Zimbabwe celebrated 22 years of independence on 18 April. Because of the severe drought affecting the whole of Southern Africa and causing food shortages in the region, including Zimbabwe, the ZANU-PF politburo decided to have a low-key independence celebration and instead use the money to import more maize (the staple food) to feed the people.
Before the celebration, President Robert Mugabe granted a wide ranging, world exclusive, interview to the New African editor, Baffour Ankomah. They talked about the pre-inciependence and post-independence periods, and the future of both Zimbabwe and Africa. It is a collector's item.
You were in Ghana for two years, 1958-60, teaching at the Takoradi Training College. What made you come home to join the liberation struggle?
It had always been my wish to go into politics, and I soon realised when Ghana became independent that, actually there could be two reasons for going to Ghana to teach. One was, for me to be in a newly independent African state, and have the experience of it, the feel of it, see how things were going, and compare and contrast the political system, the way of life being led by the people in the newly independent African state with the one in the colonial state of which I had great experience and was familiar with -- whether it was Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia or South Africa where I went for my university education.
I had decided that my life in the future should be political. And for me to be able as a politician to go round and campaign and talk to people, I had to be independent of the governmental system, and if I had remained a teacher I wouldn't be independent of the governmental system very much. But in order for me to get where I wanted to, I had to teach for some time, acquire money and go and study in Britain.
And so when Ghana became independent, I applied to Ghana to teach under a contract. The contract was to last for four years, and I thought during that time I could earn enough money and find way to Britain to study law, become an advocate and come back and practise, and then join politics as an independent, self-employed person, and therefore avoid the constraints and restraints that a civil servant would have. That's the second reason why I went to Ghana.
So I applied to the Catholic Church there and they offered me this post. I took it up knowing that after four years, when my contract elapsed, I would go and study law.
However, after two years of working at Takoradi Teacher Training College, I came back on leave. By then a number of political events had occurred here. I came back in 1960, there had been the banning of the nationalist organisations in the Central African Federation, the Federation had been created in December 1953 and lasted until December 1963. The nationalist organisations had been banned because of the fear by whites here that British control over the political system in Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia was not as strong as in Southern Rhodesia, and therefore not as strong over the Africans in Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia as it was here in Southern Rhodesia.
The whites feared that, sooner or later, British control would cease and the Africans in the north would quickly move towards independence. And with Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland becoming independent, the influence here would be great and that the British might be tempted also to grant independence to Southern Rhodesia.
So if there was a federal system, the whites here (whose population was higher than all the whites in the three territories that federated in 1953) would have control and would ensure that the pace that Britain wanted the northern territories to take towards self government or independence would be slowed down, if not completely, or be interrupted.
Was land a core issue even then?
Land was an issue. It has always been an issue. The Africans were always complaining about the land, about how they had been pushed into little portions of the country called Native Reserves for a start, and later on they were called Communal Areas. Yes, that was a very deep-seated grievance -- land shortage. And the fact that the whites occupied the best of the land in the country, the more fertile areas, and spacious areas for that matter, while the Africans were hurdled together, packed like sardines in small areas.
And this is why when you travel, you have areas that were cleared of the African people and made spacious in order for them to become vast estates for white farmers who then prided themselves of owning vast estates in a country where the majority of the people were hurdled together.
In today's terms, they would call it ethnic cleansing...
...Well, they would call it ethnic cleansing naturally, and this is it -- they used race, colour -- and here of course it was not so much of ethnicity as colour.
Colour cleansing, not ethnic cleansing?
Colour cleansing yes, but sometimes the two go together -- colour cleansing and ethnic cleansing. Here in Africa, the two went together.
You spent some time in prison. What actually happened?
When I came back, I didn't tell you the story why I didn't finish the four years in Ghana. When I came back, parties had been banned, and here in the then Southern Rhodesia, the African National Congress (ANC) had been banned, and people had been detained under the Detention Act in February 1959. I came back in 1960, about May, June. I found that the National Democratic Party (NDP) had been formed to replace the African National Congress. It was then just six months old.
Then I started telling people, friends and relatives who had joined the NDP, they wanted me to tell the people, at political meetings and rallies, how Ghana was; how free the Ghanaians were, and what the feeling was in a newly independent African state. So I went round and talked about how young people in Ghana who had only done Standard 7 were being raised up, being taught how to type, and the wonderful life there was in Ghana, the "Highlife" at the time and so on; you know, the very, very inspiring environment there was in Ghana.
So I told them all that, and about Kwame Nkrumah. I told them also about Nkrumah's own political ideology and his commitment that unless every inch of African soil was free, then Ghana would not regard itself as free. So I went round politicising people, using what I regarded as factual description of my experience in Ghana.
And this was now in June, July 1960; and by then there was quite an amount of concern by the people about the leaders who had been arrested in February 1959 after the Detention Act had been applied. And there was now a movement to get them released.
There were demonstrations, I remember the July, August demonstration of that year. I was instrumental, together with others some of whom are now dead, and we urged the people to strike, to strike in order to demonstrate our desire to have those in prison released. The strike succeeded in Harare first, then it was re-echoed in Bulawayo, Gweru and Mutare, and people wanted their leaders released.
Of course the workers who joined the strike had their own grievances about their working conditions, pay and salaries. So we took all that together and bundled it up, and we said no, we wanted the leaders freed, and the workers must also be paid, but it was mainly political, we wanted the leaders who were still in detention to be freed.
So that led to your arrest?
No, it didn't lead to my arrest because nobody knew me at that time and f could move freely. Of course they didn't know me, and they said who is this chap who is so articulate, they didn't know me. They knew only the leaders of the NDP, and they picked them up.
In fact, one day I was driving a car with lots of pamphlets in it, in Highfield. Lots of pamphlets in the back of the car to distribute to various parts of Harare, and my car suddenly stopped, I couldn't start it. And the policemen who were around said, "what's wrong?" The Support Group of the police bad teargas everywhere, and I said "Oh I can't start it". They said, "Can we give you a push?" I said yes, "please give me a push". So they gave me a push. And there it was, the car started, and I went distributing the documents.
And one of the documents was actually prepared for the BBC I was helping with publicity, I was working mainly in the publicity section of the parry, I wasn't then officially an officer of the party at all, but my colleagues who wanted me to assist said I better assist in the information and publicity side of the parry. And of course we had a duplicator and a cyclostyling machine at the rime. So that's what we did. They didn't get to know me until very late.
So finally they got you?
Finally, oh they got me, they got me. They got to know me too. But it took them a long time to know who this guy was. Not in 1960. We sailed through that year. But then in October, the NDP held its inaugural congress. They asked me to chair it in Goodwill Hall, it was a hail for coloured people, I don't know whether it is still there.
At that inaugural congress in October 1960, we had Nkomo elected in absentia as president. I was then the information and publicity secretary of the NDP and that was what I was to the very end of the party until it was banned. Of all the parties that had existed in colonial times, the NDP had the longest life. It went through the whole of 1960 and the whole of 1961, and was only banned in December 1961, just a week or so before Christmas.
It was then that we immediately formed ZAPU, the Zimbabwe African People's Union. At the time, Joshua Nkomo had returned towards the end of 1960 from Britain, and the ANC was banned. He had attended the All People's Conference in Ghana, and from Accra he went to London. It was when he was in London, in February 1960, that the swoop was done here...