Chapter Thirteen – Getting inside the head of Mugabe
Pearce Ellison had a plan and a good one! Since he could not get to Nelson Mandela, he went for Plan B – a trip to visit Zimbabwean Prime Minster, Robert Mugabe. Back on Cape Town mainland, he made a call to his long-time contact, Bishop Reginald Banda, who himself was trying to bring about peace in the hostile country called Zimbabwe.
Pearce had met the Bishop at an International Human Rights Congress in Miami, and something told him that this Man of God would one day be of great help to him. Pearce was a part-time Pastor at his home church, so there was always a common thread between the two men.
Next, Pearce booked an air ticket to fly to Johannesburg and from there to the Zimbabwean capital city, Harare.
“So you honestly believe that you can do it?” said Bishop Reginald Banda, seated across the dining room table from Pearce Ellison at the Bronte Hotel, in Baines Avenue, Harare, Zimbabwe.
“Yeah, God has sent me on this mission,” said Pearce.
“You know that I am from Zambia and I would have thought that the Prime Minister would have been open to listening to an African brother, but he is just so stubborn,” said Bishop Reginald, as he fidgeted with his gold Bishop’s ring on the index finger of his left hand.
Now in his fifties, the Bishop’s fully shaven head had sweat on it.
Pearce knew where the clergyman was coming from. If Mugabe refused to listen to a black Zambian man of the cloth, what chance did an American have of convincing the Zimbabwean No 1, that the beautiful Southern African country could be the success story on the continent?
Zimbabwe had been an independent country for seven years now, but the honeymoon period had ended a while ago. The challenges facing the Mugabe regime were increasing by the day. Job shortages and foreign market issues were just the tip of the iceberg.
Mugabe a veteran military man from the Bush War days, was a firm believer that the Zimbabwean land needed to be returned to the rightful owners in order for true black economic empowerment to take place.
The fear that whites could be pushed off of their farmlands was very real. Ironically, it was the white farmers who had played a major role in building the Rhodesian (now Zimbabwean) economy through the tobacco and maize exporting sectors.
Like South Africa, it was inevitable that white minority rule would not be able to sustain itself forever, and the challenge of the liberation struggle plus the world outcry against Rhodesia’s poor human rights record, forced Ian Smith’s white government to keep looking over their shoulders.
With the Bush War gaining momentum, Smith needed a plan. In March 1978, an accord was reached involving Smith, Bishop Abel Muzorewa and two other African leaders. This agreement ensured that the whites in the country would not be harmed in exchange for a biracial democracy.
Following elections, Muzorewa, the head of the United African National Council, became Prime Minister at the start of June 1979 and the country’s name was changed to Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. Smith’s masterpiece saw his white party still in control of the Rhodesian security forces, civil services, judiciary and having a third of the seats in Parliament.
However, this did not solve all of the political problems. In August 1979, the British government invited Muzorewa, Mugabe and Zimbabwean African People’s Union leader, Joshua Nkomo to a meeting in London. The agenda was to structure an independent constitution for the country and allow it to reach its independence via a firm legal route.
Smith saw the writing on the wall as far as the end to white minority rule was concerned, although he would never admit it.
Eleven days into December of 1979, the white minority government voted 90 to nil in favour of returning the country to British colonial status.
It was inevitable that one-man-one-vote elections would eventually take place, and in February 1980, the Zimbabwean African National Union party, led by Mugabe, recorded a landslide win.
Canaan Banana, a Methodist minister, served as the country’s first President, from 1980 to 1987, while Mugabe occupied the office of Prime Minister. Nkomo would serve as the country’s Vice President until 1987, when he wasn’t avoiding attempts on his life, allegedly by Mugabe’s hit squad.
“I need to get Mugabe to understand that he can be portrayed as the saviour of the African continent if he plays his cards right,” muttered Pastor Ellison.
“I know I can do it, Bishop. I can feel it in my spirit. Mugabe needs to realise that if he doesn’t seize the moment, Mandela will when the apartheid regime eventually let him out of prison. Mandela’s release will happen sooner rather than later.”
The Bishop finished off a piece of toast and thought carefully before speaking.
Robert Mugabe was indeed a tough nut to crack. Initially, upon coming to power, the ZANU man had been a seeker of advice and keen to include the Zimbabwean whites in the New Zimbabwe. However, those days were now far gone and he had very little time for any colour skin other than his own.
“Look, Pastor, I can get you a meeting with Mugabe, but I can’t promise how open he will be to hear what you have to say,” said Bishop Reginald.
“Mugabe listens to the first few comments that you make and if he doesn’t like what he is hearing, his mind switches off and the meeting will end rather abruptly.”
Pastor Pearce grinned.
“I will take my chances, I know I will be able to get through to him,” he said.
The Bishop got up from his seat and moved over to a telephone in the corner of the hotel’s dining room.
“Yes, it is Bishop Reginald Banda here,” said the Zambian over the phone after dialling the number to the ZANU head office.
“I would like an hour of Prime Minister Mugabe’s time as soon as possible, he knows me well. I will be bringing a colleague by the name of Pastor Pearce Ellison with me. What’s that…. The Prime Minister has been looking to speak with me? Alright, when can I meet with him? Tomorrow, 11h00? That is fine. I will be there, thank you.”
Bishop Reginald picked up a pencil that lay on top of a notepad next to the phone and jotted down some notes.
ZANU head office, corner Samora Machel Avenue and Rotten Row, Harare. 11h00.
“What does Mugabe want to talk to you about?” asked Pearce.
“The Lord only knows,” responded the Bishop.
“However, it created the perfect platform to get you in to meet the Prime Minister. Just position yourself as a Pastor rather than a Human Rights lawyer, as the No 1 is not a big fan of rights, as you may have read.”
Pearce opened his Bible on Mark 6:13. “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you.”
The part-time Pastor understood that leaders were put in place not by voters, but by God. They needed to be respected.
Almost everyone in Zimbabwe knew how fired up the country’s No 1 could get. He was a ‘my way or no way’ type of guy. A 1980 Toyota Corolla taxi smelling of fuel dropped the two clergymen at the entrance to the ZANU head office. The street outside looked like a war scene with cops on motorbikes parked next to the smart vehicles with tinted windows that transported Mugabe and his top men.
Inside the foyer, VIP protection unit men in suits, with sunglasses positioned on top of their heads checked the two visitors up and down. There is only one element that Mugabe protected more than the ZANU and that was Mugabe himself. The Prime Minister was paranoid that the western world would pay locals to eliminate him.
The white man was the enemy! Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU was another. Mugabe, of the Shona tribe, was being blamed for the killing of thousands of Ndebele people. Who were believed to be linked to ZAPU.
Initially, Mugabe had been keen on ensuring that the white brain drain did not run to the emigration office as he looked at ways to keep the economy and other departments strong. However, he seemed to have adopted a blacks-only approach in recent times.
“Please follow me,” said a pretty woman in her late twenties to the two men, as she led the way to the lift which transported the trio to the 15th floor of the building which was rumoured to have been funded to the tune of US$15 million by the Chinese government.
Pastor Pearce noted the armed security guards on each corner as they made their way to the meeting room. Yes, Mugabe really must be expecting a coup d’état at any given moment. Years later this would prove correct when the military placed him under house arrest on 14 November 2017, before he was forced to resign after losing the support of his ZANU leaders.
The two Men of God were ushered into the meeting room and were offered tea or coffee ahead of their meeting with the country’s No 1.
It wasn’t long before the meeting room door flung open and two armed VIP protection men escorted Robert Gabriel Mugabe, flanked by two senior government officials, to their seats.
The visitors moved across to shake hands with the leader, but the VIP protection men had their hands on their pistol triggers just in case the white visitor tried anything tricky.
Once all were seated, the conversation began.
“Prime Minister, I would like to introduce you to Pastor Pearce Ellison,” began Bishop Reginald.
“Good day, sir,” said Pearce.
“You are an American?” replied Mugabe.
“I have been sent here by the Holy Spirit who has advised me that Zimbabwe has the potential to be the flagship of Africa in terms of peace, economy and transparency,” said Pearce.
“It is only a matter of time before Mr Nelson Mandela is released from prison by the South African government and he is almost sure to institute a climate of peace among all people should he become President there.”
Pearce went on.
“However, time is on your side, and Zimbabwe could jump the gun, so to speak, in being the leader on the continent on all fronts.”
Mugabe took in a deep breath and let loose.
“Let’s get one thing straight, Pastor Pearce, I think you said your name is,” said the 64-year-old leader.
“The reason why both South Africa as well as Zimbabwe and indeed most if not all former colonies on the continent are in the poor state that they are is because of the exploitation and racist policies of the white man.”
Pearce gulped. Here we go, he thought.
“The white man has oppressed our people for so many years,” went on Mugabe.
“In fact, as we sit here now, the whites still own the majority of the land in a country which quite frankly, does not belong to them. They are actually visitors here just like you, but they don’t seem to understand that.”
Mugabe continued to explain.
“Thousands of our black brothers were murdered in the Bush War by Ian Smith’s white minority government and now we are supposed to forget all of that?” he asked in rhetorical fashion.
“With respect, Pastor, I don’t trust the white man and I don’t think you can blame me for that if you look at history,” commented Mugabe.
“As for Mandela, yes, it will be a great day when he is released from prison. I was also locked away because I stood up for the rights of my people so I know how that feels, but it is not that simple to action peace. There are also other parties here in Zimbabwe like ZAPU who want to oust me from power. It is not just the white man that we are cautious of.”
Pearce thought long and hard before responding.
“President, I know that you grew up as a staunch Roman Catholic.”
“I believe in the Word and also believe that I am doing what God wants me to do in the best interest of my people,” said the Prime Minister.
“Let me ask you a question, what would you do if you were in my position?”
Phew, at last there was a question that Pearce could answer with ease but he needed to get his wording just right.
“I would distribute farmland but not by force,” said the Pastor.
Mugabe stared at the clergyman.
“The problem is the only language the whites know is when we use force,” remarked the Prime Minister.
“They don’t understand the sharing part which you just mentioned.”
Pearce went for broke.
“Perhaps the starting point is black reconciliation.
“Meaning what?” asked Mugabe.
“Mr President, as a Man of God, I am prepared to facilitate a meeting between ZANU and ZAPU,” said Pearce.
Mugabe and the man seated to the right of the boss broke out in laughter.
“Pastor, you don’t know what you are dealing with in ZAPU, but I don’t have a problem accepting your offer in terms of a meeting with them,” said Mugabe.
“This country can only move forward through dialogue.”
The last two remarks were music to the ears of Pearce and Bishop Reginald noticed how his colleague’s eyes lit up.
The question now was would Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU be open to a meeting with ZANU? Pearce was quite aware that he would have to do some smooth talking to get both of these factions to the table.
“You do realise that the meeting will need to happen somewhere in Harare,” said Mugabe.
“We understand that ZAPU won’t want to meet at the ZANU offices so we are happy to meet at one of the hotels in the city, but we definitely won’t travel out of the capital to meet.”
Pearce looked at Bishop Reginald who nodded.
Clearly Mugabe and company had no intention of going anywhere near the Ndebele people in the rural areas.
“I understand, sir,” said Pearce.
“I would like to thank you for this fruitful meeting and will revert soon with a potential date, venue and time for the meeting in Harare,” said the Pastor.
Mugabe nodded and rose from his chair. He shook hands with the Pastor and the Bishop and was ushered away by his security team.
As the door closed behind them, Pastor Pearce Ellison was beaming from ear to ear.
“He never mentioned what he wanted to talk to you about,” said Pearce to the Bishop. “I am sure he will in due time but you did really well here today,” quipped Bishop Reginald.
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