Didymus Mutasa, the embattled former minister in the Zimbabwe presidency and the ruling Zanu-PF’s former secretary for administration, has staked his lifelong career in the party in a high-stakes bid to get his job back.
Mutasa (79), who has been with Zanu-PF for more than 40 years, is taking the party to court in an effort to get the decision taken at its congress in December to remove him reversed. He was subsequently fired from government and accused of trying to assassinate President Robert Mugabe and former vice-president Joice Mujuru, who was also dismissed from the government and party.
Mugabe described Mutasa last week as a “fool” for taking him on.
Mutasa this week spoke exclusively to the Mail & Guardian.
Zanu-PF appears to be at a crossroads. Do you believe the courts will resolve this
I believe so, particularly if the courts concede to our request that the party should go back to the position where it was in August 2014. My own position is that there is nothing that I will gain personally from this process, except to bring back legality to the party.
What we are doing is for the benefit of young people, who do not want to be led by a group of gangsters who simply come up one day and tell lies and say to the president: “You are going to be killed” – and this is what this group is preparing to do. We feel that is evil and must be resisted.
We said the Ian Smith regime was evil, was illegal and we went to war on it. But we are not calling for war. We are just calling for reason. They told lies about the former vice-president and we have said: “Please prove it.”
They said that I wanted to kill the president together with the former vice-president. I said: “Well, I am the head of our security services and I am employed to look after him so how could I turn around to murder him?”
It is unheard of and, as a matter of fact, that is why we are asking that he [Mugabe] remains the head of both conflicting groups and we discuss with him and we will be able to show him how this other group has misled him.
You recently wrote to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU). Will they involve themselves in the internal politics of Zanu-PF?
When you do anything you don’t immediately think or talk about how successful it will be. We are trying to eliminate all possible reasons why our case might not succeed.
We have come to the realisation of what could be done and what the potential of this country is, and this is why we are trying to mend our bicycle because it is broken down and we want, after mending it, to ride it into the future.
As you can see, I am an old man and I gain nothing personally from all this. But I have got children and grandchildren who must live happily in the country of their birth and that is the main reason why we have got to pursue this case.
Is internal dialogue not a better option?
Yes it is. When the president arrived last week he had to say what he did about me. I don’t mind that, but if he thinks that I am a fool then he must have been working with a fool very closely for the past 35 years, because I started working with him in prison right up to now.
The reason he gave me high posts in government was because he trusted me and suddenly, if he says this man is a fool, then they will say why has he not seen it before?
Why did you not present your grievances directly to Mugabe, whom you were known to have a close relationship with?
At that time [before the December congress] it was impossible. There was so much violence [and] many people who wanted to go to the illegal congress were barred from going there. A number of chairmen of provinces had been removed and so the mood was very difficult …
I tried to discuss it with him personally but he was determined to go ahead, and he said: “This is none of my business. This is a matter … being done by the women’s league and I have no hand in it, and Mutasa you must understand.”
Should the courts not rule in your favour, what will you do?
We have got to sit down and look at what is possible. You see, this matter does not affect Zimbabwe alone.
It affects the whole of SADC because Zimbabwe is one component of the SADC and I do not believe that all these other heads of state that we sent our letter to will just sit back and do nothing. Our letter to the SADC was addressed to the president of Zimbabwe because he is the chairman of SADC and that way I thought we killed two birds with one stone.
I am waiting for a response to that letter and if he wants to publicise it, that is fine; if he wants it to be between the two of us, that is fine. You can’t dismiss [me] simply by saying we don’t want to take our matters out of the country. We must understand we are living in a global village.
What will you do if you are fired from Zanu-PF?
I’ll do nothing and that is what they want. I’ll still live like I am living now, but I think that those people who will fire me will have a very bad conscience for the rest of their lives.
You speak of ‘we’ yet you are a lone voice. Why are the others supporting you namelessly?
They should speak for themselves – I do not like to speak for them. I speak on behalf of people from my constituency, as an MP. Nobody has ever said we want to see who these people are that you talk on behalf of in Parliament. Therefore, I am talking on behalf of all Zimbabweans who feel something wrong has been done.
In your statement earlier this month you spoke of “a dictatorship” in Zanu-PF. Who is the architect of this dictatorship?
It’s people who have advised our president: Emmerson Mnangagwa (vice-president), Ignatius Chombo (local government minister), Saviour Kasukuwere (environment minister), Jonathan Moyo (information minister) and Patrick Zhuwao (Mugabe’s nephew). Those are the group of people who have formed a dictatorship.
If this country went to war to achieve one man one vote, why should we spoil that? I am saying to other people: “Can you see what is happening to Zimbabwe and can you help us sort it out?”
President Mugabe turns 91 next month. Is he still the best person to lead Zanu-PF?
At the moment he is our constitutionally elected leader. The process of having another leader, I believe, should be done lawfully in terms of the Zanu-PF constitution, which was thrown out.
Once that process is taken into account, then members of Zanu-PF are given the right to choose their leader and not to have them imposed by the president.
Mugabe is a very good and fine gentleman. He is going to leave somebody else and that’s our fear – that that somebody he leaves behind will not be as good as he is and our country will go to the dogs.
If the people say we want Mnangagwa then he has got to be brought in properly and not be imposed on us.
Will Zanu-PF pay the price of being divided in the 2018 polls?
I hope not. This is why we are doing what we are to cleanse our party.
Do you regret any policies during the time you were in government?
In a way, yes. We have taken away people’s land and we are not making good use of those farms. When you see how many Zimbabweans are in South Africa, it’s millions. What are they going there for? It’s work. We draw up fantastic blueprints but with no money to achieve them. It makes me very sad.
I have always wondered about our Look East policy that confines Zimbabwe to Russia and China. You then see how faulty some of our policies are. You never think about them clearly and they are given to you in a memorandum and when you meet your Cabinet and politburo colleagues to discuss them, you are told there is no time and we move to other issues.
You are now an ordinary card-carrying Zanu-PF member. How do you feel?
I am an ordinary person and I am very happy to be just that, because that is where I started. My wife said that it is very good thatI have been placed where I am now because I would have been in an untenable position. I agree with her, and I am quite happy.
How do you spend your days?
I spend the day with my wife. We talk. She is very prayerful. Since we got married in 1970, we have never spent this long [periods] together. In a way it is probably a prayer being answered now. I find it a wonderful opportunity, first of all to relax, rest and then to be able to pursue our objectives [for] our country and our party.
Do you feel betrayed by your fellow comrades?
Very much so, particularly by the group that is now calling the shots. If you were to speak about each one of them, you would find that they [have] skeletons in their cupboards. I suppose that is why they do not want to have [an] open dialogue with us.
Why does Zanu-PF appear not to have a succession plan?
It is inbuilt in our Zanu-PF constitution. The unfortunate thing is that the leaders are not given [restrictions on] how long they may stay in office. In other countries, you become president of either the party or government for a specified time. Our constitution is very silent and I believe that it is because of the respect that we have for our president.
Will Zanu-PF remain stable if Mugabe passes on?
If there is a leader after Mugabe who truly has the desires and concerns of the ordinary man at heart, I have no doubt that people will rally behind that person and restore our country to where it must be.
As Mugabe’s confidante and one of the last few remaining leaders from his generation, what legacy does he want to leave?
He has a wonderful legacy. He doesn’t want it to be compared [to] that of Nelson Mandela because he thinks that Mandela did not really push to the end. Which is the difference between the two because Mandela only intended to stop apartheid. He [Mandela] didn’t want to interfere with what was going on in South Africa’s economy.
Mugabe’s legacy may come to an end if he doesn’t handle our cases well. I have lots of respect for him still. When you look back to his statement of reconciliation after the war, when he said, “Let us now turn our swords into ploughshares”, that was wonderful.
He has openly challenged the United Nations [for] democratising its institutions, and openly attacked Britain and the United States in the UN. I feel wonderfully impressed by that.
But it is our party that it has got to democratise itself. You can’t demand other institutions to be democratised when yours is not of the same position.
Is your longstanding relationship with Mugabe now over?
No. In my heart he is still my man. I saw him in prison and we lived together so right up to now; he is still my man. There is really nothing wrong between us, he says that I am a fool – fine, that is his own view. How can I be a fool just suddenly, since yesterday? I don’t think he means it.
Was it a fatal mistake for Mujuru to remain silent when Grace Mugabe attacked her?
I feel for her very much and agree that she should not have been silent. I think she is probably doing something quietly through the courts. I don’t know really.
She is a real freedom fighter. She is a very different character from [higher education minister] Oppah Muchinguri. I suppose it is because of those differences that she was selected first as vice-president, and not Muchinguri.
Is there bad blood between Mujuru and Muchinguri?
Well, yes and no. Yes because Oppah has gone out openly criticising Mujuru, and she has done absolutely nothing in response. People think that is really good, and that is what a married woman should do (unfortunately her husband passed on).
But she is a typical Shona woman. I admire her and I think she is a great woman.
Zanu-PF is now seized with infighting, rather than addressing the bread and butter challenges faced by ordinary Zimbabweans.
When you are organised correctly and your people understand what you are trying to do, then surely there will be plenty of bread and butter. But at the present moment, if I may be honest, there is no bread or butter in this country.
For the rural people their bread comes from the growing of mealies and when you go around you don’t find much [of it]. Then you realise that these people will have to kneel down somewhere to beg for their bread and butter. If you have got any conscience at all, you feel absolutely sad, very sad.