John Mvundura was in President Robert Mugabe’s inner circle since the time of the liberation war serving as the Zanu PF’s leader’s first chief of protocol.
the big interview BY OBEY MANAYITI
He was also posted to countries the long-serving ruler regarded as strategic in his scheme of things such as Mozambique, Malawi, Libya, Nigeria and Cuba.
He was even temporarily recalled from Cuba in 2008 to douse flames in Manicaland after Zanu PF almost split due to factionalism.
However, Mvundura (JM) did not resist when he was pushed out of the party he had served for over 50 years after he was accused of being sympathetic to former vice-president Joice Mujuru.
He was recently elected one of Mujuru’s two deputies in the new opposition party, the National People’s Party. Yesterday he told our reporter Obey Manayiti (OM) in an exclusive interview why he dumped Mugabe.
He also said he believes change is possible in Zimbabwe next year. Below are excerpts of the interview.
OM: Who is John Mvundura? Can you briefly tell us about yourself?
JM: I am a third born in our family. The family was the poorest among the poorest and we would go to work in other people’s fields to get money for school although my father was a carpenter.
In 1960, I was taken by my niece Grace Karimanzira to Harare as she felt I should be with her. She helped me to start school in Harare firstly at Chirodzo Primary before Harare Secondary School up to 1964.
I was expelled there on August 14 1964 together with others after we led a demonstration to commemorate the death of the late Dr Samuel Tichafa Parirenyatwa.
That was the second anniversary of his death. I was there at the formation of Zanu in Highfield and we helped each other with others from Zapu to commemorate the anniversary.
By then I was 21 years old and I was doing Form 3. After the expulsion from school we were blacklisted and I took the opportunity to increase my political activities until the end of 1964 when Zanu was banned.
We decided to be more aggressive and pursue the route of the armed struggle and we were very pleased by the new approach to say we are here and we are going to fight.
I was arrested and taken to Mutare where I spent about six months there and after that I was put on probation in Highfield.
After my release, we started a group called Highfield Traders Association and I was the chairperson in 1971.
We were opposed to the Pearce Commission and we were working with the likes of Edson Sithole during that time.
It was also the time when United African National Council was formed which was led by Abel Muzorewa.
However, we felt that was not enough and in 1975 I and others decided that we must go out there and fight the (Ian) Smith regime.
In 1975 I used to go with my car to help people who wanted to cross to join the liberation war in Mozambique.
Because of that, my car was on surveillance and was on police’s wanted list.
I went to Sithole so that I could sneak out because I felt the threat was too much and I had to leave.
I left for Mozambique on June 10 through Imbeza in Mutare, but I was not successful until I initiated again to go through Chipinge.
OM: And after independence you were posted on many diplomatic missions?
JM: Let me start by saying after training and other many operations, I was appointed the first chief of protocol in the office of the president.
Just two or three days after we came back from Mozambique, the party decided that it needed about two strategists who would stay in Mozambique so that in the event that Smith rigged elections, the struggle would continue.
I spent most of the time in Maputo while Vitalis Zvinavashe was in Beira until after independence.
After independence I was recalled here in Zimbabwe and was appointed the first ambassador to Mozambique.
I served from 1980 to 1988, then I was called again for another assignment. By that time, the [situation in the] region was still bad because of Renamo.
The president thought I would serve better in Malawi where the president there Kamuzu Banda didn’t want to visit other countries.
When I went there he came to Zimbabwe and as you might recall, he officially opened the Zanu PF offices.
We discussed the Renamo issue in Malawi that brought the ceasefire. I was there until 1993 when I felt I should come back home.
I went to the ministry of Home Affairs where I was the deputy in charge of protocol and legal affairs. There came a time for voluntary retrenchment and I decided to be more active in the party than in government, so I left.
In 1994 I went to Manicaland and was the deputy commissar first before I became deputy chairperson.
In 2000 there was a fuel crisis and people would sleep in queues to get fuel so the president decided to take me to Libya because the late President Muammar Gaddafi said he wanted a person who would understand our party Zanu PF and his Jamahiriya.
There was no mission there so the officers were supposed to go there first and set up an office, but because of the crisis I just went there after my appointment.
I was joined by the officers after two months there. The fuel crisis was done with and I stayed there for four years.
In 2004 the president decided that I go to Nigeria. He told me that the president there [Olusegun Obasanjo] was a military man and he was chairing the African Union at the time.
He wanted someone who would explain our position and make Obasanjo understand us as we were going for elections in 2005.
I tried my best to mend relations and I am sure he understood us. He assigned us a political analyst in his office and the two leaders met in Namibia at an inauguration ceremony of [then president] Hifikepunye Lucas Pohamba.
I am happy with my contribution there and that Obasanjo understood us. I stayed there for five years before the president said I should serve in Cuba.
There was change of leadership there and the president wanted a person who clearly understood politics. I have a doctorate in political science.
On January 1 2010 I went to Cuba but in 2013 I was called back home on a temporary basis to solve problems that were affecting Zanu PF in Manicaland, mainly between [Didymus] Mutasa and Oppah Muchinguri.
We had lost elections before in 2008 because they had their different candidates so Zanu PF ended up fielding two candidates per constituency and we lost.
My assignment was to unite the party and in 2013 we reclaimed our position and the party actually gave us an award for that.
OM: There were reports that Gaddafi was sponsoring Zanu PF or Mugabe. As a former envoy in Libya, can you clarify this?
JM: Let me tell you the truth, I am not a corrupt person. I didn’t have that record.
I can tell you that in government I would touch millions of dollars and there was not even a dollar that went missing. I will never involve myself in corruption. This one missed me.
I don’t know who was given what and by whom? For anything that happened between Mugabe and Gaddafi, there was nothing that was whispered to me to say so and so is received what from that one.
All the records are there and there is nothing of that sort I witnessed.
OM: We know you ended up being expelled from the party. What happened?
When you are doing your work, no matter how good it is, there are others who are not satisfied.
When we won the elections I went to the acting president at the time who was Mujuru to say can I go back to Cuba now and she said I should wait for the president who was away at the time.
I later become the chairman in Manicaland but I had contested against Monica Mutsvangwa. I won with a big margin.
At that time we discovered a mass grave at a mine in Matumba 6 and we had to arrange for reburials.
There were about 100 people in that mass grave and it took three months for us to prepare. We went on to invite the VP but a day before she came for the reburial, then Home Affairs minister Kembo Mohadi released a statement to say we didn’t follow procedure and we had to postpone the event.
However, there were people already at Matumba and some war veterans, so we went there to tell people there that it had been postponed.
A lot of people were there, including Mutasa and Jabulani Sibanda. That is the time Sibanda said decisions must not be taken in a bedroom.
A complaint against me was raised that I allowed him to say what he said and I was reprimanded after the matter was taken to the politburo.
When I received that letter, there were people who were trying to stage demonstrations in Mutare. We were called to State House and some youths were making a lot of allegations.
I stood up and told everyone openly, including the president that if they thought I was not doing well they could remove me.
After some days Supa Mandiwanzira and Joseph Mujati announced in Mutare that a decision has been made that I was suspended.
I didn’t answer to those allegations or engage Mandiwanzira, a person who is the same age as my children. I didn’t want a confrontation with him.
This is the time Mujuru and others were fired or suspended for no reason. I said after serving for 51 years, let me step aside.
OM: Is that why you went on to form or join ZimPF?
JM: After we were fired, my wife was not feeling well. She was diagnosed with cancer and I was attending to her before she died in 2015.
I was preoccupied with her illness. But I had made a decision and when they started the party (ZimPF), I said I can contribute with others by giving some sort of direction there.
OM: After a few months into the formation of ZimPF, there was a split. What were the causes of the problems?
JM: I believe in any organisation, there are contradictions. When you want to deal with the new, the old must die.
Even in a family, or with twins, there are times when they take different decisions.
Where there is a new approach, decisions differ and it happened that we didn’t agree on some views.
Even in other opposition parties, it is the same. In Zanu PF this is all what has been happening so what happened is not a new phenomenon at all.
OM: After the expulsion of Mutasa and others, there are new cracks now resulting in top officials exchanging blows. What is happening?
JM: Don’t equate the chasing away of the first group with this. That group had its own peculiar problem different from this one.
As human beings, others have brains to think faster and take action while others seem relaxed.
This is what happened with the second problem. In this case, if at all the other person wanted clarity, there was no need to act in a manner he did.
We cannot tolerate that and that is not our culture. One was the spokesperson of the party and another spokesman for Mujuru and if anybody felt one was overlapping, they were supposed to come forward. You must leave room for continuity.
OM: What are your plans for Zimbabwe as a party? Do you have what it takes to solve Zimbabwe’s problems?
JM: In life you must know what makes a good leader. You must know that I came from the people and I must go to the people.
I am working with Dr Mujuru and I don’t want to say she is a new person to me. We used to talk to each other and what we want is positive criticism.
History shapes the future and she has very impressive credentials.
We need to correct mistakes and we do have the credentials and nobody can take that away from us.
OM: Do you think Mujuru has what it takes to lead the country?
JM: I want to say yes. Really, Mujuru witnessed the good, the bad and the ugly in her life.
She is a leader who cannot be told what to do and how to lead because she was somebody who was in office (as vice-president) for 10 years.
She was to be the next president and this was because of the values we have seen in her.
You cannot wash away those values and credentials and we believe she is going to do her best.
To me, she is the appropriate leader and Zanu PF cannot take away her credit that she has. She kept quiet when she was blasted and said I must think ahead.
As a mature leader, she said time will come. She demonstrated her sense of humour and leadership. For me to work with her, [I think] I will learn a lot and it is going to be a combination of my ideas and hers.
Mugabe should not think that she is dull. Mujuru is very intelligent.
OM: How far have opposition parties gone in their negotiations for a coalition ahead of next year’s elections?
JM: First and foremost, a coalition is an understanding among political parties to say how can we work together in future.
It is a way to become stronger and even when you check during the GNU, the government was stronger.
A coalition between us and other political formations is necessary but we cannot just go into the streets to shout about it.
There are certain organisations formed by state agents, it’s not only in Zimbabwe where the government creates opposition parties to create confusion.
For the coalition, we identified some of the parties and we are still discussing with them but we don’t want to rush to avoid regretting.
OM: Do you think the opposition has a chance to dislodge Zanu PF in the next elections?
JM: The ruling party might laugh at us but Smith at one point was in full force saying in 1 000 years, there would not be a black government.
In Malawi there was a clause [in the constitution] to say a life president but when the time comes, it will surprise people.
That time is going to come whether we like it or not. The old will die and the new will rise.
It is the message we are going to bring to the people but we cannot say it now. People will understand us well.
OM: Which parties are you negotiating with for a coalition?
JM: I cannot say this one or that one, but we are discussing and let’s see the outcome. The details are not my duty to release.
OM: What can you say about Mugabe’s leadership style?
JM: I don’t want to talk about his leadership. It was for me to say that while I was still in Zanu PF, but now it is not my concern. My concern is about the people and let them decide.