Republic of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe with Deputy Editor of the Sunday Mail Nomsa Nkala on the eve of his 88th birthday. Zimbabwe has fought western sanctions for over two decades., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
‘Maybe more aggressive, militant leaders will come’
Sunday, 19 February 2012 00:00
President Mugabe chats with The Sunday Mail Deputy Editor Nomsa Nkala at State House last Friday
On Tuesday this week, President Mugabe turns 88 years old. To mark this momentous occasion, Deputy Editor NOMSA NKALA spoke to the President about his social life and his views on politics and the economy.
Below are the excerpts.
NN: Starting with the insightful letter from King Leopold II (to Belgian missionaries in the Congo), when you take his words into account and judging by the fact that the West seems to be making serious inroads into Africa, what hope is there for Africa; what does it mean for the continent, will it ever be free?
President Mugabe: Well, this is the issue. Perhaps Africa will have to wage another liberation struggle. But, of course, it won't be as bloody and rigorous as the struggles we fought. It is a question of the governments of countries being strong and being able to stop interference in the domestic affairs of their countries. They have the international law on their side; the Charter of the United Nations; let alone the Charter of the African Union on our side. The charter prevents our own countries from interfering in the domestic affairs of others.
NN: Are African governments that strong to ward off such interference?
President Mugabe: Their strength, I suppose, will derive from economic strength. If their economies develop and they are strong enough, which will take time, then that will be the basis of their political strength. I don't see many of them, really, managing to fight this onslaught on us. The West is getting poorer and poorer and not richer. They reached their optimum and each one having reached their optimum will naturally decline. The economic crisis is part of that decline of the economies of the West. As the downward trend continues, they become more and more aggressive because they want more resources. They want more oil; more raw materials from us. If they can't get them, they will get them unfairly.
NN: You spoke earlier of your displeasure with the way the AU dealt with the conflicts in Libya and the Ivory Coast. On many occasions, you have called for pan-Africanism. Are there many African leaders who share the same views as you or are you just a lone voice?
President Mugabe: I think the views, they share. It is a question of expressing those views and standing by those views. It is not just a question of having the views in you, but acting. Perhaps you might have listened to what happened after my speech (at the African Union summit last month) it was applause for a long period. But they wouldn't say. They are afraid.
NN: Does the AU have real powers to deal with African problems? Some have said the body is powerless and open to manipulation.
President Mugabe: They have intervened through committees to get disturbed situations back to normalcy. Here and there, they send peacekeeping forces. You saw what happened in the Ivory Coast. They invited United Nations peacekeepers who went beyond peacekeeping to fighting.
NN: What are your hopes for Africa? Where do you see the continent going?
President Mugabe: I am not deprived of hope.
I am quite hopeful. I believe there will always be forces of progress. Along the way, there will be youngsters, more aggressive, maybe militant; prepared to fight.
NN: Back home, what have been your experiences in the inclusive Government?
What major challenges have you faced and how have you addressed them?
President Mugabe: It has been an issue of honesty versus dishonesty. What we are fighting in the country - that is from the point of view of Zanu-PF - is a force that is dishonest in itself: the MDC politics; the MDC beliefs.
They are not honest; they talk of wanting political change in the country.
One might think they want systems far much better than our own, more aggressive, more resolute, more revolutionary. But no, it's more negative. They want us to go back to a system where there is great reliance on foreign investment, foreign support and on foreign advisors.
Really, they are for whites being the main players of our political system. (Prime Minister Morgan) Tsvangirai has the likes of Eddie Cross in the office. That's what they are. They will not go against the West. They know the sanctions are hurting us, but they will say there are no sanctions, there are restrictive measures and when they go outside they tell them don't remove the sanctions, keep them on.
At the same time, they tell the people that only the MDC-T can put things right or the MDC-T can cause greater development. How can you cause greater development by wanting neo-colonialism? Anyway, that's the main difference.
They rely more on the views of the West. We rely on our views. Sure, the good views we have adopted from socialists in the past. We have since related them to our situation and adapted them to the realities of our own country. We have not allowed them to dominate our thinking.
NN: On elections, there have been different statements from political leaders. Some say the political landscape is not yet ripe for an election. What is your position regarding this issue?
President Mugabe: That is what the cowards say. You never get a time for elections.
Elections can happen at any time. Anytime can be election time in any country.
So, whether it is winter, spring or summer; whether the going is good or not good, in fact, where you have democratic order and you have opposition parties, the opposition parties will always say you have run down the economy.
They don't say we will wait for you to improve the economy for us to go to elections because it is a poor economy as it is. If the party in power gives you conditions, no matter the conditions, you read these to provide grounds to overthrow the other party. You don't wait for spring; you go for elections.
NN: So there will be an election this year?
President Mugabe: Definitely, yes.
NN: Are the resources available?
President Mugabe: You must find resources for elections. You just must.
NN: You lost a good number of parliamentary seats in 2008. Is your party strong enough to face an election this year?
President Mugabe: We are strong. We have never feared, even yesterday in 2008. We had a rerun.
NN: In 2008, the odds seemed against you and Zanu-PF.
President Mugabe: We had a rerun.
NN: What was your reaction when the results of the first round of elections came through?
President Mugabe: We knew we had spoilt things for ourselves within the party. There were negative forces within the party.
NN: Do these negative forces still exist and how have they been addressed?
President Mugabe: Well, those who pulled out of the party like Simba Makoni and Dumiso Dabengwa and, of course, you also had the factions. Some people thought that if the President was defeated, as long as the parliamentary election went well and we had the majority, we would still rule the country. There are those who wanted the President to go.
That was foolish thinking. They didn't know that this was a David and Goliath thing. If your man is defeated that's it. It doesn't matter how many seats you get.
NN: We are told there are groups in Zanu-PF positioning themselves to succeed you. Are you aware of such groups?
President Mugabe: Those you cannot avoid. But, they are not as serious. All the people (to say all is to be too absolute) support that I stand. There is no one who can stand and win at the moment. You have got to groom a candidate. You can't just get someone and put them in the forefront. You must groom a successor.
NN: Are you looking into that, grooming a successor?
President Mugabe: Not yet. That will cause much more divisions within the party.
NN: Turning to the economy, for several years now, Zimbabwe's economy has been in the doldrums. Industrial production remains low and thousands of graduates are failing to secure jobs. The introduction of the multi-currency system, undoubtedly, ushered in economic stability, yet real growth is yet to be registered. What is the solution to
Zimbabwe's economic problems?
President Mugabe: We have sanctions, as you know, and we are also affected by what has happened in the international arena. It is mainly the sanctions that have affected us.
But with the discovery of diamonds and platinum and a gradual improvement in investment, we are optimistic that given one year or two, an improvement would have taken place.
Of course, this Global Political Agreement, this Government has also been obstructive.
You have the Minister of Finance and you give the Minister of Finance some autonomy. He makes some decisions and those decisions are not always of a nature that is promotive, economically.
You take the fact that, for example, we had over US$500 million in SDRs (Special Drawing Rights). He just sat on them. Instead of using that money to bolster up the economy, inject it into companies that needed finance for raw materials or spare parts so that they could be more productive, he just sat on them.
He said they are for balance of payments, but balance of payments is a battle between export and imports. If imports dominate exports, then you are in trouble and you don't hope that by using SDRs you are curing the problem; the deficit in an effective way, no.
Inject what money you have into production.
Boost your exports and then you are taking care of your imports. You can do both, of course, if you are able to. This is just one example. And then there is the neglect of agriculture.
Farmers are always ready, raring to go. But we fail them. They don't have inputs even where they have the money. Just imagine: they could not get fertiliser for two reasons: fertiliser was scarce and where it was available they didn't have money to purchase it. Why? Because their money was locked up in deliveries of maize and wheat that have not been paid for by the Minister of Finance.
You have maize that was grown last year that was only paid for partially. All the wheat of last year has not been paid for. We don't proceed like that in Zanu-PF, no.
NN: I suppose this is why you want elections?
President Mugabe: Of course, we want to get rid of this nonsense.
NN: Do you think diamonds will turn around the economy?
President Mugabe: They are a great help.
NN: Such sectors are often said to be open to corruption and other underhand dealings by senior Government officials. What is your comment on this?
President Mugabe: Well, those are accusations. Accusations will always continue. But we have our eyes quite open. It is a very strict area; stricter than the area of gold. Look at what has happened, perhaps, deliberately, to destroy the economy. The Minister of Finance says to all mining companies you can externalise your earnings. And they will be happy and jump with joy.
NN: What guarantees are there that Zimbabwe will benefit from such resources as diamonds?
President Mugabe: Sure, we are already benefiting. Quite some amounts are coming.
NN: Recently, civil servants went on a go-slow to press for a salary hike. Mr Biti was accused of failing to communicate the correct Government position on public service salaries. How best should the remuneration of civil servants have been tackled?
President Mugabe: Well, sure, we don't have adequate resources to meet the demands of civil servants in full. But we have resources to meet, materially, and this is what he should have said. Just to say no, would be too negative. You can't say no when these people are working, the input that they make; that is what builds up Government performance.
The teachers, for example, teach and so on.
(They produce) very good results, very good products. They are productive in that way. We should look into that. They have a really good case and Government, a bad case.
We can plead weakness on our part and say we don't have resources. You cannot be negative; don't be negative. Tell them the truth, but do your best. We had to force him, even, to pay the level of bonuses (awarded to civil servants). It is always negative: ‘No I can't do this; no I can't do this.' But have you tried?
NN: What are your fondest memories? What do you treasure most?
President Mugabe: I treasure most my participation in the struggle and, indeed, also my teaching career; the years I spent teaching. I had a very enjoyable life as a child. I was looked after by my grandparents, not by my parents.
I looked after my grandfather's cattle and played games with the other children. But I don't know how I differed. When I look back and see so and so dropped, I then wonder at the fortune I had to continue studying.
Of course, the struggle was more dramatic.
You didn't see your way. In fact, there was no light. I believed, whatever happened, if I died, I died for a noble principle.
NN: What kept you going? Did you ever think of giving up?
President Mugabe: No, no. I am not made of that cowardly stuff. In prison, every six months, there was a committee, which came to review our cases and people were not forced to appear before it, but they went to plead their cases. I did not do that.
It was an illegal government and I had not been arrested for any misdemeanour.
NN: What principles would you say define Robert Mugabe? How would you describe the person?
President Mugabe: If I believe in something and I am determined, I don't go back.
NN: Do any of your children take after you?
President Mugabe: They are still young. The girl, perhaps, yes.
NN: Are you close to them, what do you talk about with them?
President Mugabe: About their classes; school work; their likes and dislikes.
NN: Robert Junior is a keen sportsman. Do you support him?
President Mugabe: He is in the national (basketball) team. He did not do well in his A-Level exams. We have now had to get him private teachers. He enjoys this basketball thing. He likes it, he goes to the gym after that, but aahh . . . we were given the impression he was working hard. How are you doing?, we would ask him and yes, the papers were not hard, he would say. We expected he would get through, but no, he became an undertaker!
‘U's! That is why they call them undertakers!
The whole group were all undertakers; about six of them . . . The girl was not like that. We are with her for now. She wants to be a chartered accountant. We are very happy for her . . . She is now 23. She will be wanting to get married in a year or two, perhaps. They don't wait. They want to get married soon. She is a home girl though, not as outgoing as her brother.
NN: What would you want to be remembered for?
President Mugabe: Just for what I am. A man; lover of my people and a fighter of the oppressors of my people.
NN: Thank you for your time, Your Excellency.
President Mugabe: You are welcome.