BY NQABA MATSHAZI
In the late 1990s, a big birthday bash was planned for the late vice-president Joshua Nkomo at Ascot racecourse, with the late former president Robert Mugabe being the guest of honour.
When Mugabe arrived, with a huge convoy as usual, other guests were told to clear the way, but one man, rugged and probably slightly intoxicated, remained defiant and muttered under his breath: “Mugabe, Mugabe chi ichocho?” (Who is Mugabe?)
Lo and behold, Mugabe’s security heard him and not before long they had pounced on him ready to mete instant justice.
Nkomo quickly intervened, whispered to Mugabe, asking if he had forgotten who the obstinate man was. The man was a former detainee, who was detained together with Nkomo and Mugabe.
Mugabe then called the man closer, dug into his jacket pocket and gave him some money.
The following day, The Chronicle carried a picture of that man, sleeping on the ground at Ascot, dead drunk, courtesy of Mugabe.
Another story is told of a man who worked at State House in Bulawayo.
His brother joined the MDC and was soon one of their candidates in a by-election.
Soon the hawks were on the State House employee demanding that he be summarily fired; since his brother was an MDC candidate it meant that he also belonged to that party and should be axed immediately for being a sellout.
The guy was quickly ostracised and he waited for the guillotine.
The issue came to Mugabe’s attention on one of his visits to Bulawayo.
Mugabe summoned the man, who must have feared the worst.
Mugabe asked him one question: “Do you still want to work here?”
Timid and scared, words failed the man and all he could manage was a weak nod.
Mugabe then looked to State House officials and told them that if the man wanted to work, he could continue working; that his brother was an MDC official was not an issue.
In another case, Mugabe spotted a soldier wandering around State House grounds and summoned him.
He asked the soldier what he was doing and the soldier said he was on leave.
Oh dear, if he was on leave, shouldn’t he be with his family, Mugabe demanded to know.
The soldier removed his payslip, showed it to Mugabe and told him that he could not afford to go to his rural home, where his family was.
That embarrassed Mugabe, who promptly gave the soldier some money and sent him off on his way.
The mandarins at State House were not too pleased at this and, if I am not mistaken, immediately began proceedings to discipline the soldier.
Those who knew and were close to him, say Mugabe was disarmingly charming.
They say he was quite warm and affectionate.
He ensured that he knew all his close employees and followed up on their lives.
When former Education minister David Coltart’s daughter was bitten by a lion, Mugabe took him aside at a Cabinet meeting, to ask about her well-being.
Coltart had been a thorn in Mugabe’s side for eons and the president probably had every reason to revel in the MDC politician’s ill fortune.
But on that day, Coltart wrote that Mugabe “appeared genuinely concerned about her”.
It is very difficult to reconcile this side of Mugabe with his other side, where he is accused of being a malevolent mass murderer.
He was a very complex character depending on whom he was engaging and I guess everyone has their own Mugabe story to tell, no matter how polarised the narratives are.