Chapter Fourteen – Zimbabwean Transformation
Zimbabwean Vice President Joshua Nkomo, accompanied by five of his ZAPU ‘wise men’ made their way through the door of the Royal Hotel in Harare. Standing next to Bishop Reginald Banda, Pastor Pearce Ellison smiled at the ZAPU leader. There was no return smile from Joshua Nkomo. In fact, the expression on the ZAPU faces were so long it looked like they hadn’t heard a joke in years.
Pearce helped himself to a scone from the buffet table. Covered in strawberry jam and cream, the scones looked delightful to everyone except the ZAPU team. Their leader eyed the scones. Was this another scheme from Robert Mugabe to try and poison them?
Nkomo and Mugabe were no strangers to each other. They were exact opposites.
Both spent time behind bars courtesy of the Ian Smith government. Nkomo had been detained from 1964 to 1974 in the company of none other than Mugabe.
The big difference between ZAPU and ZANU was that Nkomo and company believed in guerrilla and conservative warfare against the state, while Mugabe’s men only believed in the former.
Like most politicians, Nkomo was far from being an angel. Fearing that the west was using civilian airlines to assist the Smith regime, ZAPU operatives shot down two civilian planes.
On 3 September 1978, an Air Rhodesia Vickers Viscount plane was shot down, with 38 of the 56 passengers killed. The weaponry was provided to ZAPU by the Soviet Union. Another ten on board were allegedly killed by on-the-ground soldiers at the crash site, who were sent to inspect the wreckage. The other eight, some with major injuries, walked 20 kilometres to Kariba where the flight had taken off from and were comforted by the Rhodesian army.
On 12 February 1979, ZAPU gunners shot down a second civilian plane, with 59 fatalities. The attack was a strategic one as they looked to eliminate General Peter Walls (Commander of the Combined Operations in the Rhodesian Special Forces) who was believed to be in the flight.
Some Rhodesian militants suspected that Nkomo was more dangerous than Mugabe, and the ZAPU man was lucky to be alive, having survived two assassination attempts by the white minority government.
In the early 1980s, the South African government assisted in creating havoc between ZAPU and ZANU, in planting arms on ZAPU-owned properties and then tipping the Mugabe regime off in this regard.
This led Mugabe to say the following about Nkomo in 1984: “ZAPU and its leader, Dr. Joshua Nkomo, are like cobras in a house. The only way to deal effectively with a snake is to strike and destroy its head.”
While Nkomo ran for his life, and believed to have crossed the Zimbabwe-Botswana border illegally dressed as a woman, Mugabe unleashed the Fifth Brigade military on the Ndebele people, with 20 000 of Nkomo’s followers believed to have perished. This was done by Mugabe in a bid to try and destroy ZAPU and to create a one-party state.
Now the Holy Spirit was at work. Pastor Pearce and Bishop Reginald were actioning the near impossible by getting Mugabe’s men and his most fierce black enemies around one table for the sake of a nation.
Pearce tried again to open dialogue with the ZAPU boss. His timing was off, since as he pushed his hand forward to officially greet the politician, Robert Mugabe and his side-kicks walks into the hotel meeting room.
Typical, western mentality, thought Mugabe. So you want to shake hands with ZAPU? I will teach you a lesson!
Pearce moved over to greet the Zimbabwe Prime Minister, however, he was ignored as Mugabe walked on to take his place at the main table.
It was 10h20 and the meeting was due to start at 10h30, but Mugabe was clearly agitated. He glanced at the time on his wristwatch and then clapped his hands together out of irritation. He wanted the meeting to start.
Nkomo sat on the opposite side of the table but furthest from Mugabe. If the ZAPU boss sat any further away he would have been in the hotel kitchen.
The tension in the room was like a knife cutting through butter. Nkomo gave Mugabe a stare of death but the Prime Minister refused to look at the ZAPU man.
“Gentlemen, thanks for making the time to be present at this important meeting, let’s open with a prayer,” said Bishop Reginald.
“Amen,” muttered Joshua Nkomo, who had been ordained as a Methodist preacher before later converting to Catholicism. Mugabe remained silent, as he stared at a pile of notes in a file in front of him. The battle lines were already drawn and Pastor Pearce would need some Divine Intervention from above to get a favourable outcome here.
Robert Mugabe adjusted his tie and for the first time in the day, looked at Pastor Pearce Ellison. He had his own plan. Yes, he was keen on having a one-party state, and if he could not exterminate the Ndebele tribe, then he had to go to Plan B.
He would need to keep his friends close and his enemies even closer. So, the plan was to give Nkomo a powerless seat in Parliament, and offer a few seats to the other ZAPU men in the room, in areas where they could contribute little in terms of influencing decisions.
“Honourable leaders, we are here today to put a constructive plan in place that will take Zimbabwe forward, but this can only happen if we work together in a peaceful and positive atmosphere,” said Pearce.
Nkomo nodded and Mugabe stared at the speaker.
“The Zimbabwean economy has the potential to be the leading financial muscle in Africa, if all forms of mining and agriculture are actioned to their full potential,” went on Pearce.
“A greater demand for Zimbabwean products will lead to job creation. The big question is how Zimbabwe can transform to a peaceful land and be able to convince the world that it is worthy of being the platform for foreign investment?”
One of Nkomo’s sidekicks raised his hand to speak but Pearce went on.
“Mr Nelson Mandela of the ANC is likely to be released from prison by the South African National Party government. Exactly when, we do not know, but it is imminent as the political climate keeps changing.”
“Zimbabwe is left with a choice to make,” continued Pearce.
“Our country can be seen as followers in being a few steps behind Mandela, who is certain to action a climate of peace for all in his country, or Zimbabwe can take the lead role before Mandela is released and be the flagship success story on the continent.”
If there was one thing that Mugabe liked about Pearce’s speech, it was about getting one up on Mandela. What had Mandela ever done for his people, thought Mugabe. All the ANC man did was sitting on his backside in a prison cell on Robben Island!
“Prime Minister Mugabe, as leader of this wonderful country, I would like to ask you for your thoughts on a way forward,” said Pearce.
Mugabe adjusted his spectacles and shuffled some papers in front of him. Nkomo poured himself a glass of water as it was the only refreshment that he trusted that would not carry potential poison.
“I thank you, Pastor Pearce, for this opportunity,” began the Prime Minister.
“I think anyone who has lived in the Republic of Zimbabwe will be fully aware of the lengths that ZANU has gone to bring about peace for all in our wonderful nation.”
Nkomo nearly choked on a mouthful of water and the ZAPU man on his right had to pat him on the back so as to clear his windpipe for the boss to breathe.
Did Mugabe just say that ZANU had done so much to bring about peace in Zimbabwe, thought Nkomo. What type of drugs was the President on or was he losing what was left of his mind?
Mugabe noticed the reaction of Nkomo and did not take such things lightly.
“It is this type of attitude among our own African brothers that makes the whites believe that we are a divided nation,” remarked the Prime Minister.
“We need to find a common element of trust or else meetings such as this one is simply a waste of time.”
Trust! Did Mugabe just say ‘trust’, thought Nkomo. Does Mugabe know how to spell ‘trust’? Just like the previous white minority, the President’s men had tried their best to take out Nkomo and his top brass on several occasions but had failed.
Now the Prime Minister wanted the Ndebeles to trust the Shona? To Nkomo this was like a lion asking a lamb to trust once in the lion’s den.
“I can see that we are going to struggle to make headway here today so rather than to waste any time, I would like to call for a ten minute recess,” said Mugabe.
“Bishop Reginald, may I please have a word with you.”
Muttering broke out around the table but Mugabe’s wish was granted. It was interesting that Mugabe wanted to speak to the Zambian Man of God and not the American clergyman who had been driving the meeting.
“Look, Bishop, Joshua Nkomo and his ZAPU colleagues don’t know the first thing about running a country,” said Mugabe.
“However, in the interest of peace, I am happy to sit down and work out a new constitution. I am quite prepared to offer Nkomo the President’s chair and I will continue to operate as the Prime Minister.”
The Bishop smiled thinking that Mugabe was making a great act of peace, but the Prime Minister knew all too well that his post held all the decision-making power while the duties of President were nothing more than ceremonial. He also knew that in most nations, the President usually controlled the Prime Minister, but that was definitely not going to happen here.
The question now was would Joshua Nkomo accept the role of President?
Meanwhile, Nkomo and his team stood at the opposite side of the room in deep conversation. They suspected that Mugabe would co-opt them into positions of little power.
With the ten minute recess completed, all members returned to their seats and Pastor Pearce gave Robert Mugabe the floor.
“Honourable gentlemen, in the interest of peace in our country, I propose that the ZAPU members here today are given parliamentary seats, with Honourable Joshua Nkomo installed in the position of the country’s President while I will continue in the role of Prime Minister,” said Mugabe.
Gasps went around the room. Mugabe was not a man who gave his opponent a helping hand. What was the catch? There had to be one. Of course there was.
“The above concession is based on ZAPU dissolving and coming aboard as a part of ZANU, with our new party to be called the ZANU – PF (People’s Front),” went on Mugabe.
Bishop Reginald grinned. Mugabe was using the backdoor to get his wish in the form of a one party state. If this was approved, ZANU would never be voted out of power as the tiny parties had no chance and there was no official opposition party.
Confused looks and whispers were being exchanged among the ZAPU delegation.
“Prime Minster, your offer is a noble one and I am prepared to accept it on condition that I will not be installed as President, but as Minister of Home Affairs, with my colleagues here today, also placed in the Ministerial posts that I will provide to you in writing,” replied Nkomo.
Mugabe cleared his throat.
“I understand, Comrade Nkomo, but please be aware that I cannot place any of your team in the posts of Intelligence, Defence or Police, which I believe you will understand?”
“Noted, Prime Minister,” said Nkomo.
Why was Nkomo so keen to concede in negotiations? The answer was a simple one. By being a part of the new ZANU-PF, Nkomo hoped that this would stop the slaughtering of the Ndebele people by the state, which was after all Mugabe’s party.
Many Ndebeles would later accuse Nkomo of selling them out, but the ZAPU boss was looking at the bigger picture.
With Nkomo having rejected the seat of President, it opened the door for Mugabe to play his next stroke of genius.
“Based on today’s discussions, I hereby propose for the dissolving of the office of the Prime Minister and I will occupy the position of Executive President,” said the No 1.
“Are there any objections to that?”
“Fine, with no objections, let us please move on.”
Nkomo had basically lost the plot and on 30 December 1987, Mugabe would become Executive President, in being a position that combined the roles of Prime Minister, President and commander of the armed forces.
Would Mugabe operate in a peaceful manner going forward? Time would tell but right now he was well position to tell to request the world to lift all sanctions against the country as he had found peace with his arch-rival, Nkomo.
“This is fantastic, gentlemen. May God bless Zimbabwe,” said Pearce Ellison.
“Now we can move on to the element of whether any changes to the constitution need to be made so that they can be tabled in Parliament, for debate and voting.”
Mugabe gritted his teeth. He still didn’t trust the American. The country’s No 1 had ZAPU playing his way, and he had no plans of making any changes to the constitution.
However, with an ounce of diplomacy, he could be the hero of the continent and not the soon-to-be-freed Nelson Mandela. Robert Gabriel Mugabe was all about his party and personal status while Nkomo cared more for his people.
Mugabe told the world what they wanted to hear. He didn’t suffer fools easily, but that is what he thought of the opponents seated opposite him. ZAPU were a bunch of fools in the eyes of the Prime Minister, but he had every intention to use these fools to his advantage so that he would go down in history as the ‘King of Africa’. Long live, Mugabe, he thought.
“Bullshit baffles brains,” he muttered to himself. Ironically, Mugabe never realised just how much he and Nkomo would end up having in common. Nkomo passed away after a battle against prostate cancer on 1 July 1999. Although Mugabe’s reason for death on 6 September 2019 was never officially made public by the family, his successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, said that the former President died of cancer in a hospital in Singapore.
Discuss This Chapter on Twitter
Download Black and White, edition-1, published at 20 May 2020. Download Other Editions