Former Foreign Affairs Minister in the former President Robert Mugabe’s cabinet, Walter Mzembi broke his silence over the weekend adding his voice on a number of issues bedeviling the country.
Mzembi was ousted during the November 2017 military take over which ushered in the President Emmerson Mnangagwa administration. Because of his allegiance to the other faction that sympathized with Mugabe, the former Tourism Minister was subsequently targeted for committing a number of crimes during his time as a public office bearer.
He was arrested and brought before the court before he fled to South Africa citing victimisation from the powers that be. He is currently in a self-imposed exile together with other members who served in the Mugabe cabinet.
In a long letter, Mzembi called on the country’s two political protagonists, President Emmerson Mnangagwa and MDC leader, Nelson Chamisa to draw lessons from 1987 Unity Accord talks as well as the 2009 Government of National Unity (GNU) which brought stability after the country had sunk into the murky waters of economic turmoil.
Mzembi said it was disheartening to see how the country continues to go down as leader remain silence and called on the nation to be on the lookout for those who do not want to pull in one direction.
He also talked about how united the Mugabe government was despite facing a hostile reception from America and other western countries.
Below we reproduce Mzembi’s statement.
Former Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi has broken his silence
Funerals in our culture are an opportunity to vent one’s deep-seated opinions and emotions on topical issues, be they personal, family or national, whilst enjoying the same privileges and protection akin to academic freedom. I seek to do exactly that, “kurova bembera” in chishona before this special window closes following the sad but anticipated departure of Zimbabwe’s founding father, President Robert Gabriel Mugabe.
“Rome can’t continue to burn while we watch”, something is evidently going very wrong in our country and I apologize for upfront if I offend as I attempt to share national experiences that helped similar challenges in the recent past.
Proverbs 1:9 will acquit me: “What has been done will be done again, there is nothing new under the sun.” The 15th-century great historian, Thucydides, rhymes the same: “It is the very nature of humans to act in the future as they did in the past.” History repeats itself, and humanity learns from past mistakes and recalibrates its decisions and actions based on these past experiences.
What can we, in pursuit of solutions to the current crisis, learn from the Zanu PF-Zapu Talks of 1987 which resulted in a broad-based unity government; or distil from the Zanu PF-MDC talks that resulted in the Government of National Unity of 2009 and how both talks were triggered?
The invaluable role of public opinion – for instance, civil society, the church, cross-party agents, lobbyists, etc – and the building of national consensus on the need to talk or talk about talks, and ultimately the escalation of it all to party agendas, the government, and right up to the main protagonists, is very much needed.
I appeal to the public to be on the lookout for selfish people seeking to outlaw and spike comradely conversation or opinion by these change agents seeking national convergence. They need your protection and encouragement in their apostolic burden to unite the country.
In my public service career, I have been hosted by families in the United States, United Kingdom and even nearer home, South Africa, and observed family members who belong to different political parties dine and debate hours on end over their political beliefs without exchanging blows or spilling blood. This is political maturity.
Setting the stage as one Member of Parliament from my home province of Masvingo has done by using metaphorical language and anecdotes to encourage dialogue, should not be punishable by excommunication, otherwise, it will amount to clearly intolerant and bigoted politics in this 21st century. It’s time to soften positions and here I appeal to Speaker of Parliament to continue on the constructive rapprochement path he had chosen, and not lose focus miffed by parliamentary boycotts, keep your eye on the ball, and move away from unnecessary and draconian censure.
A typical American family has both Democrats and Republicans but they do not wish each other ill or death, nor do they express their differences in ideology and beliefs in medieval political sloganeering reminiscent of the Byzantine or Crusaders era! They debate.
I, more than anyone else from the late Robert Mugabe-led Zanu PF, fraternized with Morgan Tsvangirai across party and ideological divide and we were close at the personal and governmental level where he led us as Prime Minister.
We knew each other before, from our stints in industry, so at a time when it was a taboo to submit to his authority as PM or salute him which many of our decorated military men refused to do at many public events in very embarrassing stunts, I defied the Zanu PF caucus directives and accorded him my respect within the precincts and boundaries of officialdom and protocol, earning some in despicable labels in the process.
However, Prime Minister Tsvangirai instead discerned a patriotic sense of duty and selflessness, a genuine manifestation of the inclusive spirit required at the time to make the inclusive government work.
No wonder he saw it fit to conscript me, albeit with protestations from Zanu PF into his delegation for the famous June 2009, 21-day, 14-country re-engagement trip. President Mugabe, ever the statesman, consented to my inclusion notwithstanding protestations from our party.
The delegation included notable opposition figures like Hon Tendai Biti, Elton Mangoma, Priscilla Misihairabwi Mushonga, and in London, we were joined by Simbarashe Mumbengegwi.
Amid protestations from my party, Robert Mugabe wondered what more harm I could bring to ZanuPF than the “Bhora musango” which had just delivered the electoral stalemate of 2008, resulting in power-sharing. With Mugabe’s authority, I left with very clear instructions to understudy the MDC global network and report back. We needed to reopen our own lines of communication with the West, he implored.
I never witnessed again in my tenure in government such a united team in defense of our motherland like this largely opposition outfit! They were out to prove something, the latent energy, and skills that can be brought to the fore and at the disposal of the State if there is unity of purpose.
I witnessed it at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when we met Senators John Kerry and McCain and argued before a full house for the repeal of Zidera sanctions, and later a similarly spirited effort in Brussels for the revocation of Article 96 later to happen on November 2014 after the planting of these arguments against sanctions.
We left the entire Washington power matrix and Western Europe in a state of amazement on what new spirit had seized Zimbabwe that made us speak with one voice on challenges besetting it, a very rare feat to this very day and hour!
This international whirlwind diplomatic tour initiated the rebranding and stabilization of Zimbabwe at the time, including a commencement to mending our then and even now more acerbic relations with parts of the globe.
Notwithstanding we returned with less than the expected monetary and financial booty against the much-hyped $800m target, but what Zanu PF and many people did not realize and count then were the intangible benefits of the trip. Morgan Tsvangirai who carried the cross of the inclusive government, canvassed, marketed and endorsed its legitimacy, but most specifically the legitimacy of the then Robert Gabriel Mugabe during this controversial trip.
I recall many Heads of State, Prime Ministers and other global VVIPs, including Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, Gordon Brown, Angela Merkel, John McCain, John Kerry, Barosso, etc, questioning Tsvangirai’s wisdom of “going to bed with Robert Mugabe”, to which he would coarsely and impatiently retort that he was doing it in the national interest .
“Our people are suffering and this is a painkiller prescription,” he would add, reminding several audiences that he was in it, regardless of his electoral disputes with Robert Mugabe, but Zimbabwe came first! He would then tactfully draft me, as the Zanu PF component of the delegation, into the conversations to confirm to each of them that we were in fact from the same Government and all was well.
I was part of all these engagements except a courtesy call on President Obama who reportedly would not see me because I was from a “terrorist organization”, Zanu PF! This later turned out to be false as I was outmanoeuvred by the delegation when Hilary Clinton asked me to stay behind after an earlier meeting as she had a special message for Robert Mugabe which she wanted me to convey.
This created some uneasiness that saw me being snooked out of the Whitehouse meeting. This was political manoeuvring within us but it did not take us off track!
It is important to note, however, that these engagements happened in the context of a national unity government, inclusive government as some preferred to call it, a lesson for today as history so quickly repeats itself. We have a political stalemate similar to that of 2008. Our embarrassing counter-arguments and ambushing of each other at world fora, SADC, WEF, UNGA, etc, speaks to a nation in conflict.
Backroom diplomatic backbiting is at its peak. I am reminded of the recission of the decision to recognise former President Robert Mugabe as WHO Ambassador in 2017, a few weeks before the coup, like the current Havard University saga around our First Lady, where she is destined to meet a similar fate, not because she is not a meritorious candidate just like Mugabe was, but because she comes from Zimbabwe – that is how much we have damaged our brand through internal conflict.
She should not look too far, it is within the family; not just the opposition but within Zanu PF, that is where the instigation starts. I have very painful personal experiences of this treachery and that is how I also “lost” the Secretary-General race for the UNWTO and told plainly that notwithstanding that I was the best candidate and the most qualified for the job, “the world was not ready for a Mugabe protege to preside over a UN Agency”.
The attendant celebration from my own Party when I lost this race, is legendary. This is the same UN today where the optics are certainly not encouraging as our President delivered his address.
Back to the 2009 trip, contrary to what is happening now, we soon learned, and this is absolute reality and advice to the Harare administration, that legitimacy is conferred by your political opponents, not by self, your choir, or opportunity and job hunters. It was Tsvangirai’s legitimacy lobby and endorsement that became the lifeblood of the inclusive government as Chamisa can do for President Mnangagwa and his government, God willing and commonsense prevailing.
We were soon after able to enjoy the goodwill of other nations, including reluctantly by our own people, many of whom did not like Zanu PF nor had voted for it. The first-round voting in 2008 had just confirmed Morgan’s popularity at 47%, with Mugabe trailing at 43%; so no matter how sound economic policymaking is, (dear Prof Mthuli) if it does not enjoy public confidence it will fail as is evident today. It’s the politics stupid.
Playing cat-and-mouse policy games with a politically reluctant and indifferent public will not work. We have been on this road before and Zimbabweans know what works for them, recalling the respite from economic hardship they enjoyed during the GNU era.
Zimbabweans also remember the lessons of Zimbabwe Rhodesia, when armed struggle escalated and economic conditions worsened when Ian Smith engaged in dialogue with the wrong team led by Bishop Abel Muzorewa, ignoring the popular and legitimate Patriotic Front. Zimbabweans are looking and waiting for practical solutions, the only and first signal being the ability of protagonists to work together. It’s a confidence issue. They can bear the pain if it is shared, not selective austerity.
Similarly, the busting of international sanctions – a strategy largely eluding even this current government – was conceived successfully by Rhodesia and repeated by the inclusive branding and seeming unity of purpose of the GNU and Morgan Tsvangirai’s apostolic mission on its behalf. He would advise us repeatedly not to mourn or bleat over sanctions, but learn from Ian Smith’s template – bust them, work around them, and deliver notwithstanding.
During this period, we got official and unofficial assistance on how and what to bust of these sanctions from their authors and implementers. A megaphone anti- lobby, such as the one currently at play, we soon learnt would not help much for many who supported us in broad daylight for solidarity optics, Nicodemus agreed with Europe and USA when approached individually.
We also learned that anti-sanctions demos both at home and abroad benefitted bureaucratic organizers who pocketed a lot of unexplained money in the name of mobilization and hiring of lobbyists. It is no different now a few years down the line.
DEMAF – a non-governmental option of direct assistance to beneficiaries that brought immense relief to our people, and was creative budgetary support and sanctions-busting solution with two or three cluster ministries administering it but one that avoided disbursement through Central Government – was born out of this trip.
My own much-applauded sectoral achievements as Tourism Minister, these too were sanctions-busting steps and rebranding processes, and followed this philosophy including the successful hosting of the 20th session of the UNWTO General Assembly, held a few days after our general elections, becoming the highest global endorsement of Brand Zimbabwe since independence. My own elective goes at the office of Secretary-General of the UNWTO was within this context as well.
The tragedy of the current meltdown in Zimbabwe and its current actors from both Zanu PF and MDC, is that unlike our 2009 scenario led by Robert Gabriel Mugabe and Morgan Richard Tsvangirai, it is difficult to sense the humility and empathy for the immense suffering of our people that is required to nudge the gladiators to negotiations.