Morris Mkwate, Harare Bureau
ZIMBABWE’s first Executive President, Cde Robert Mugabe, resigned for “the good of the country”, and will serve his successor, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, whenever called upon to do so.
In an interview with our Harare Bureau at Chishawasha Mission yesterday, Roman Catholic Priest Father Fidelis Mukonori – who mediated Cde Mugabe’s resignation last week, said the former Head of State and Government had left with no hard feelings.
Fr Mukonori said the talks lasted up to 16 hours per day and were characterised by candid exchanges between Zimbabwe Defence Forces commanders and their then Commander-in-Chief.
The respected cleric – who has interacted closely with Cde Mugabe since the 1970s – mediated alongside Central Intelligence Organisation Acting Director-General Mr Aaron Nhepera, and Secretary for Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Mr George Charamba. This followed the ZDF’s “Operation Restore Legacy”, a popular political and socio-economic intervention designed to weed out a clique around the then President which was destablising the country and fuelling widespread anguish.
The intervention saw Cde Mugabe stepping down last Tuesday and President Emmerson Mnangagwa ascending to the top job. President Mnangagwa was sworn into office before a capacity crowd at the National Sports Stadium on Friday.
Fr Mukonori said, “What was very clear and indicative was that as soon as he (Cde Mugabe) finished signing (his resignation letter last Tuesday), his face just glowed. It was as if (there was a sigh). You could just see the glowing.
“It was not like `I have lost’. No. It was `I have done it’. When I phoned him (last Thursday to discuss something else), he said: `Oh yes, Father, Emmerson phoned me and invited me to the occasion (Friday’s ceremony). I said thank you very much, but it is not the time. The situation is still highly-charged. So, it is best that I do not appear. But I wish you well.’
“And I said, `It is good. Sure, he was happy to hear your voice and you were happy to hear his … He responded, `Of course, yes. Father, it is good. These are our people. This is our country. I’m there for the new President. I’m at his disposal – anytime. He is most welcome.’
“So, we are not talking about a bitter man. I told him that it was good for him to see someone running the country … It’s not that it was something that was pushed down his throat. It was something that he, from my reading, fully accepted.”
Fr Mukonori said mediation began soon after the military moved to preserve Zimbabwe’s liberation legacy and stem potential instability. “Government was at crossroads with itself – the Ministry of Defence, the executive and the Ministry of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services. So, the three got together. They took my name, and the commanders and the President were happy.
“Within an hour of receiving the telephone call, we gathered. We then went to Josiah Magama Tongogara Barracks to meet thegenerals and I chaired the meeting. One good thing for sure is that those army generals are very mature people. What I liked the most was the sense of seriousness about the issue: Very open-minded on how to handle and resolve the issue; very clear aims and objectives.
“The aims and objectives: We believe something has gone wrong right now in our Government and party. We believe the party has been hijacked. Our Government and party are malfunctioning. We have a serious sense of losing the vision … They were very clear. They wrote down their grievances, wishes and how they wanted to see things done.”
Fr Mukonori continued: “From the barracks, my team and I went to Blue Roof, the President’s private residence, and gave him the briefing, including concerns of the generals. He took it seriously because I don’t think he was expecting it. At the same time, I may say, though surprised, he read the grievances and understood the situation.
“After discussing with him, we had to go back again to brief the commanders. So, I’m talking of 16 hours of engagement a day. And we ended up at State House the following day, where the President was meeting directly with all the commanders.
“It was the job of the team to bring them together. I don’t want to make it seem as though they didn’t want to see each other face-to-face. In fact, the generals wished to see the President to talk to him, and the President also wished to meet the commanders.
“It’s one thing to read a piece of paper; it’s another to look at each other face-to-face. These are people who have been in the bunkers together, who fought the war side-by-side. No one ever screamed at another. But there were questions. One-by-one, they would be given an opportunity to express themselves, and the President would also express himself the way he understood the situation.”
He went on, “Eventually, it became very clear that someone who was absent from the meeting was in the personhood of Emmerson Mnangagwa. That name kept coming up, and President Mnangagwa now, got in touch with me, and said: `Father, I would like to talk to baba. I want to talk to the President. He’s my father and I wish to talk to him.’
“And he was serious about it, so I said okay, how shall I get in touch with you? He said I could get in touch on these numbers. He phoned me while I was on my way for a briefing at Josiah Magama Tongogara Barracks. After our usual meeting, I explained to the generals that I had been in touch with Emmerson Mnangagwa.
“So, we agreed that I was going with my team to Blue Roof to brief the President on our meeting and this latest development. When I told the President that Emmerson Mnangagwa would like to talk to him, he said, `Of course. Where is he? I want him to come so that we can discuss this issue.’
“And I said, `Your Excellency, I don’t think he is in the country; his phone number is South African.’ So, I called now President Mnangagwa and told him that `I am sitting next to baba. Baba would like to talk to you’. And they talked for 10 minutes. It was a heart-to-heart talk.
“You could tell by the President’s posture and his voice that he was talking to someone he has known for 50 years. That was the atmosphere. The agreement was come home, come home, now, now, now so that we deal with this issue. That was beautiful.”
Fr Mukonori said the development pleased the military command. “The idea was for Mr Mnangagwa to come on the same day. I phoned him and said, `Mr Mnangagwa, I am sitting here, chairing the meeting of the generals and my team; I want you to speak to (ZDF Commander) General (Constantino) Chiwenga and express your issues regarding safety and security. “The President had told us that Cde Mnangagwa informed him that he had left the country because he feared for his life. But he was to come home and there would be maximum safety and security.
“General Chiwenga then spoke to him: `Sir, please come home. We are ready for you. We have been instructed to look after you to ensure that you have safety and security to the maximum.’
“I think he must have asked when because General Chiwenga said `today because we need you. Things are not well’. And because of the time, it was around 5pm, Cde Mnangagwa could not come because he had something to do, and would come on the following day.”
So the talks continued. “It took several hours to produce the first address by the President. Things kept moving up, and eventually, things became clearer and clearer that the movement was coming to fruition. He knew the people were demonstrating. He knew the Army had demonstrated practically, and he kept looking at these issues in a very serious way. The party took their stand;
he was aware, he was being alerted, and we were also taking that into account.
“But the last day, it became very clear that, as we discussed with my team, that the President had finally decided to say that `it is for the good of Zimbabwe, it is for the good of our country that I resign’.
“Both Houses (of Parliament) were debating impeachment. Actually, the President made a call to the Speaker of the National Assembly, and said `Mr Speaker, I would like to talk to you. I would like to see you. I would like to write a letter of my resignation. For the good of the country, I want to resign, but I need to talk to you on the time that I can write this letter’.
“What the President was asking for was to be given the time to put it in writing. He actually said to the Speaker, `I want you to know that I wish to resign and I am going to resign, but I want to put it in writing to you that I am resigning as the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe.’
“And the Speaker said the momentum had already started running so he couldn’t wait. I think it was a misunderstanding because the President was not saying cease the meeting, but he wanted to know the leeway for him to put it in writing.
“So, eventually, we decided to call the staff of the President’s Office who know the issues. So, we invited the Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet, the Minister of Justice and the Attorney-General. They came and the President said `this is the issue, I have decided to resign. I have decided to put in writing in terms of the Constitution’.
“The AG said `Yes, you can do that’, and the President then said `If I am being told that the process of impeachment has already started, and so if I am going to write the letter as if I am trying to stop the impeachment, it (will seem) as if I have decided to cover up what would be brought about to show the guilt that I have. Then, probably I should let it go because as far as I am concerned, I have not committed a crime which deserves impeachment’.
“But the explanations were: `Mr President, you still have the time. Time has not elapsed. The meeting has started; it is not closed. You can still go ahead and write your letter of resignation. The letter will be taken by the Leader of the House to the Speaker. It’s part of the system. People
are discussing about you. Several issues have to come about, which have to be followed.
“‘In the meantime, once this matter has been handed to the Speaker, the Speaker has to announce that I have received this and this is what it says. It is part of the system.’ So, the letter was drafted. Two ministers were dispatched early just to say the letter is coming. The President was happy. Everyone was happy. He signed the letter.”