THE Zimbabwe Independent — which every week provides cutting-edge interviews with leading political and business figures — this week engaged former minister, senior Zanu PF official and liberation struggle fighter retired Colonel Tshinga Dube who usually speaks out his mind, including during ex-president Robert Mugabe’s feared rule, to tackle critical issues past and present. Our reporter Nkululeko Sibanda (NS) spoke to Dube, one of Matabeleland region’s most senior political figures, about his political career, Zanu PF primaries, his time at the Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI) and the controversial drama about Malabo-bound mercenaries arrested in Harare in 2004 on their way to topple Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. Find below excerpts of the interview:
NS: First of all, congratulations for winning the Zanu PF primary election in Makokoba (Bulawayo) to represent your party in the upcoming general elections. How do you feel?
TD: I was looking forward to standing in the party primaries and winning the ticket to stand in the general elections. Personally, I feel good about it. The challenge, however, is that I am yet to deal with the bigger hurdle; that of contesting the general elections against other parties. I am sure I will also win. However, I am more curious about the coming elections because it is a very big event where we have to ensure as a party that our leader, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, wins.
NS: If you win the elections, what issues in your constituency will you address?
TD: In fact, it’s not a question of what I want to do, but a question of what I have been doing. For a long time, I have been engaged in a lot of projects and these include education, health, sports, and social welfare issues. I have been doing that and would like to continue with that.
NS: You are still active in politics at your age (77). Most of your contemporaries have exited politics or died.
How far are you willing to go?
TD: It is very true that I am no longer as young as most of today’s political players are. I am getting old. If I have to stand and win as an MP, this will be my last term. I will finally go to rest at my farm if God allows me to do so. I’m beyond my peak as a politician. I am only doing it so that we assist the younger people. Those who want to learn from my contribution to Zimbabwe and experience should feel free to come through; I’m available for engagement.
NS: You hinted that you would publish memoirs upon your retirement. Where are you with regard to that?
TD: In fact, I have finished the memoirs. I am just waiting for the launch. They are all about my biography; the experience in the war of liberation, as a civil servant, in the army, and in business, as well as my time in the Zimbabwe Defence Industries and political life.
NS: We will come to the issue of the ZDI later. Let us shift our focus on to the Matabeleland region where you are one of the senior politicians around. What is your view on the debate that this region is marginalised and underdeveloped?
TD: I cannot disagree with that. I always feel there is an element of marginalisation. I look at it this way: We have very few cabinet ministers and other top government representatives. But those few are not in critical portfolios such as economic ministries. They are peripheral. If I were to be made minister of roads, for instance, I would deal with relevant issues nationally, but also not forget the region. If one is a minister of water, they would address water problems everywhere, including where they come from. Unfortunately, we are not given such ministries.
NS: You say Matabeleland has very few cabinet ministers; is it because there are no MPs and candidates with the required credentials or what?
TD: We must encourage our politicians in the region to up their game in terms of credentials and capacity to enable the appointing authority to consider them for such positions.
If you look at the entire region, Bulawayo, Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South, we have very few cabinet ministers. You only have the likes of (Sithembiso) Nyoni, (Obert) Mpofu, (Simon) Khaya Moyo etc, but a few, and of course Vice-President (Kembo) Mohadi. We need more representation in government to push the region’s development agenda as others are doing in other regions. I don’t think there is a deliberate marginalisation policy, but it’s there because of certain circumstances.
NS: Let’s talk about Gukurahundi as one of those emotive and critical issues in Matabeleland and the country today. What can be done to resolve the issue?
TD: I think the issue was not properly handled in the first place. If you look carefully, it was actually swept under the carpet. When (Joshua) Nkomo, the late vice-president, was still alive this issue could have been addressed entirely. The mistake was that when the Unity Accord was signed in 1987, we all assumed the issue had been addressed.
We did not realise at the time we had not addressed critical post-conflict and reconciliation issues. The victims are still there, but they have not been rehabilitated, there hasn’t been truth and reconciliation, let alone justice and reparations. We cannot change the past, but post-conflict societies need rehabilitation of victims and rebuilding.
For instance, if you lost your uncle during Gukurahundi and then someone just pitches up saying that period is over, let’s have closure, it won’t work. Things don’t work like that.
It will be over to him or her, but not to you.
For you it will not be over because you will still be bitter and you can be bitter until you die. All the parties involved did not look at that issue the way I think they should have.
NS: Now, how do we get closure on Gukurahundi?
TD: I have always said there is need for what we refer to in Ndebele culture and IsiNdebele as ukukhumisana umlotha; traditional ritual of coming together to bury the hatchet after proper apologies have been made following a hurtful conflict or such a problem. Once that is done, we then agree as a people or nation that it’s done; the chapter is closed. We have seen that happening in other countries. But we have not had that in Zimbabwe. What we have had here are people who would not say sorry. Their excuse is that it was during a war. I dare ask: what war are you talking about when unarmed and defenceless people were being killed? We talk about war when two or more armed groups or people are fighting. When you just kill people because you have a gun and they don’t have one, that’s not a war.
NS: What would be the best way to resolve the issue and ensure reparations?
TD: First of all, some people talk about compensation. Who do you compensate when some victims are no longer alive?
We are talking about something that happened about 30 to 40 years ago. It’s very complicated. If one shows remorse and comes forward to assist victims or their families through certain programmes, for example paying for their education or some such other serious plan, people will see that leaders are indeed sorry about what happened.
NS: Who should shoulder the blame for Gukurahundi and issue an apology to victims given that former president Robert Mugabe is largely denying responsibility and scapegoating others?
TD: If he is refusing to accept responsibility, who does he think should shoulder the blame? It is public knowledge that he (Mugabe) was the president, chief executive of the country, and commander-in-chief when those disturbances happened. Whether he likes it or not, Mugabe is the one who should shoulder the blame; all these other people involved were working under him. Nonetheless, the people in the command element and government were also there.
Even the current president (Mnangagwa) was also there, although I cannot say he was fully responsible. These are the people who should apologise to the victims on behalf of the government so that this chapter can be closed.
NS: Earlier in this interview, you made reference to ZDI. Can you shed light on its operations, functions and responsibilities?
TD: ZDI was quite a successful company which was very useful in a big way. You will recall that when we attained our independence in 1980, we realised we were supposed to spend a lot of money on small arms as we wanted to import weapons.
We decided that we would have to cut costs of buying ammunition by manufacturing that on our own. It was not only ammunition but we spent heavily on communication radio systems and signals. So we said the best way would be to manufacture our own and that is how we came up with ZDI.
We even exported some ammunition and equipment to the United States and many other countries such as Angola, Rwanda, Sri Lanka and others. But as you are aware, as things collapsed here in Zimbabwe the ZDI was also affected and its capacity went down. It is still there, but not as efficient as it was.
NS: In your dealings, you were involved with well-known mercenary Simon Mann and his accomplices who reportedly bought arms from the ZDI to stage a military coup in Equatorial Guinea. In 2016, Mann instructed his lawyers in Zimbabwe to recover US$380 000 from the Zimbabwean government as he said there was a breach of agreement when you failed to supply them with arms but instead got them arrested and extradited to Equatorial Guinea to face coup charges. How would you respond to this?
TD: That is madness because first of all, he agrees that he was a mercenary. We do not entertain mercenaries here.
He is lucky that we extradited him to Equatorial Guinea. In other countries they would have killed him. He does not appreciate that the money he is talking about was not given to the government, but to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. It was not given to ZDI.
In fact, he had very low opinion of our intelligence system. He thought he would use us to carry out his coup in Equatorial Guinea. We are equally trained and we understand these things. So we would not let him do that. You cannot use another country to stage a coup on another and expect that we pay you for it. That will not happen.
NS: Did Equatorial Guinea pay you to say thank-you for averting the coup?
TD: I don’t know. That one was an issue between the two presidents at the time (Mugabe and Nguema). I would only hear that the president has gone there (Equatorial Guinea) or there are people from Nguema’s government meeting the president. I personally never got any thank-you from anyone. That is the truth.