Tendai Mugabe Senior Writer
The plane was airborne and cruising at an altitude of 37 000 feet, and there was dead silence as everyone was now fast asleep after a hard day’s work.
The day was Monday July 2, and the plane was carrying President Mnangagwa home from his successful tour of duty at the 31st Ordinary Session of the African Union Summit in Nouakchott, the Mauritanian capital.
Before departing Nouakchott, I had talked to Presidential spokesman Mr George Charamba about a possible interview with his boss.
I never imagined that it would come as fast as it did. Just like anyone else on the plane, I was already in a deep slumber, which I thought I thoroughly deserved, when I was jolted awake by Mr Charamba’s voice.
He was looking for me and his message was clear – the President was waiting to see me for the interview.
I never expected it to come so soon, and on the plane for that matter.
We found the President seated in his chair and in his usual jovial mood, of course, with his trademark scarf draping on his shoulders. Given that President Mnangagwa has passed himself off as a reserved person, my eagerness was to find out about his history in general, and in the liberation struggle in particular.
I already knew his background, especially circumstances that led to his family relocating to Zambia and the military training he underwent in Egypt and China. So, I did not want to bother him with repeating this information, which is already in the public domain.
“It was in 1964 when we came back home from military training,” the President kicked off, after exchanging pleasantries.
“In Old Highfield, that is where Cde Ndabaningi Sithole’s house was and that is where we were assembled, waiting for deployment.
“My gang included myself, Matthew Malowa, Phebion Shonhiwa, Lawrence Svosve, Edison Shirihuru and Jameson Mudavanhu. All of the people I have mentioned were captured except for me and Malowa.
“Lawrence Svosve managed to escape and went back to Zambia. There was another group that came from Zambia led by Cde William Ndangana. James Dhlamini and Victor Mlambo were going to Cde Sithole’s farm in Melsetter (now Chimanimani) and that is the time when we were deployed.
“Mlambo, Dhlamini, Ndangana and Matthew Mudavanhu, whom we used to call Master Trasher, were deployed in the same area.”
President Mnangagwa said he, together with Cde Malowa, were deployed to Fort Victoria (now Masvingo).
“The story about how we bombed the Rhodesian train is well-known, so I am not going to repeat it,” he said.
“After that, we received a letter from vana VaMugabe who were in jail in Kwekwe that we should give a report back to Cde Herbert Chitepo in Lusaka, but the letter was supposed to go to Mr Mawere, who was staying in Malawi.
“So, I went to Michael Mawema’s house in Old Highfield and left our weapons in a car wreckage at Mushandirapamwe Hotel. I slept at Mawema’s house and the following day I wanted to write the report to send to Malawi and then from there to Cde Chitepo in Zambia.”
President Mnangagwa said he instructed Cde Mawema to go and look for Cde John Chigaba in Rusape.
But just 25 minutes after Cde Mawema left, some white police officers arrived at his house and found President Mnangagwa writing the letter to Cde Chitepo, before arresting him.
“There were two young boys who were there at Cde Mawema’s house – Nyandoro and Alexander Mashaire – and they were also arrested,” said President Mnangagwa.
“I was put in leg irons. We were taken to Salisbury Central Police Station. On the western wing of that building, there is a small room which they (Smith regime) used to call Butcher House A20. In that room, there is a long steel bar stretching across the entire room, with some round hooks like those used to hang meat in a butchery.
“Saka vanoisa table seapo, voisa musoro wako pachair vokusimudza voisa maleg irons, wopinda muhook muya voisa maleg irons rimwe gumbo futi uku, vobvisa zvese izvi (clothes) musoro wako warembera pasi.
“They will show you a new notebook and a pen. Then they say what they will write in the book will come from you until the notebook is full. Saka wainzi bhuuu kuno uku woti rirrrrr uchienda uku, kana waguma wonzi bhuuu uchienda uku, but you won’t last long.
“You go off, vombokubvisa, but you come back again. Vokubvunza unoda kudzokera here kunze kwenyika? Wakatrainer kuEgypt iwewe nekuChina, woti handizvizive, vokudzorera futi.
“Then I don’t know what happened, till this day. When I came round, I was in a female cell. By that time there was a toilet which was flushed using water from outside. Saka vakadzi vaive vakasungwawo vaipiwa mvura panze vachidira saka pavakarova door amuka-amuka ndobva ndauya kuzotorwa zvikanzi, ‘we have failed, but we have all the evidence that you trained in Egypt, you trained in China’.”
President Mnangagwa said he was taken to another room with an open window facing Railway Avenue, now Kenneth Kaunda Avenue.
“There were five white men called Inspector Beans, Bradshaw and Smith,” he said. “I can’t remember the names of the other two. In that room, they took a TNT explosive and a fuse and pinned them with a blasting cable. When you lit that, it would explode within a matter of minutes.
“Because I did engineering in China, I knew that if it exploded we were all going to die. They wanted to test if I was trained militarily, so they asked me to hold that explosive while standing at the window, and ordinarily a trained person was bound to throw it away through the window before it explodes.
“Saka vakabva vatungidza, ndikati haa pano apa nhasi tinoenda tese, asi uku ndichibuda hangu dikita. Pachakangoti fuuu, one of them jumped and grabbed the bomb and threw it through the window and it exploded outside.
“He said, ‘This guy is innocent, if he was a trained person he would have thrown the explosive away’. Ndakabva ndaona kuti ndapasa pano.”
President Mnangagwa said he was then taken to another office where the Minister of Justice, Law and Order at the time (Mr Desmond Lardner-Burke) had already signed restriction papers for five years.
“He said ‘I am sending you for restriction for five years, so sign here, but before we allow you to go, we want to castrate you, so take off your shoes’,” said President Mnangagwa.
“They undressed me and asked me to sit on a bench where they had placed a Burdizzo castrator. I looked at it and the moment they attempted to castrate me, I said ‘No, no, let me tell you the truth. I am the one who bombed the steam locomotive and I was also trained in China and Egypt’.
“They said that is enough to hang you and they took me to Remand Prison.”
President Mnangagwa said he was eventually taken to court.
“Then there was Walter Kamba (who was later to become the first black Vice Chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe), who knew lawyers from Scanlen and Holderness,” he said.
“Walter Kamba was the one receiving our money from Zambia. Cde Chitepo sent money to Scanlen and Holderness and that is where we took money for operations. Walter Kamba then hired a lawyer called JJ Horn, who was a Canadian, to defend me.
“It took about one and half weeks and I was found guilty and sentenced to death. JJ Horn then intervened and said I was under age. That is not at time of trial because I was already over 21, but at the time of committing the crime in 1962 when I went for military training, because if you go for foreign military training it is an offence that attracts the death penalty.
“If you go for foreign military training the penalty is death, just to undergo for foreign military training, so I had gone for foreign military in 1962. That was the time of committing the offence.
“That time I was under 21 and the age of majority was 21. VaMugabe wrote a letter while in detention to Father Swift and Father (Emmanuel) Ribeiro was also there, but he was a young priest then.
“They wrote to England pleading. So, I was then given 10 years, which I then spent at Grey Prison and Khami Maximum Prison. It was solitary confinement.
“Ndaigara ndega throughout muprison. Tisu taive ‘double deep’ prisoners, materrorist ekutanga.
“Hapana vainge vari mberi kwedu saka taityiwa zvekuti. I just stayed in my single cell throughout.
“The first two years I did not go outside and when I eventually did and looked at the sun, it was some kind of yellow.
“Amnesty International is the one that intervened, so we would be let out for one hour in the morning, one hour in the afternoon. You could see blood oozing on my face because I had become pale.”