely he expects that he will be treated equally, the way any head of state who has resigned deserves to be treated.

An honest man

President Mugabe is an honest man. But not all people he has worked with are honest. He is frank, but not all people he has worked with are frank.

If they were, this would not have happened, they would have been honest enough to tell him many years ago to say: ‘Mr President, please don’t stand for the presidency.’

He is a debater, he likes debating, he likes to argue his case. He likes to hear other people’s side of the story. But I think there are no missionaries in politics.

They are there because they want to rule; they want to have power.

For the past two weeks, the president was never under house arrest.

He was in his house and whenever he wanted to go to State House for government business, he went.

Some of the business we carried out at State House, some of the business was carried out in his own house and some was carried out at the army barracks, and he went – he was not forbidden.

If he was under house arrest, why did the military continue to salute him?

They continued to salute him, they continued to respect him and they continued to make him understand that, ‘President we are doing this for your own good and your legacy’.

They said to him: ‘We have no other founding father who is alive.’

We say talks are difficult when people walk away from each other, but it never happened with us. Everyone listened to one another.

There are moments when we realised that these generals were concerned for the president, not a threat to him.

I never felt that they were a threat, so no one ever raised his voice.

But everyone was very clear about the issues pertaining to the ruling party, what has been happening in it, and the hijacking of the party which the generals felt had taken place.

They simply wouldn’t let that kind of legacy to go down.

The president was getting all this and he was thinking. He could see the people were demonstrating; the army was out of the barracks.

There was an agreement that Mnangagwa would come back and that they would do things together. But the template changed the following morning.

I saw the letter [from Mnangagwa] at about 9am that he was not coming back. We had to change the talks. So those few hours were intense discussions, but not tense discussions.

That continuous discussion made him see that it was time to go, it was time to resign.

I spoke to him after he signed his resignation letter the following day.

President Mugabe had even talked to the president designate – he [Mnangagwa] had invited him to the inauguration.

And he said he thanked the president designate, but said: ‘Look, the spirits are still charged, and it was in the national interest that he should stay away [from the inauguration].’

I believe Mugabe would have watched the inauguration on TV. He and Mnangagwa were not enemies.

This is his young man whom he mentored. The president said it himself that he is my father and my mentor.

They had a very serious relationship, which people don’t know. It was a happy ending.

It was second best in that something could have happened without the intervention of the army, but under the circumstances, this, my brother, is a miracle.

Where have you heard where soldiers are out in the streets, and the cannons are rolling out there and there is not a single bullet shot?

"It is a happy ending because we as Zimbabweans took the issues and discussed among ourselves.”

Read more on:    robert mugabe  |  emmerson mnagagwa  |  zimbabwe

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