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28 Feb 1997 00:00
Several of Zimbabwe’s top politicians - probably including Robert Mugabe - knew that former Zimbabwean president Canaan Banana was repeatedly abusing his aide-de- camp, reports Jan Raath in Harare
IN 1981, Zimbabwe passed a law which made it an offence to ridicule Canaan Sodindo Banana, then the president. It ended a rash of jokes, like the one about Queen Elizabeth asking him, as he arrived in London, if he was alone or in a bunch.
The difficulties of being serious about him returned this week.
One foreign correspondent here was called by his editors to ask if he was joking when he wrote that “attempts to contact Mr Banana were fruitless”.
While headings like “the Banana saga” may seem to belong in Monty Python, the scandal that broke this week is a tale of lechery and abuse of power to put the respected former head of state, international trouble-shooter, theologian, author and family man in a category not far off the horrific former “emperor” Jean-Bedel Bokassa of the Central African Republic, who allegedly kept human flesh in the palace fridge.
President Robert Mugabe’s notorious anti- homosexual rhetoric of the past two years has become more a national embarrassment than ever before.
The testimony of Inspector Jefta Dube (36) and others in his trial for shooting dead a constable who, he claimed, taunted him as “Banana’s homosexual wife”, has shown that Mugabe’s government was fully aware of Banana’s illegal activities and even colluded with him.
The first consequence of the trial is a criminal investigation into Banana that police commissioner Augustine Chihuri says will be started “immediately”.
The second is the prospect of a full-scale inquiry into the conduct of some of the government’s most senior officers, many still serving, who have been shown to have aided Banana.
Former senior assistant police commissioner John Chademana, to whom Dube turned for help in 1986, was asked in court what he would have done if the report had concerned an ordinary person.
He replied: “I would have instructed a police investigation into the matter to establish if there was any offence committed.” No inquiry was initiated.
`Obviously, if the authorities knew all along and did nothing, and aided and abetted him, then there is a big, big problem for the rule of law and the requirement that there cannot be one law for the weak and another law for the powerful,” said a senior human rights lawyer, who requested anonymity, this week.
“More importantly, now that these allegations have been put openly, will there be due process of law?”
Dube was sentenced to 10 years in jail this week, after Judge David Bartlett acknowledged his state of “impaired responsibility”, most of it the result of his ordeal under Banana, at the time of the killing.
Banana, a soccer devotee, first noticed Dube playing for the Black Mambas, the police professional team, in November 1983, and got his driver to summon him for an interview. Dube leapt at the offer of a job as Banana’s aide-de-camp and a place in his team, the State House Tornadoes.
In December 1983, in his first week in his new job, Banana asked him to dinner. Dube, one of five illegitimate children whose previous job was as a gardener, says he was “very much honoured”. He believed the invitation was “part of my familiarisation with my workplace”.
Dinner was sadza (stiff porridge) with Banana’s wife, Janet, and their three children. Afterwards, Dube and Banana went to Banana’s office, played cards and had several drinks. The president put on a cassette of ballroom dancing, and led the puzzled young officer through the steps.
Banana was holding him tightly, “squeezing my waist,” he said, when “I detected that his penis was erect. Then he kissed me.” He excused himself. As he left, Banana patted his bottom, saying, “This is the food of the elders.”
Banana made dates for Dube to meet him privately. “I would agree, but I wouldn’t go ... By not going, I thought he would realise I was not interested.”
When Dube missed an appointment, he would have to invent an excuse. “It got to a point where he said he was being a gentleman, and he warned me that he could be sly and cunning.”
Six months later, in June 1984, Banana got Dube into his office, and, the policeman believes, spiked his Fanta. As he slipped towards unconciousness, Banana fondled and kissed him. “I couldn’t react,” he told the court. “I was just looking at him.”
The last thing he said he remembers is Banana pulling off his [Dube’s] trousers.
He awoke before dawn, covered by a duvet, on the carpet and trouserless. Between his buttocks was “slippery stuff”. Banana was standing over him, dressed in a Mao jacket, and grinning. “We have helped ourselves,” Banana said, and told Dube to leave.
Dube was shocked. “My male conscience had been tampered with,” he told the court. “I was angry because I had been turned into a woman by another man.”
Banana took to punishing him. He was excluded from trips abroad, and was made to work at weekends, on his own, and these, he said, “were the most horrifying moments”.
Banana warned Dube: “I am the last court of appeal.”
Around Christmas in 1984, Banana took Dube and two other aides, an Inspector Paguti, and a Captain Midza, to Bulawayo, where all three were forbidden to leave the grounds of the presidential residence.
One night, Banana called Dube to his room for cards, which Dube now knew was his opening gambit. He complained of a headache and was allowed to go back to the dormitory he shared with the other two, down the corridor from Banana’s suite.
As he entered his room, he heard one of his fellow officers saying to Banana over the telephone, “I am coming, your excellency.”
Banana tried with Dube again the next night, and told him to be at his office at 6pm.
“I left State House that day and slept in Ross Camp,” a police camp in Bulawayo, he said. “I didn’t want to be abused. I knew there would be consequences, but I was not willing.”
Banana was enraged when he came back the next day, a Friday. He had Dube arrested and locked up for the weekend. On the Sunday, said Dube, Banana came to visit him, alone, and said: “It is up to you to play to my tune. I am here to show you I am powerful.”
When they returned to Harare, Banana summoned deputy police commissioner Nestert Madziwa to State House and ordered that he charge Dube with misconduct. Dube appealed to Madziwa, and, for the first time, revealed all to his superiors.
Madziwa took him to the commissioner, Wiridzayi Nguruve, and repeated his story. “He said there was nothing he could do since it involves the president,” Dube told the court. On Banana’s instructions, he was ordered to sign two memoranda admitting misconduct. They formally warned him that a third memorandum would have him dismissed.
He appealed for a transfer from State House, but the commissioner and the deputy commissioner refused.
“I went back to State House to resume my duties,” Dube said. “The advances continued. They were successful. I actually succumbed to demands, on numerous occasions. Mostly when I was on weekend duties when I was alone, in his office.” He told of anal sex, oral sex, kissing, dancing and watching pornographic videos.
A meeting with Nolan Makombe, the speaker of Parliament who served as acting president when Banana was away, secured nothing. In August 1986, Dube appealed again to his superior police officers, and went to see senior assistant commissioner Chademane, head of personnel.
The new commissioner, Henry Mkurazhizha, was told, and he sent Dube to the deputy prime minister, now a vice-president and Mugabe’s trusted number two. Mugabe was out of the country, and Muzenda was officially acting for him. Dube told all, again.
The interview was followed by Dube’s transfer to the city of Gweru, and his release from Banana’s influence.
Two state psychiatrists confirmed that Dube, a decade later, suffered post- traumatic stress disorder as a result of his ordeal. He wakes up screaming from nightmares, he sleep-walks and experiences vivid flash-backs of being abused. They also occur while he is having sex with his wife, Beauty. He is an alcoholic and marijuana-dependent.
Evidence revealed in the trial makes it plain that Banana’s coercive homosexuality was, very soon after he became president in 1980, common knowledge among the senior ranks of the armed forces, government and Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF party.
Chademana said he was “not surprised” when Dube revealed his secret. He said police had been receiving intelligence reports on Banana’s behaviour since 1981.
At a state banquet for the late Samora Machel, Dube was at a table of members of the party politburo and introduced himself and his fellow officers as the president’s aides-de-camp.
The late former defence minister, Ernest Kadungure, remarked: “These people work for this man who abuses other men.” Lieutenant- General Soloon Mujuru, then the army commander, said: “I have already withdrawn my men from State House.”
When he told Muzenda, said Dube, the deputy prime minister “was not surprised”.
This week, when reporting restrictions on the trial were lifted, the homosexual allegations were reported hurriedly on state television. They were aired more fully the next morning in the state-run Herald, the country’ main daily newspaper.
Senior political sources regard it as highly unlikely that the absence of the usual censorship is a sign of a new era of transparency. Instead, it means that Banana, once Mugabe’s moral figure-head, has been found dispensable.
And what will Mugabe do? Nothing, says John Makumbe, an irreverent political science lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe. “He will jut his chin out and get on with it like nothing has happened.”
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