On the eve of crucial general elections in Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe extended an unexpected invite to local and foreign journalists for a rare press conference where his press secretary George Charamba said they could ‘ask anything’.
For an hour, a relaxed Mugabe was at his humorous and enchanting best, giving as much as he got from the reporters. “He isn’t throwing any bombs,” the New York Times’ Lydia Polgreen said on Twitter, “He’s being the funny, charming, wily Mugabe’.
Here are excerpts of Mugabe’s exchanges with the reporters. The questions have been paraphrased:
Q: On British-Zimbabwe relations and thoughts about current government
Mugabe: I say very little about David Cameron, I say quite a lot about British imperialism and colonialism. I worked with Margaret Thatcher very very, shall I say sincerely on my part, and she too was sincere. The Conservative party mind you, she was. We got our independence during the time she was Prime Minister but we went along very well. I invited her to come here, she invited me to Britain, that was the relationship. Then came of course Major, the Conservatives we still worked very smoothly, we hosted the Commonwealth here in 1991 and we worked very well with Major. But then came the defeat of the Conservative party by Labour.
We had worked very well with Labour as a liberation movement. They had invited us each year to their conferences, I attended as an observer obviously … but then a man called Mr Blair took over then the trouble started. He seemed to come from some wilderness, or is it some street of London. He didn’t seem to know what had transpired. He wanted to reverse the land reform programme which we had agreed to with the previous British government at Lancaster House. We had spent close to three months from October to December in 1979 and the main issue there was not just freedom and independence, it was freedom and independence plus the return of our land. But there was Blair now saying no to the land reform process. We said fine, the compensation you’re supposed to pay if you no longer are able to pay it, fine, keep your money but Zimbabwe and its land belongs to us, we’ll keep our land and you keep your money. That was the quarrel; it was this one man we quarrelled with.
But who was he after all? Look at him as he follows Bush to go and attack an innocent man, Saddam Hussein, accusing him of having weapons of mass destruction which he didn’t have. They said he had them, well knowing he didn’t have them, telling lies to the rest of the world, to the United Nations and going there even without the go ahead from the United Nations. ‘With or without the United Nations I will go there’, said Bush, ‘and so will I,’ said Blair. So the two of them went and attacked this innocent man, killed him in the process, yes they pretended he was tried… they killed him. Thereafter, they declared ‘oh no, he did not have weapons of mass destruction’ having told that gigantic lie.
It’s the same with us, you see, ‘there is no rule of law in Zimbabwe, there is no democracy, there is violation of human rights’, which was a lie. We had differed with them on this issue of the land I made reference to, and of course he (Blair) wanted us punished for defying him as we acquired the land from the white farmers here and gave it to our own people. That is that.
We’re not there to make enemies, we’re there to make friends and if the British people are open to friendship, we don’t hate them, we actually like them. We’ve said nothing about Her Majesty the Queen, she came here during the Commonwealth conference in 1991 and had an occasion to reminisce over the period when she had visited in 1947, and I was invited to London and taken to the Palace there. We have great respect for the Queen; we have great respect for Prince Charles and the other princes there, and princesses.
We’ll have that friendly disposition, that readiness to work together with those who imposed sanctions on us yesterday provided they remove the sanctions of course. So we’re not a hostile people, never.
Q: Europeans say they are the most credible and experienced observers and if they’re not invited Zimbabwe won’t have credible elections. What happens if Zanu PF wins?
Mugabe: First, their creed is not our creed. What they believe in is not always what we believe in. Their judgment of us is always the judgment of a superior who wants to impose his authority on you. That’s what we fought. We’re a revolutionary country, a revolutionary people. We make our own decisions; we’re masters of our own destiny Sir. We don’t listen to Europe and say ‘what Europe says is what we do’, quite the contrary.
We know from experience that what they say is always what we would never say or want to hear. We would say keep your views to yourselves, if you don’t like how we do our elections, if you don’t want the result of our elections, well it’s up to you, we’ll go ahead sanctions or no sanctions. If they want to be friendly, we’re open. We have never ever said they’re enemies; it’s they who have made us enemies.
Q: Reporter asks about presence of Emmerson Mnangagwa at press conference and wonders if that means he has been anointed as successor
Mugabe: Your mind has run wild [chuckles]. You want me to tell you how he happens to be here? He had come to deliver a paper to me on something else and we were discussing. He asked why these people are here and I said I’m going to have a press conference, then he asked ‘could he stay’, then I said ‘yes’.
He’s not even invited, he has invited himself and I said you’re welcome. In Africa we don’t chase people when they visit you. He happened to have seen you gathered here and he wondered how you, even strangers, much more of strangers to me that he could be here. He’s Minister of Defence, you can perhaps say he feared that you people gathered here were out to commit some mischief. He wanted to be present to defend me. You can see he sat here very mute, just listening to me and perhaps enjoying your questions.
To read the full interview, please click here.