HARARE - President Robert Mugabe recently described former Zanu-PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo (RG) as a traitor.
The Daily News caught up with the former Dare Rechimurenga supremo to discuss this and recent developments in the country.
Below are excerpts of an interview with our Chief Writer, Fungi Kwaramba (FK).
FK: I understand President Mugabe and his wife Grace, have called you a traitor who wanted to remove him from power and who undermined the liberation struggle. What is your take on these allegations?
RG: Normally these should be allegations that would make someone like me, who sacrificed a lot to liberate this country, very angry but because I know President (Robert) Mugabe very well, having been among the few who had to work hard to convince freedom fighters to accept him in Mozambique. I am bound to feel very sorry for him because he has not grown into the leader that we thought and fought to try and mould him into.
His major problem is that he cannot distinguish between criticism and betrayal and this has been his biggest undoing.
This has led him into making very serious errors of judgment, first in 1977/78 during the liberation struggle when he presided over the arbitrary arrests of nearly all Zipa commanders on trumped up charges of planning a coup d’état and these errors of judgment have continued way into his reign with devastating effects on his standing as a leader and dire economic consequences on the country he is leading.
What I have done in the past, during the war in 1977/78 and what I did in the last politburo meeting that I attended before being summarily expelled by Mugabe, was not betrayal but honest criticism borne out of the need, first to tell the truth, and second, to try and make him see that he, like any individual, makes mistakes and should therefore listen to those around him.
I am proud today and stand vindicated that the interview I gave to the Herald in 1980 clearly shows that I understood Mugabe had shortcomings, was an autocrat and that this country was going to suffer under his leadership.
It is unfortunate that the independence euphoria that engulfed the country then provided a smokescreen that blinded people from seeing the evil in him that they needed to deal with to make him, not only a better leader, but also a better person to live with in a democratic society.
It is true that during the war of liberation, in particular 1977 to 1978, some of us lost confidence in his leadership style which was a departure from the liberation values, which considered leadership as just division of labour not individual status of superiority over the people.
He also exhibited authoritarian and totalitarian tendencies. So as former members of the Dare Rechimurenga, we challenged those tendencies which were clearly a departure from the norms and values of the national liberation struggle, whose objective was one man one vote, true freedom and democracy for the people of Zimbabwe.
In 1980, the experience of 1977/78 which was his authoritarian and repressive response to the genuine and constructive criticism of the “leadership” which resulted in the detention of nearly all the commanders of Zipa and former members of Dare for the remaining 18 or so months before the Lancaster House Conference and the ceasefire was still fresh in my mind hence the emotion with which I described him and anticipated the type of leadership he was going to avail.
It was during this time in 1980 that I warned the people of Zimbabwe about the manipulative tactics that characterise his leadership and I feel vindicated by the history of Zimbabwe from 1980 to now, the events that took place between 1980 and now clearly indicate I was spot on in my description of a Zimbabwe under Mugabe.
FK: So are you insisting you are not a traitor? Why is it then that some of your comrades view you as such?
RG: A lot of my comrades, the genuine war veterans including some who are serving in the security sector today know and understand that I am not a traitor.
It is only Mugabe and his wife who was a toddler during the liberation struggle who make such reckless accusations.
Isn’t it ironic that Mugabe who joined us in 1976 in September, just over three years before ceasefire and independence would want to tell the country that he was more patriotic than most of us who were in the trenches since 1973?
I thought traitors are those that betray the struggle, the people’s struggle, not those comrades who questioned untoward behaviour by errant leaders who would have betrayed the cause of the struggle.
I was one of the people who helped to convince most of our cadres to accept Mugabe in September 1976 but after just three months with him at the helm, I realised we had made a mistake for the man turned out to be a dyed-in-the-wool autocrat and for voicing against his dictatorial disposition, I, together with a host of Zipa commanders, were incarcerated.
I would have thought that those who stood for the cause of liberating this country are patriots not traitors but if you insist that realising that Mugabe is an autocrat, equals betrayal then I am guilty as charged.
You see, it is ridiculous that people are being labelled traitors simply because they disagree with Mugabe.
It is a primitive feudalistic practice that doesn’t have a place in a democratic society that we fought for.
Do you really take Mugabe seriously when he calls me a traitor when he arrests people for making genuine observations that he is old and obviously unfit to be president of this country?
Those that have expressed their intentions to contest him for the presidency have been labelled traitors, from Sithole (Ndabaningi), Tekere (Edgar) to Tsvangirai (Morgan). Do you think all these people didn’t have the interests of the people of this country at heart?
Yet in Mugabe’s book, wanting to lead your people, availing yourself for selection for the presidency amounts to betrayal.
Is it not ironic as well that Mugabe now views the late General Solomon Mujuru as a sell-out, just because his widow, Joice, has made herself available to her people to lead them?
So being a traitor, in his mind, is aspiring to replace him? I thought the right to vie for the presidency is available to any Zimbabwean 40 years and older.
The tendency of viewing people with different viewpoints in the party or the nation, as enemies, traitors or rebels, is a manifestation of intolerant authoritarian and totalitarian dictatorship.
FK: But President Mugabe and others like Chris Mutsvangwa insist that you betrayed the struggle, yourself and others like Stephen Chocha, Parker Chipoyera, Happison Muchechetere, the Vashandi group?
RG: Mutsvangwa, of all people, should by now be in the know that the problem is Mugabe himself not this nonsense about betraying the struggle or being a traitor that they are flagging.
Look at what they are now doing to him (Mutsvangwa) just because he warned excitable young people in Zanu PF not to conflate the institution of marriage and the State, he is being crucified. The truth is that Mugabe thinks he is the only leader in the country or the region and that he is beyond reproach.
True leaders are not indispensable. They are not manufactured in factories. They come from the people, and therefore they come and go.
They should be retained for the time they have mental and physical energy in periods that allow for regular change and dynamisation through constant renewal.
And during the time they are in power, they are not immune to criticism.
Back to your question of selling out, the truth about the liberation struggle should be told and Zimbabweans should know that we were not incarcerated because we had betrayed the struggle.
You see, when the Zanla leadership was arrested in Zambia after the Chitepo assassination and when Mugabe was holed up at Kilimane in Mozambique and could not get access to the military camps in Mozambique, the frontline States leadership made a resolution that they would not accept our freedom fighters unless they united under one fighter group hence the formation of Zipa.
Its leadership, under Mujuru and the likes of Dzinashe Machingura, continued to prosecute the war and continued to push for the release of the nationalist leadership that was arrested in Zambia.
It is unfortunate that these commanders who had stood by the incarcerated leadership were betrayed by the same leadership once it was released and spurious charges of wanting to stage a coup d’état were levelled against these commanders which culminated in their arrest in 1977.
Some of us questioned the wisdom of maltreating such a distinguished group of cadres just because of rumours that they wanted to stage a coup d’état.
There was no proof and even most of these young men were solidly behind the leadership that was coming from prison so we saw no reason why they were supposed to be arrested.
Unfortunately, we found ourselves bundled into prison together with the commanders.
It was this argument that we had that led us to being treated just the same way the commanders were and thrown into jail.
It is exactly what is happening now where you are accused of wanting to assassinate president Mugabe just because you have suggested that the congress was supposed to choose new leadership, itself a party constitutional provision.
FK: You are talking of allegations that you wanted to kill president Mugabe, yourself, Ex Vice President Joice Mujuru, Nicholas Goche, Didymus Mutasa and others. Did you, by any means consider to remove Mugabe from power through force?
RG: I know Zimbabweans are an educated lot and they really understand what was going on in Zanu PF.
Look, before that (accusation of wanting to kill Mugabe) we were accused of manipulating DCCs, the Youth league and Women’s league elections.
The argument was that we were tampering with Zanu PF structures so that we could remove Mugabe at congress.
The accusation was coming from the same people who are now accusing us of trying to kill Mugabe.
Some of us are national democrats who believe in electoral democracy not butcher knife politics that we see in Zanu PF today.
Honestly, I don’t have soldiers, the CIO and police, coercive State apparatuses like Mugabe, so how could we do that?
Furthermore, some of us have always believed that leaders are changed through elections and we firmly believed that if people elected a new leader at the last Zanu PF congress that would have been an expression of their will.
It is also true, as it is constitutionally permissible, that anyone could have challenged Mugabe for the presidency of the party and that is not betrayal, treason or criminal but internal party democracy.
Wasn’t it clear that it was just a smear campaign to alienate Zanu PF supporters from Mai Mujuru by cooking up unfounded lies of wanting to assassinate a seating president?
I don’t think Mugabe and his JOC would be naive to leave Mai Mujuru as acting president on several occasions at a time when she allegedly was planning to assassinate the president.
Does it make sense to you? I think those that have a shred of intelligence training would not have allowed that to happen, worse still Mugabe’s bootlickers and praise singers.
It was just political banter, as Moyo (Jonathan) aptly put it but for a whole president to now want to resurrect the lie and exalt it as truth is definitely startling to say the least.
We understand Mugabe’s modus operandi when he comes up with these silly assassination accusations and those that believe him when he says we wanted to kill him should surely find it easier to believe that he has an answer to the myriad problems bedevilling the country than to believe this lie.
Look at Mutsvangwa today; he is accused of undermining the authority of the president, which in State power discourse gravitates towards treason.
It is an old trick that Mugabe uses against anyone who dares criticise him. I hope Mutsvangwa now understands it.
FK: What do you think is wrong in Zanu PF today?
RG: One of the main weaknesses of the current Zanu PF is the failure to correctly handle internal contradictions in the party, which in itself is a microcosm of handling internal contradictions within the nation.
Internal contradictions are non-antagonistic and are mere differences of opinion or interpretation of tactics and strategy, which if handled correctly will result in strengthening and growing the institution.
In other words, if people hold different opinions or views, or criticise certain conduct, they need not be regarded as enemies or rebels, but just as people with a different view.
Nationally, this would mean that opposition parties are just people with a different viewpoint not enemies. There would therefore be a national interest that unites different viewpoints.
But the main culprit is Mugabe himself who has built around himself a cult of personality and a culture that prohibits any party cadre from criticising his leadership. This is a manifestation of the diabolic one centre of power philosophy.
Whereas many comrades, including Josiah Magama Tongogara, always advocated for smashing of the oppressive, exploitative, racist and discriminatory colonial system, in 1980 the system was simply inherited and used to advance the interests of the new rulers.
We had fought for, and anticipated, building a new system with new values which would liberate the oppressed and the oppressors and to provide accountable and responsible servant leadership not rulers.
This leadership would facilitate equal opportunity for all, regardless of race, gender, political or religious affiliation.
The misconception in 1980, even now, was that the advent of independence was the dawn of freedom, which is what resulted in the inheritance of the existing system instead of transforming it, or better still, removing it and laying a foundation and building a base and superstructure underpinned by democracy, political, social and economic freedom.
This is the problem in Zanu-PF and in government today. The system that Mugabe inherited and preserved was exploitative and he has uses it efficiently against people in his own party and the nation at large.
It is treasonous to criticise Mugabe whether you are in Zanu PF or outside of it. A lot of people have been arrested for it. That’s the system he created and has been using to stay in power.
It is authoritarianism, dictatorship of the most brutal nature. That is the problem in Zanu PF and Zimbabwe at large.
FK: But having known president Mugabe was autocratic in 1977-78 as you said, you came back into Zanu PF, what brought you back?
RG: The late Vice President Simon Muzenda and Mugabe himself, as he has said several times, persuaded me to return to Zanu-PF.
I agreed hoping that they now wanted to embrace the true values and objectives of the liberation struggle, freedom, democracy, justice, accountable and responsible leadership which does not see itself as indispensable, but simply as a duty to implement the will and aims of the people.
I thought they had realised, as leaders, that everyone is a leader and that a specific appointment is just division of labour to ensure orderly execution of tasks.
Unfortunately, my expectations did not come to pass.
The tendencies we had detected in the 1977-78 period continued and some of us persisted pushing for change from this undemocratic culture which is epitomised by the concept of the so-called one centre of power, which is feudal, primitive and monarchical and not in line with modern democratic systems.
FK: President Mugabe recently spoke against the security sector involvement in politics. How do you react to that?
RG: In People First we believe and totally agree that our security forces should not be involved in our political discourse.
They should be apolitical. We have said this time and again. This is what the constitution of Zimbabwe has always said and unfortunately Mugabe has ignored it.
This constitutional position was put so as to maintain the integrity and image of our security institutions.
But while this position is true, as PF we are convinced the choice of the platform by Mugabe to correct whatever wrong, real or imaginary, our security forces (army, police, CIO) are purported to have committed against his Zanu PF party was amateurish and downright inappropriate to say the least.
To call for a rally to degrade, chide and insult your own security forces of which you are the Commander-In-Chief is not only foolhardy but it demeans the standing and respect of these very institutions in the eyes of the public rendering them ineffective in carrying out their mandate.
If you look at it critically, it raises the question whether Mugabe himself has become a security threat to this nation.
If you can’t use the correct chain of command to correct your troops and wait for a public rally to do so then you have not only lost your grip as the Commander- In -Chief but your integrity as a national leader.
While in any security institution individual rotten apples may exist, an agile and astute Commander in Chief should be able to fish out those and remove them from the force than subject the image of all security services to derision and tarnishing the image of some loyal, professional and hardworking members of the forces in public.
FK: Do you then see any hope for Zimbabwe under Mugabe?
RG: The only hope that is there lies in the efforts that Mai Mujuru is undertaking of uniting people under a new political party, both the brutalised Zanu PF supporters and the hopeless opposition political parties’ supporters who suddenly see, in her efforts under the banner of People First, the route out of the problems that we face as a country.
Indications on the ground show that our people have already realised the need to coalesce under a new political formation and to be honest what we are witnessing is very encouraging and exciting. Zimbabweans are uniting to fight this Zanu PF misrule and we are happy Mai Mujuru is providing the leadership.
There is hope in the BUILD document that we came up with and we are rallying people to be BUILDERS of Zimbabwe in PEACE.
It is them not some superhuman leadership that will extricate them from this economic mess. As long as the people are there, there is hope.
FK: Lastly Mr Gumbo, we have heard there are plans to arrest you, what are the charges, and are you afraid?
RG: (laughs) I have heard those rumours, but to me they remain that, just rumours.
I have not committed any crime so I am not afraid of anything, neither am I going to slow down on the political work I am doing.
It might be true some desperate political opponents might want to employ dirty tactics of arrests and incarcerations but that will not stop the people’s struggle.
People First is not about Gumbo, Mutasa, or Mujuru, it’s about the people and would anyone have the capacity to arrest the millions we have behind us, even if they did, would it be possible to accommodate all these millions in all the country’s jails?
FK: It was a pleasure talking to you Mr Gumbo.
RG: You are always welcome.