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VICE President Emmerson Mnangagwa has said his current party and government positions do not make him President-in-waiting. He spoke about President Robert Mugabe’s succession, the country’s imploding economy and Zanu PF divisions in an interview with the UK-based New African magazine. Below are excerpts from the interview …
Q: So you will be 73 in September. You have been in Government for 35 of those 73 years, serving in various portfolios. For the past six months, you have been Vice President. Have you enjoyed the past six months?
A: Haah, it’s been six months of hard work, really applying oneself more than before. Remember that I still carry the responsibilities of Minister of Justice, and we are currently in the middle of realigning our laws with the new Constitution. It is quite a burden, especially coming on top of my new responsibilities as Vice President. Being a new position, I am learning the ropes to assist the President in running the country. Yes, it has been joyful to work but it has been hard work.
Q. (There are) people who see you as the leading candidate to succeed President Mugabe, are they right in their assessments?
A: No, they are not informed. I think they are outside Zanu PF. Those inside Zanu PF know that being vice president or being a member of the Politburo or Central Committee is not a stepping-stone to becoming president. Not at all. A president is elected at the party congress. There are no conditions that you must be at this level or that level to become president. The condition is that you must be a member of Zanu PF, and anybody can become a member of Zanu PF. So you can’t say that because I am vice president or a member of the Politburo or a member of the Central Committee, I am nearer to becoming President.
You see, you can be on the road between the State House and Zim House, the President’s official residence across the road. You can throw a stone into the yard of the State House when you are on that road, but someone walking from here to China will arrive first before you arrive in State House if you are on that road. So that is what it is. That is how far it is!
Q: Somebody has said that Zanu PF as a party thrives on having enemies and that if the party has no enemies, it creates one. Is that why there is so much infighting in the party currently?
A: [Laughs heartily]. No, Zanu is democratic. If you create a democratic situation where people are allowed to think freely, people will not agree on anything, and this is where the healthiness of the party is. This is why the party has survived for 52 years now. It is because we allow internal debate. People debate, they disagree, agree, and agree to disagree. Others get thrown out. This is what it is.
But if you coerce people into one straight line, then it is like the MDC [the opposition Movement for Democracy Change]. It breaks! Now there are five MDCs, but there is still only one Zanu PF in 52 years. It is because we exercise democracy where we allow people to disagree, and they can still sit together and have tea. But when it comes to issues, we differ in order to arrive at the best solution for the party, the best way forward, the best way to arrive at the correct line to preserve the party, the best way to lead the people. That is the reason. It is not creating enemies. It is creating the environment where you are allowed to air your foolishness or wisdom.
Q: Having fought a good fight, President Mugabe himself now talks about the twilight years. He is in the evening of his rule and life. His shoes will be difficult to fill, isn’t it?
A: No doubt about that. I don’t think the next generation will be able to produce a person like him. I don’t think we can get a person even in our generation who can fill his shoes to the extent that he has been able to remain an intellectual giant in leading our people and charting a course for the African people of this region, perhaps even continentally.
The other leaders of the same calibre I can think of are Kwame Nkrumah, Sekou Toure, and Modibo Keita who in the 1950s and 60s spoke about a vision for African unity. Now those leaders are gone. Within the current African leadership, I don’t see many who fit the shoes of the founding fathers. The only one I know, without thinking much, is President Mugabe.
It will take a long time for this country to produce a man of his calibre, if at all we can. A man who would stand whatever pressure, who would stand the pressures of the West and not sacrifice what is correct for expediency, just to say for now I will forgo what is right for my people in order to be comfortable. No, Mugabe doesn’t do that. And I don’t see anybody in our region of that calibre, let alone among ourselves as Zimbabweans. We don’t have that calibre yet.
But, having worked with him for all this time, there are so many cadres who are now solid. But they are not of the same vision, character, and intellectual mettle of Mugabe. We shall miss him dearly. He is an outstanding leader and human being
Q: Why can’t the many “solid” cadres you talk about be like Mugabe? Iron sharpens iron, isn’t it?
A: I don’t know what that means, iron sharpens iron, that is English language. But I can say that most of us who have worked together in the last 40 years — in Government I can count them on my fingers — the majority were in the army. The current army commanders were very young at the time, and I can guarantee you that there is nobody in the army who is of our generation. Those who are heading the military now were junior officers during the struggle because all their commanders have either died or retired.
But the young people who are now in the leadership follow the footsteps of the President. They admire him and are committed to him both in terms of loyalty and perseverance, and they will uphold what we call “the revolutionary correct line”.
There are also colleagues in the leadership that I am hundred percent sure will continue to identify the correct line of the revolution and follow it. And the correct line is “where we ought to go”, because there is a difference between “where we want to go” as a nation and “where we ought to go”. A leader must not take the people where they want to go, but where they ought to go, whether the people or the leader want it or not, or whether it is hard or not.
Q: Does your nickname Ngwena, Crocodile, have any bearing on your closeness to the other Crocodile, Gushungo?
A: No, no. We didn’t even know that Mugabe’s totem was Gushungo. He was just our boss, our commander. We didn’t ask him about his totem. We only discovered much later that he too was a crocodile. Gushungo means crocodile.
After independence, I once joked with President Mugabe. He came to Gweru, the capital of my home area. So I said to him, “Mr President, you know I am a Shumba, a lion, and there is a lions’ park in Gweru where you can walk with the lions in the morning until 11 am when it becomes unsafe because the lions become a bit hungry.” In the history of the park, there has been only one incident when a lion ate the arm of a man. So I told the President: “It is now 9 am, I want us to go and walk with the lions, but don’t be afraid because I am a Shumba, a lion.”
Was the President amused? He waited till he came to the podium to give his speech and then told the people: “Mr Mnangagwa has asked me, because he is a lion himself, to go with him and walk with the lions here. Since I am the President, I am inviting him to come and swim with my crocodiles at Kutama. If he comes out alive, then I will walk with his lions.” You can see that he did not take up my offer (laughs heartily).
Q: The two of you are called crocodiles, and we know the strength of the crocodile as an animal. Do your nicknames have a bearing on the strength of your personalities?
A: Honestly, I cannot interrogate the nickname given to me. Those who gave it thought it was important. But for President Mugabe, it is his totem. He is a Gushungo which means crocodile. For me it is a nickname arising from the Crocodile Group. We blew up bridges and at one time a locomotive train. And I was the ringleader.
But you know the trait of a crocodile, don’t you? It never hunts outside water. It always goes into the water to catch its prey. It never goes in the villages or in the bush looking for food. It strikes at the appropriate time. So a good guerrilla leader strikes at the appropriate time. That’s the import of the nicknames we gave each other.
Q. Now let’s talk about the economy. Things are not going so well despite the country’s huge stock of natural resources. Why?
A: If you look at the history of our economy, you will see that from the time we became independent we had economic growth up to the time we decided to take back our land from the white farmers. We were registering growth on a yearly basis, because we were abiding by the agreement we reached at Lancaster House in 1979, where we said for 10 years we shall not legislate for land acquisition. So from 1980 to 1990, we did totally nothing on the land.
However, in 1988 I was transferred from the Department of National Security to the Ministry of Justice, and my brief from the President was that I should begin drafting legislation to take land after the expiration of the 10-year moratorium. So in 1992, we passed the first piece of legislation, the Land Acquisition Act, but it was a weak one because we only attempted to remove the Lancaster House provision of “willing seller, willing buyer”. It was a bad provision as the “willing seller” was selling land at a price of his choice and in a currency of his choice.
So during that time it was very difficult to acquire land from the whites for redistribution. We therefore reached a stage where we said the government should acquire land by paying only for the development on the land, but not for the land itself. The land issue was the major grievance of the liberation war. But as we were getting nowhere with the policy of gradualism, we decided to ditch the Lancaster House provision.
We then discovered that there was no formula in history for getting back our land; other nations just grabbed it and then wrote about it after the event. So we decided to take back our land in 2000. People may think that the people of Svosve who started it, did it on their own. No, it was the party which decided that the time had come to take back the land
Q: But now that you have the land back, why is the economy still struggling?
A: I am coming to that. So we got back our land, but the British and their friends in America, Europe, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand slammed economic and other sanctions on us! Before the land reform began, we had almost 40 percent to 45 percent of our national budget supported by programmes by the IMF, World Bank, bilateral donors, multilateral donors, lines of credit, and so on. But all this stopped overnight! This 40 to 45 percent support was cut. So many projects were stopped.
After imposing the sanctions on us, Britain and its allies prohibited their financial and other companies from dealing with us. So all of a sudden, all lines of credit and foreign funding dried up totally. We were now on our own. But look at what is happening in Greece currently, no country, not even the USA or Britain can survive without the government being able to borrow money either from domestic sources or externally. But we were prevented from borrowing from international sources even though our domestic sources had dried up. Our local banks were suffering from the sanctions themselves.
Q: Was it why the economy imploded?
A: Yes, but we survived! The most important thing is that our people have now developed the culture of believing in themselves. Come winter, come summer, come storm, they will remain Zimbabweans! They will remain solid.
So Britain and its friends have failed. It doesn’t matter what happens, the biggest pride a people can have is to be independent. After all, God has given us everything, we have sunshine, we have rains, we have minerals, and we now have the land. We shall work the land and survive on our own.
You asked about the economy imploding. It did. In a massive way! It fell to the ground. If it was on the 20th floor, it hit the ground floor. And then they attacked our currency, which became almost totally useless. It went to 12 digits. They totally destroyed our currency and we could not finance ourselves. It was difficult because we could not earn enough foreign currency.
Q: In the end, you decided to introduce “enemy currency” as legal tender in Zimbabwe?
A: (Laughs). This is what happened. In December 2008, the President formed a committee of which I was one of the five members. That committee decided that we should introduce a foreign currency or currencies as legal tender in Zimbabwe as a fightback against the attempts to destroy our currency.
At first we thought we could use the South African rand. So we sent our central bank governor at the time, Gideon Gono, to go and see his counterpart in South Africa, Tito Mboweni. Mboweni was the governor of the South African Reserve Bank and the first black to hold the post. But Mboweni gave us several conditions, which, when we looked at them, we said no we cannot accept.
So we looked at the regulations of both the Bank of England and the American Federal Reserve. We studied them both and discovered that we could introduce their currencies as legal tender here without consulting them. Interestingly, these were the very countries at the forefront of the attack on our currency. So in February 2009 we crafted a statement which Patrick Chinamasa, the then acting finance minister, read to the nation, introducing the US dollar and a basket of other currencies as legal tender in Zimbabwe. Since then, I don’t think the enemy has found a formula to fight their currency here.
Q: Zimbabwe is a unitary state, but if you hear the talk coming from Matabeleland, you might think the opposite is true. What is your view on that?
A: Zimbabwe is a democracy and people are allowed to dream. But the truth is that Zimbabwe is a unitary state. I often talk about it. It is a unitary state and those who dream about secession will not be allowed to break up the country. But we will not imprison a person for advocating for secession. You can continue to dream in a democracy. But we are a unitary state and nobody can change that status.
Q: From the outside, Zimbabwe appears to be tightly united. But from the inside, you begin to hear minorities, even within the dominant Shona group, saying the Zezerus are monopolising power and that the other smaller units are disadvantaged. What is the government doing to appease such murmuring within the union?
A: We have about 16 Shona languages, and if the President of the country comes from one of the 16, the 15 say we are disadvantaged, and if he shifts to Number 11, the others will say they are disadvantaged. No, the issue is if we have the best person of the day elected as the leader, that should be it, we should forge ahead. We can’t build a wall around ourselves and think about divisions. Where will that lead us?by NewAfricansource-newzimbabwe
Photo-VP Emmerson Mnangagwa, President Robert Mugabe, and VP Phelekezela Mphoko