FORMER State Security minister Didymus Mutasa (DM) was one of the leading figures that were by former vice-president Joice Mujuru’s side when she addressed her inaugural media conference as Zimbabwe People First (ZimPF) leader.
Our reporter Richard Chidza (RC) spoke to Mutasa about his previous life as President Robert Mugabe’s closest ally and his new role as an opposition figure. Below are excerpts of the interview.
RC: What is your role in ZimPF?
DM: My role will not be different from any other member. We are a new organisation, therefore, every member needs to work as hard as they can without leaving the load on others.
It is an important organisation which should turn a new leaf for our country. As the president [Mujuru] has said, we will not tolerate violence.
We want to use Mahatma Ghandi’s principle, which I think is good for the country.
The youths in this country are violent and for no reason. They cause mayhem for no reason and that has to come to an end. We, along with the likes of Cde [Rugare] Gumbo and all other members will also push for the new policies that our president enunciated, including on land.
RC: Do you think you still have a role to play in the new party’s leadership, given your age?
DM: Yes, very much so. Some people have said we are too old. Indeed we are old, but we are beginning a new party.
The party has been founded by us the old people and so we have a tremendous role to play in supporting the youngsters when they are being harassed and giving them confidence.
The experience we got in Zanu PF, we took with us, but we are not going to use that experience to support Zanu PF.
Like president Mujuru said, we will not return to Zanu PF. We are going to work for this party for the benefit of Zimbabweans, not Zanu PF.
RC: During your stint in Zanu PF, did you ever try to convince Mugabe to retire or transform the ruling party from within?
DM: Not exactly to pass on the baton; leadership in Zanu PF changes hands at congress because these are elective and the people in Zanu PF would have and will have a chance to elect new leaders or keep on with Cde Mugabe.
That is the opportunity we will give to our members at our elective convention; the chance to elect a leader that they want. We will not say because we started it, we should be elected.
We have genuinely set up this party for the reconstruction of our country. Our people have suffered, yes. Some of them at our hands, we can’t deny that. But [what] we are going to say very definitely is that all those things we did while we were in Zanu PF will remain there. We have not carried them with us into ZimPF.
RC: Do you feel that you have an obligation to apologise for your role in the suffering of the people?
DM: Very much so, I have said so from the beginning, that we are very sorry for all the mistakes we made in the name of Zanu PF. And we genuinely want to say sorry to the people who suffered during the time we were in government.
We can’t divorce ourselves from the things done by an organisation we were members of.
We can only say we are sorry, and genuinely reform ourselves into the new organisation we have launched and hope that within that organisation, mistakes that happened when we were in Zanu PF will never be tolerated or happen again.
The people in ZimPF will determine our actions and they will take us to task for any mistakes we may commit in that organisation.
I would like to urge them very strongly not to wait before they question their leaders for any mistakes. They should start now and not wait.
RC: Do you think Zimbabweans were not being vigilant enough?
DM: Well, there may not have been any allowance to do that, but courageous people like Temba Mliswa were there at that time and they are still here.
They must be encouraged to speak on behalf of all the people of Zimbabwe and question all leaders if there are things that they do not agree with.
Yes, you may blame us for the things that happened but an interesting question is: Where were you? Where were the people of Zimbabwe when all these mistakes were taking place?
There are mistakes still happening in the country and where are we as citizens? Why do we not question these things?
RC: But people are terrified of the State, would you agree?
DM: Yes I do. But do not blame us for people being afraid. Blame those who are afraid. Let us encourage them to stand up and be counted.
If they continue to be afraid of the State machinery, there will be still state machinery under ZimPF and people will still be afraid.
So the change we are promising them will not take place if people live in fear.
We are encouraging people to be full citizens and not half owners of their country. We are encouraging women, men and the young to stand up and be counted.
There is no other country for them other than Zimbabwe to which they belong.
RC: In 2013 you were accused of having a hand in the death of an MDC-T supporter’s child known as Christpower Maisiri of Headlands. Did you play any role in the murder?
DM: I had no role whatsoever and as a matter of fact, this [Friday] morning I had gone to court to face Tendai Biti [People’s Democratic Party leader] who first accused me of the crime.
He said this in Cabinet and we told him frankly and truthfully that I had no role. He did not stop there [as] he went to the graveside and maintained that I was involved in the murder of the child.
It is a very sad thing. I must repeat that I had no hand in the death of that child. If you perhaps ask the parents now, they might be in a position to say how that child died.
RC: What do you know about the Gukurahundi massacres in Matabeleland and Midlands?
DM: I was Speaker of Parliament in the first 10 years of independence and Gukurahundi happened at that time. I had no role even as Speaker to question or to ask for details of Gukurahundi.
But as a citizen, I saw it happen like everyone else. It appeared as though it was a clash of the two liberation movements.
We wondered how liberators could turn against each other. It was a very sad incident which should have been stopped before so many died.
RC: Do you think Mugabe genuinely regrets the atrocities?
DM: No. We never talked about things that had happened in the past. We talked about contemporary things, issues that were happening at that time but never the past.
RC: How democratic is Zanu PF and in particular, the politburo?
DM: People are free to say what they want to say and currently I think people are now speaking openly than before.
At the time there was really nothing obviously wrong and so people tended to be quiet. That helped establish the so-called one centre of power. I think it should stop because it is undemocratic.
RC: Would you describe him [Mugabe] as an autocrat, a dictator?
DM: Not before but currently, how would you describe him?
RC: So you think he has turned into a dictator?
DM: I do not want to really judge him because he is not a member of my party.
RC: Surely, you would have seen traits of dictatorship during your days working together?
DM: No, they were not that obvious and if they had been noticeable, I would have talked to him about it during the course of our work.
RC: So he was open with you and to your criticism?
DM: Yes, he was. He would tell me things in advance. Even as we sat to prepare for Politburo meetings, we would discuss a lot of things. If there are things that happened during my time as secretary-general of Zanu PF [secretary for administration] then they are errors of a collective, they were mistakes we made together.
RC: Do you think as a party, Zanu PF has a role to play in the reconstruction of the country?
DM: As a party, no. But as individuals, yes, because this country is made up of individuals but they would have to re-dedicate themselves to rebuild Zimbabwe.
RC: Are there members of Zanu PF who are aligned to your group?
DM: Yes, senior members of Zanu PF and they should be honest. It is up to them to stand up and be counted. It is not for me to name them.
They are people who we agreed with that Mujuru had done nothing wrong, that she led no faction. We argued that Mujuru was clean and if ever she was part of faction then it was Mugabe’s faction.
RC: Was there a plot to kill Mugabe?
DM: Never. I do not know where the president dreamt that from and if anyone fed him with that, then they should stand up now. It was all a lie. I could never be party to it.
RC: Did Zanu PF ever rig elections?
DM: Laughs… I do not know. Well, the rigging could never have been done by members of the party because they did not take part in the administration of the elections. If there was a structure to rig, then the minister responsible for elections should tell us.
RC: But did you think there was some underhand dealing in how the party won elections?
DM: No. If I had I would have discussed this with the president. I would have faced him on it. There are many things we told him, that they were not correct. I have written letters to tell him such and such is wrong.
RC: Now that you are in the opposition, do you think there is a structure somewhere used to rig elections?
DM: Yes. And this is why we are demanding electoral reforms and setting up of a structure within the confines of the Constitution to administer elections independently.
RC: You do not think the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) is independent?
DM: I do not think so. The chairperson of ZEC [Rita Makarau] is involved in discussions on whether [prosecutor-general Johannes] Tomana is right or wrong. She cannot be independent.
RC: Do you see it now or have you always thought so?
DM: I saw it all the time.
RC: So the security services could have been involved in rigging?
RC: And you were responsible for one of the ministries?
DM: Yes, I was responsible for the CIO (Intelligence)
RC: You think the CIO was involved?
DM: I don’t think so
RC: So which security ministry would you think was involved?
DM: I don’t know. If you think there was rigging, then ask the ministers who are responsible now.
RC: But if the rigging happened under your watch, you should have known?
DM: I was joking with [Morgan] Tsvangirai [MDC-T leader] the other day that how could he run away from his victory
RC: You think he won the elections?
DM: Well, that is what the president said. He said it at a party meeting. I do not know why you did not hear it, that Tsvangirai won by 73%.
RC: We all thought it was a slip of the tongue.
DM: No it wasn’t, you cannot allow your tongue to slip three times in the process of saying something. He said it three times, that Tsvangirai won by 73%. That is what the man at the top is saying now. Why would I not believe it?
RC: Do you think Mugabe has sold the revolution?
DM: You do not have to ask me that question. That is what you believe and I may agree with you.
RC: Your final message to Zimbabweans.
DM: Let us forget the past. Let us be friends. Let us work to turn our country into a first world country. We have the resources, both human and material. Our people are poor not because they lack resources but because of lack of leadership.