Windhoek — Zimbabwean President Emerson Mnangagwa left hundreds of Zimbabweans living in Namibia in stitches on Monday when he offered practical tips on how to become president of a country.
“First, you need to be poisoned and you need to survive the poisoning. Next, you need to become a border jumper. Thirdly, you need people like (Lt General Sibusisiwe) Moyo somewhere,” the president said to roars of laughter from Zimbabweans who gathered for a business forum with him in Windhoek.
The Zimbabwean head of state was taken violently ill while at a rally in 2017 and he had to be airlifted to South Africa for treatment, which he now says was successful. The said poisoning allegedly at the hands of his political rivals reportedly partially damaged part of his liver.
He survived another attempt on his life shortly after he was fired from government and fled partly on foot through a land-mine littered stretch of footpath to Mozambique before catching a flight to South Africa from the port city of Beira. He made a triumphant return to Zimbabwe to take control of the country as he had promised within weeks.
Moyo, now a foreign affairs and international relations minister under Mnangagwa, announced the beginning of the now famous bloodless transition that forced former long-ruling president Robert Mugabe to step down after 37 years of misrule and oppression.
He was a major-general in the Zimbabwe National Army when the army stepped in to deal with what it described as a criminal cabal that had surrounded Mugabe and was causing untold suffering to ordinary Zimbabweans. The lot fell on Moyo, who holds a PhD in international relations, to appear on state broadcaster the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and after saying “Good morning Zimbabweans,” to contextualise the military intervention.
On Monday Moyo’s now familiar booming voice rang over the public address system in Windhoek as he introduced the president.
“Good afternoon Zimbabweans,” he began but had to wait for nearly a minute while those in the audience, familiar with his authoritative voice and events leading to Mugabe’s resignation, ululated and clapped.
On his part Mnangagwa, who was relaxed, friendly and joked most of the time, said when he spoke to Mugabe on the telephone shortly after his tactical retreat into South Africa, the nonagenarian had asked him to report to State House to help “resolve things”.
The new commander in chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces who was in Namibia to meet his counterpart Hage Geingob, said after 37 years of “sweet independence”, it was time to work and to rebuild Zimbabwe’s economy.
He said he had set targets for his first 100 days in office and called for all hands on deck, saying he would not hesitate to crack the whip on uncooperative or incompetent cabinet ministers.
On food security, Mnangagwa said the Command Agriculture Scheme which he spearheaded while he was deputy president, had been a roaring success. He revealed there were plans to build more dams in the country so that Zimbabwe could be food self-sufficient come rain or shine.
He said work had begun on dualisation of Zimbabwe’s major highways as well as on upgrading the country’s railway network.
A former white commercial farmer who now lives in Namibia asked the president if it would ever be possible for him and others to return to Zimbabwe “and grow and export like we used to”.
Mnangagwa said white commercial farmers, like all other Zimbabweans, could apply for land from the government “and join the queue” or go into joint ventures.
Asked by veteran former newscaster Joseph Madhimba how calls for people who stashed money outside Zimbabwe had been received, Mnangagwa said substantial amounts of money had already been returned. He revealed that he had a list people who had spirited money out of the country and warned that appropriate measures would be taken after the grace period.
It was a hilarious moment when Mnangagwa said: “I thank you!” at the end of his remarks and his captive audience roared back as one: “Asante sana!” Mugabe said this to the disappointment of many who expected him to resign when he addressed the nation at the height of the transition. He only later stepped down when the heat became too hot.
Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa, who accompanied Mnangagwa to Namibia, called for Zimbabwe’s own currency, saying relying on foreign currency “kutenga mazhanje ne mbeva” (to buy African chewing gums or snot apples and mice) was not sustainable.
George Charamba, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services in Zimbabwe, also accompanied Mnangagwa to Namibia.
SADC PF Secretary General Dr Esau Chiviya and Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to Namibia, Rofina Chikava, moderated discussions during the forum.