Gift Phiri 4 December 2017
HARARE – Walter Mzembi was the last Foreign Affairs minister to serve
under former president Robert Mugabe.
Although his tenure was brief, for it was during his stint that the
Mugabe’s regime fell, it was an event-packed period that has not been
Our News Editor Gift Phiri had an opportunity to hear these events from
the horse’s mouth. Below are excerpts of the interview:
Q: Where were you when the military tanks rolled into Harare? What was
A: Before I respond to your questions, let me hasten to say the “first
casualty of conflict is truth”. I am hoping this interview can lay to rest
the many falsehoods and fake news that have been generated and
disseminated around my name and whereabouts in the most recent past,
amounting to hate speech! Thank you for the opportunity to set the record
straight. Now back to your first question, we were of course in bed at
that wee hour but had been kept wide awake by anxiety over the statement
by the military and its implications and also queries from the region on
what was going on, remember on the night in question I had missed a flight
to South Africa, where I had been granted an appointment with the South
African Foreign Affairs minister in Pretoria in the morning of the 15th
and later a meeting with President (Jacob) Zuma at 6pm in Cape Town as
part of my regional diplomatic tour but also as the ex-president’s special
envoy. I had just completed a similar assignment in Zambia the previous
day, where I had met both the Foreign Affairs minister and President
Lungu. So my colleagues in the region were equally anxious. As to our
reaction as a family, we stayed on, and only moved into a hotel around
6am, as we were now responding to various messages on the insecurity of
Cabinet ministers getting to us from various sources.
Q: Some people suggest you took sanctuary in the Cuban Embassy. Is this
A: We never were visited by the military contrary to falsehoods peddled by
social media, and some of my colleagues in government who have been
authoritatively peddling lies about my whereabouts and supposed fugitive
status. I never left Zimbabwe nor sought sanctuary anywhere including the
Cuban Embassy as asserted by some. My immigration and passport records can
confirm this, including checking with the said embassies that are clearly
irritated by these falsehoods. It’s just malice!
Q: So where did you go?
A: I went to a hotel, and after two days was back at my residence.
Q: Why do you think you were expelled from Zanu PF?
A: Retaliatory action from my colleagues. Remember we were clearly split
into two factions. The one with the upper hand expels the other! Those
expelling others had been expelled the previous week or so, some childish
game of sorts hence the intervention by the military who are stockholders
of this party.
Q: In hindsight do you think you did the right thing ?
A: None of us is more righteous than the other, I hope one day there can
be an honest stocktaking of actions, and a genuine attempt to heal the
party. We have no other home outside Zanu PF, so expelling individuals is
not the solution for a mature party such as Zanu PF. You sit down in the
true spirit of “Operation Restore Legacy” , and examine the conflict
points including generational and ideological misunderstandings and mend
the fences, not just physically but mentally.
Q: What do you make of the process used to oust the president?
A: It was unfortunate, what started as a struggle within a struggle of a
liberation movement was hijacked by civil society and others and we were
unable on our own to sort things out without inviting other interests. Now
they talk of going for the kill, and here they refer to Zanu PF, we have
to pause and sort things on our own going forward, and “clearly an eye for
an eye left the world blind”. This is my cautionary statement to the
Q: Do you believe the ex-president was ousted through a coup? Some are
calling it a democratic military coup, which seems like an oxymoron.
A: He denied it himself that it was a coup and instructed me in the
diplomatic solution I was championing to communicate that to Sadc. Our
courts also adjudged that it wasn’t a coup. So it wasn’t a coup but a
military arbitration in a party in which the military are stockholders.
Don’t look for it anywhere, nor try it elsewhere, you will not find a
precedent. It was made in Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans.
Q: You were suspected of being a member of the so-called G40. Is it a
A: No I wasn’t a member of G40 as you know it or as it’s characterised
now. I spent my last two years detached from local politics until after
the UNWTO General Assembly in Chengndu, China this last September. So my
drama in local politics is two months old, with the results you know now.
Q: Do you buy the argument that the ex-first lady had usurped the
authority of the ex-president and there were plans afoot to impose a
A: That can only be answered by the former president himself.
Q: Have you spoken to the ex-president or former first lady after November
Q: Your expulsion also deprived you of a Cabinet post. You have since been
replaced by your predecessor who has become your successor. Your comment?
A: No deployment is permanent. The president must be allowed space to
choose his own Foreign minister, it’s his prerogative! And we serve at his
pleasure. It’s a very sensitive portfolio, requiring absolute trust, and
when you are in there you are the last in terms of loyalty to ship out
hence my hanging on until “D” Day. I am sure even the new president
respects and admires my loyalty, he needs a lot more principled people
around him, that’s my prayer.
Q: Would you accept a Cabinet post in President Mnangagwa’s
A: Am I ready to work and contribute in any capacity including as a
private citizen? So the answer is yes, that notwithstanding Zimbabwe needs
all hands on the deck private and public and it should not just be about
Cabinet posts, there are people who have been contributing to the well
being of Zimbabwe beyond measure as Private Citizens, in business,
academia, religion etc. There is life beyond these deployments, so I will
lend my absolute support regardless of nomination for Cabinet and in
Q: You have interacted in Cabinet with the new President, what type of man
A: Pragmatic, shrewd and maybe reserved bordering on aloofness, but he
certainly has bottled up ideas and refreshing thoughts that are only
coming out now, which is natural for an astute politician who was
reserving his best for future use and avoiding policy clashes!
Q: Do you think he will revive this shrinking economy?
A: He will lead the revival of the economy only to the extent that we all
support him. He has said all the right things so far and is on track. He
is carrying the cross as our leader but he needs all of us to achieve his
vision and mission for a prosperous Zimbabwe.
Q: Zanu PF has recalled five MPs. Are you confident of retaining your
A: I am ready to surrender my seat if it unites the party more going
forward provided its done procedurally. An election is in the horizon and
I am not sure what is served by taking away my seat from the electors in
Masvingo South Constituency purely out of a decision of a central
committee that may be completely disconnected to grassroots feelings on
the same. They just sit here in Harare and decide for the people without
Q: You went to the National Assembly on Wednesday, and reports suggest you
shook hands with the new First Lady. Why did you do that?
A: She is the first lady of Zimbabwe and the shadow of the president
inside the House of Assembly. Secondly, circumstances had not permitted me
to pay my respects and courtesies nor attend the inauguration ceremony, so
it was the cultural and normal thing to do. I am still on standby to
extend my congratulations to the president himself too.
Q: Are you pursuing a future in politics?
A: President Mnangagwa was an avid supporter of my UNWTO Campaign,
politics cannot only be constituency representative and/ or Executive
deployment, both of which I am reconsidering going forward. I am yet to
meet my constituency to sound them out on this, but if it’s not Zanu PF
representation as predicated by my expulsion from the party, it’s time for
a sabbatical. I will lend my support to any Zanu PF cadre nominated by the
Party and I hope they can support me in my private life trajectory as
Q: There were claims by some war veterans that during the talks between
H.E and the generals you acted as the ex-president’s special envoy
ostensibly to mobilise regional support for him to dig in. What happened?
A: No, quite to the contrary the traditional itinerary of a new Foreign
minister kicks off with regional courtesy calls, starting with Sadc and
its dean who happens to be minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane of South
Africa, then it follows the hierarchy of the Sadc Troika which was very
relevant at the time, Angola as chair, Zambia, vice chair and Tanzania.
The special envoy status is a coveted one, because it allows the visiting
minister to engage the host president and share his foreign policy thrust
at the highest level in addition to any message one may be delivering at
the time from the Head of State. It’s time for a political sabbatical,
says Mzembi. So you are not privy to the contents of the special message
but should be ready to appraise the host president of issues that may be
prompted by him during interaction. So my diplomatic tour was overtaken by
events and ostensibly even the special messages because I never embarked
on the rest of the tour after Zambia.
Q: You visited Zambia during that interregnum, what was the purpose of
A: Same objectives as alluded to already, but I came back from Zambia on
the evening of the 13th of November, and the mix up of my whereabouts
kicked off from there, notwithstanding the fact that I attended the
Cabinet session of November 14. Even the reassurance message given to
President Lungu that all was well was also overtaken by events thereafter.
There was a very naughty string of fake news that sought to bring the
integrity of our meeting and President Lungu’s position on Zimbabwe into
disrepute. I am glad he shamed the purveyors of these falsehoods by
bringing a high powered delegation of three presidents to the
inauguration, two of them past Presidents. It was the highest expression
of endorsement of President Mnangagwa seen in Zambia as their son too
because of shared family links dating back to the liberation struggle. As
vice president, he was recently the guest of honour to the class of 1975
law school celebrations , which he was part of at UNZA.
Q: President Lungu later despatched ex-president Kaunda to Harare to lean
on the old man. Were you involved in that shuttle diplomacy?
A: We were pleasantly interrupted from a lengthy conversation with former
president Mugabe when President Kaunda telephoned announcing his arrival ,
and he just exclaimed “Oh KK “, and indicated he would call me back. Of
course, I was constantly in touch with both the Foreign Affairs minister
and President Lungu. It was their own decision. On my earlier visit I had
sought to see ex-president Kaunda which I have done before regardless of
deployment, because he is my mentor having been partly educated in Zambia
myself too. In 2015, he was the Guest of Honour at my firstborn son
Komba’s wedding in Lusaka.
Q: To what extent where you involved in the talks?
A: I was in the loop on the Sadc diplomatic solution, and the point person
with regards to communication with ex-president Mugabe and the region, and
would consult him frequently on direction and vice versa. This in
hindsight seemed disconnected to the local mediation effort. The
diplomatic solution to be communicated by presidents Zuma and Lourenco of
Angola was to deliver the same outcome as the people have now in President
Mnangagwa except that it was a sequential one, starting with our Congress
endorsing him for presidency of the party in December, and reappointment
to vice president in government and then president Mugabe hand holding him
to elections in 2018. It was a solution in the interest of healing
relations between the two of them and inside the party which has been
raven by expulsions and counter expulsions. The mediators are presiding
over sister liberation movements and had no interest in an implosion of
Zanu PF, contrary to the indifference which was coming from civil society
and other political parties who were assisting the demise of our party in
the name of the “Mugabe must go” mantra . .There is contagion effect on
the Region if one of liberation parties is under siege.
Q: When did you sign off as Foreign minister. There are claims you stood
with Mugabe, to the end until he capitulated, why and how?
A: Given the diplomatic networking role not known to many, I am sure you
appreciate the need for my professional conduct at the time, and why it
was necessary to abstain from processes that were taking place in the
party and in Parliament, they would have clearly conflicted my role in
this whole saga. I chose to stand on principle and the rest is history.
All this coordination and mediation work with Sadc happened from my home
office, not the Cuban Embassy or any other country as shared at press
conferences by comrades who were trying to cash in on my whereabouts and
perceived demise for their own sinister interests. I played my anticipated
diplomatic role diligently to the end and I do not feel it was an exercise
in circumventing a people’s will at all. I go honourably with my head high
after 10 years of illustrious service and dedication to my country, and
president and I have no regrets in being the last man standing. I was
observing my oath of loyalty consistent with the seniority of the office I
Q: Your final word?
A: Hail the new President, His Excellency Cde ED Mnangagwa! It is time to
move on for everyone, time for healing, for forgiveness, time to love, to
smile, to laugh , time to live. As in 1980, let’s turn our swords into
ploughshares. Let bygones be bygones!