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Why we interviewed Robert Mugabe

The Zimbabwe Independent has been frantically seeking to interview Robert Mugabe since he was toppled in a dramatic coup in November last year.

Candid Comment Brezhnev Malaba

Any journalist worth his or her salt would agree that whoever got the first post-coup interview would run away with a scoop of international proportions. This is journalism, not fake sentimentalism. If North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un were to grant me an interview today, I would rush to Pyongyang without thinking twice about it.

Mid-morning last Thursday, the visit to Mugabe’s mansion began at a frenetic pace. At a shopping centre in suburban Harare, we jumped into heavily tinted sport utility vehicles and, within minutes, we had arrived outside the ornate walls of his palatial “Blue Roof” home.

A few minutes earlier, we had heard the all-too-familiar voice of former first lady Grace on the car’s hands-free system instructing the driver to tell our crew to “bend” to avoid being spotted by security upon entering the property, suggesting Mugabe is still under house arrest somehow. Soon enough, the gate was flung open and the large vehicle wafted into the yard. We were immediately struck by the in-your-face opulence of the place.

The SUV stopped next to an imposing portico adorned with stuffed lions, leopards and crocodiles whose life-like gaze was difficult to ignore. Statuesque and replete with symbolism, the big cats give you the impression that you are entering the lion’s den. The picturesque landscape, a large pond, rolling hills and verdant greenery. Mugabe’s magnificent palace would not be out of place in Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Saudi Arabia. Foreign journalists gasped as they marvelled at the display of power (or whatever remains of it), infinite luxury and an obvious obsession with symbols of predatory intrigue.

After alighting, we were welcomed by a familiar face, Grace. She seemed to be in a hurry and swiftly ushered us into a guest wing adjoining Mugabe’s private library.

Grace, clad in a flowing ankle-length dress, led us into a sumptuously appointed room. There was excited chatter as the journalists relished a rare opportunity to interview one of the world’s most controversial figures. As the room’s curtains were drawn open to allow in fresh air, we were curtly advised to exercise caution because the yard was teeming with soldiers and other snoopy security operatives. Grace’s anxiety — bordering on fear and panic — pointed to the fact that Mugabe and his wife are, in all practical terms, still under house arrest.

The former president complained bitterly about betrayal. Emmerson Mnangagwa, he moaned, had stabbed him in the back. But his hypocrisy hit me like a Dabuka train. A man who mastered the art of throwing his allies under the bus is now complaining about the treachery of his former minions. The grotesque irony.

There was a worrying trend in his answers. He was obstinately refusing to shoulder responsibility for his actions.

Mentally he is still sharp and his faculties are intact. From that standpoint, he has no excuse for refusing to acknowledge his failings, especially after fate has taught him that he is no demigod after all.

The salutary lesson in all this is that although we may not necessarily agree with Mugabe’s views, some of us will resolutely defend his right to express them.

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