HARARE – The only time President Robert Mugabe ever said anything to me, personally, was when he asked, accusingly: “What did you do to President Kaunda?”
Senior journalists in Zimbabwe will recall that incident in Harare, at a gathering of many of us, with the president holding forth.
I had just been introduced by name.
We had met before, but not in such circumstances.
I knew him from way back, after his return from Ghana, where he had been teaching and learning politics (I bet) from Kwame Nkrumah.
By then, I had been a reporter with the The African Daily News for three years in Salisbury.
Most journalists will remember my set-tos with Kaunda, in the 17-and-a-half years I spent in that country from 1963.
One of them led to my public firing by Kaunda, from my job as deputy editor-in-chief of Times Newspapers, which Kaunda’s government owned.
The other incident was a public (?) suggestion (or order) from Kaunda himself that I leave his country and return to my native Zimbabwe.
The suggestion then was that I had no business criticising the Kaunda government’s handling of things, as it was none of my business, as a foreigner.
I have known Mugabe and have been known to him for much of his political career.
I have been openly critical of some of his politics, particularly his romance with Marxism-Leninism, about which he once went public, to the shock of many of us, who had previously lauded his straightforward preference for socialism, without the heavy artillery of Marx, Lenin and Mao.
Frankly, I believe if Mugabe and his party had pursued a straightforward policy of socialism, there would not have been the confusion, confabulation and misdirection which resulted in the 34 years of the panic, confusion and utter bewilderment of Zanu PF.
Nobody is culpable here, except Mugabe.
His leadership of the party and the government has been so emphatic there cannot have been any confusion among his followers about the path to be followed.
What transpired, clearly, though, was that nobody in the leadership of the party, including Mugabe himself, could articulate clearly and without obfuscation what that policy meant.
Then there was always the confusion of what leadership entailed for the individual.
Was it without doubt that the leader was entitled to be wealthier than ordinary party members?
Was it the entitlement of the party member to be able to amass wealth, even if this constituted theft from the state or the party?
Where did you draw the line? Nobody could say.
There were other vexing questions for ordinary members.
Most related to the morality of the party politics.
A crisis developed when the party had to go into bed with the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Not once in its history had Zanu PF been so humiliated.
To ensure this did not happen again, it is alleged the party played dirty tricks, which nobody has far denied categorically.
The worst crisis was yet to come, with the star of the show The First Lady.
Her role was so pivotal she seemed to have taken over the leadership of the party.
Her husband seemed helpless.
Her “victory” over Joice Mujuru and her allies spelt danger.
The party’s survival may now depend on Mugabe handing over the baton to someone else, not his wife.
It has to be that way, or the party is dead.