By Peta Thornycroft
Harare – One of President Robert Mugabe’s former close allies has revealed for the first time that he and other Zanu-PF officials were shocked after Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) won the 2008 elections – so shocked that he had rushed to protect Mugabe at his official residence.
Didymus Mutasa, now out in the cold after being axed from the ruling party for siding with ousted vice-president Joice Mujuru, said he and others in Zanu-PF were “absolutely shocked” when the parliamentary election results were released in 2008. The MDC won narrowly.
“I immediately drove, at speed and alone, from my home in Rusape, to State House in Harare. I was terrified, I had to go and protect the president from harm as we were frightened Tsvangirai would do what he said he would do and march to State House. If he had, no policeman would have stopped him.
“Instead,” Mutasa laughed, “Tsvangirai went to Botswana.”
In those elections Mutasa was the only Zanu-PF senior to retain his parliamentary seat in the eastern Manicaland province. Tsvangirai, who easily beat Mugabe in the first round of the presidential poll, pulled out before the second round because hundreds of his supporters had been killed.
“I don’t know how much cheating there was in elections, but I do know that in 2013 (finance minister) Patrick Chinamasa cheated to win. He bussed people in (to vote for him.) I protested to him and to the Zimbabwe Election Commission.
“We will never know how many people voted for Zanu-PF out of fear. I didn’t know there was fear in those days. I now see it myself. And there is a lot of fear. And I must say, again, I am very, very sorry. That I must stand up to be counted.”
Mutasa was among Zimbabwe’s most feared men, particularly when he was minister in charge of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO).
He said he regularly chaired the informal but powerful Joint Operation Command, a structure of top security personnel that meets once a week. We discussed many things, such as violence. How to stop it. If food was short we talked about how to find it, usually from South Africa. The joint command did produce top- secret documents every week.
“Secrecy still binds me, from when I was minister. But of course you know that some waiters in hotels work for the CIO. Your phones are listened to a lot. The CIO is huge.
“It produces many reports. From the UN there will regularly be a report. A report about the British. Or India. Not very good reports really. I had to read them. They made me tired.”
But it seems Mutasa has forgotten much of the ruling Zanu-PF’s bloody rule. In conversation with him at his home, it seems as if his ears were blocked for 35 years. Or, perhaps, to put it more kindly, he really did live in another, much kinder Zimbabwean world.
He can’t recognise the names of some of the well-known political activists killed by Zanu-PF operatives, the party with which he was closely involved for most of his life.
“I didn’t know about that. I never heard about it then. No, I don’t know his name, I never even heard that before. Was it in the papers?” were some of the answers Mutasa gave to the stream of questions put to him on Thursday at his home, east of Harare.
His home is now being guarded by private security, for which he is paying. The police had provided protection for him since 1980.
“I do now know that Zanu-PF did violence. And cheated in elections. But both sides did violence, I accept it was mostly Zanu-PF violence. I am very sorry about that.”
The Legal Resources Foundation and the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace documented massacres and the widespread repression of opposition supporters by North Korean-trained soldiers in Matabeleland in 1983 to 1987. An estimated 20 000 people died in what became known as Gukurahundi.
“I did not know about Gukurahundi as I was Speaker of Parliament in Harare for the first 10 years of independence. We didn’t speak about it in parliament. No one told me about it. I would only know about violence if I read it in the newspapers,” Mutasa said.
“I don’t know that name,” he said, when asked about the May 2008 murder of Tonderai Ndira, one of the opposition MDC’s best-known activists, abducted at night from his bed at home.
Now 80, Mutasa, Mujuru and others were accused by first lady Grace Mugabe of plotting a coup d’etat. They deny the accusation.
“Zimbabwe has become a miserable place. I say this about the state, my country,” Mutasa said.
“Now everybody is broke. The economy is broke, mining, agriculture, and we should have done something about that 10 years ago.
“Now it is too late.”
Mutasa scoffs at the new vice-president, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
“He never won an election for that post. Mugabe appointed him, and he is not popular. He can’t win elections.”
Mutasa said he hoped to get a pension some time. “If I don’t get my pension I will continue farming. I was given one (white-owned) farm, called Lonkop. I have a manager.”
Independent Foreign Service