interviewBy Lloyd Gumbo
The country commemorated the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Unity Accord that brought the revolutionary parties, Zanu-PF and PF-Zapu together in 1987 on Saturday. Our reporter Lloyd Gumbo (LG) talks to Zanu-PF politburo member Cde Cephas Msipa (CM) who played a key role in securing the Unity Accord.
CDE Msipa talks about the Unity Accord, factionalism, corruption and the need to have young blood in the revolutionary party in this no-holds-barred discussion.
LG: Cde Msipa Saturday marked the 25th anniversary of the Unity Accord between Zanu-PF and PF-Zapu and we understand you played a major role in bringing these two parties together. May you please take us through what happened?
CM: It was on a Thursday in 1987 sometime in October or November I can't remember which month exactly. I was in Triangle having gone there to attend a board meeting because I was director of Triangle Sugar Estate. I got a phone call from (Cde) Clifford Sileya who was personal assistant to (the then) President (Canaan) Banana.
He was saying to me, the President wants to see you urgently. I explained to him that it was not possible for me to see him on that day, but the following day which was a Friday. I said I would be back in Harare and therefore I would drive straight from Charles Prince Airport to State House and so I did exactly that. I got there at about 4pm and we exchanged greetings and so on. Then President Banana explained to me what he wanted.
He said in his own words that he had tried to bring Dr (Joshua) Nkomo (PF-Zapu leader) and Cde Robert Mugabe (Zanu-PF) together for long and he had used many people for the purpose, but they had all failed because Cde Mugabe was saying he can only meet Nkomo if it will result in some unity agreement. Banana said I have since been advised that you can try to bring those two people together because you know both of them. Both men are your friends. So you are in a better position to try and bring them together. In fact, he said, you are my last resort having tried so many other people.
So I said well, it's nice of you to ask me to do that. I said are there any issues that I can consider non-negotiable? He said yes there are and I said what are they? He said one; if an agreement is made the leader of the new party will be Cde RG Mugabe who was Prime Minister then. Two, the name of the party shall be Zanu-PF. Three, there would be two Vice Presidents, that's Cde Simon Muzenda and Cde Nkomo would be co-Vice Presidents, there won't be first and second Vice President.
I said yes I can understand, but the second one is going to be very difficult. With those conditions, the following week I made arrangements to see Dr Nkomo and he said yes come and see me. I got to his Highfield house. On that particular day he was not well. He was in bed, but his secretary said he said I should lead you to his bedroom. He was lying on his bed complaining of flu and so on.
But he said yes let's talk. I explained why I was there and that I had been asked by President Banana to talk to him about unity. Nkomo on that day said to me have you read today's Herald? I said yes, what is it? He said did you read what Enos Nkala (the then Home Affairs Minister) was saying? And I said yes, I read. Of course in The Herald of that day, Nkala was threatening to arrest Nkomo and to ban PF-Zapu. And he said is that the language of the people who want unity when they threaten me and my party?
So I said to Nkomo I was not sent here by Zanu-PF, but by Banana. Well, I am emphasising this to you because a great deal of credit of this Unity Accord should go to former President Banana.
It was really his wish to see that there is unity between PF-Zapu and Zanu PF. It was his dream and I think he had made it a point that he should leave the two parties together as his legacy to Zimbabwe. So, I said to Nkomo, look I was asked to do this by President Banana not Zanu-PF and Nkala doesn't even know that I am here and he shouldn't know.
All our discussions should remain completely private. No one should know, either on the Zanu side or on the Zapu side. They should not know about it until we are through.
Then I pacified him and he then said alright let's talk. The next question was, are there any conditions? Then I stated the three conditions I mentioned to you. He didn't query the first one, but the second one, he said uyabona (you see) Msipa, do you think I can go to Bulawayo and say to the people there we are now Zanu-PF bangilalele?
Can they listen to me? Then he pleaded with me to go and talk to Prime Minister Mugabe that he should reconsider his stance on the name. I then said to him alright let's leave the name for the time being. We shall come to it later. Then he said on the third issue of co-Vice-Presidents, he said I am bringing a whole party PF-Zapu as part of the unity, but what is Muzenda bringing to the table? I said to him, yes you are bringing a whole party, but the idea is not for anyone to lose his position in the process.
I said I can understand why he must maintain his position. We need his support and goodwill. I said are you saying now he must be at a lower status than he is now? Is that fair? I said that one I am defending it. It is the right thing to do. No one should lose in status. Then he quickly said it's alright, I accept it. I have no problem with that. Then we went into what nature the unity would take and so on. That one was not a problem because as far as I was concerned, all I wanted was for him to agree to work with Cde Mugabe and the details would fall in place once he was his Vice President.
So I was able on all the other issues and concerning Government, I said I am not here to work out a constitution. I am not qualified to do that. I said once in Government then you can discuss with President Mugabe as to the nature and structure of Government and how many ministers you want because you will be there.
LG: What about the name issue?
CM:Then we were left with the name issue . . . that took many days. I can assure because he was insisting that I should go and persuade President Mugabe on the name, I said I know him and what he can do and what he cannot do. On this one, I said I was convinced that he would not change and I did not pretend that I could talk to him. In the meantime I was also talking to Joseph Msika because he was Vice President, but not at official level.
He emphasised to me that whatever advice he was giving was completely private, Dr Nkomo shouldn't know or anyone should know that I was talking to Msika. Cde Msika kept asking me to talk to Dr Nkomo saying this was the biggest assignment because I was almost giving up because we were not making any progress.
I thought of a new strategy and I went to Dr Nkomo and I said to him I would like to talk to you and please don't answer me. Just listen and think about what I would have said then you can phone when you find answers. It was clear to him that I was almost giving up. I told him why personally I thought he should accept this unity with Prime Minister Mugabe.
I told him what it would mean to him as a person who had suffered so much for the country and that now you would end up in Government. Two, what it would mean to the people of Matabeleland who had so much confidence in him and were solidly behind him. I said as it is, you are not useful to them being in that opposition. You cannot help them as much as you would if you were in Government. Then I turned to the nation, what this unity would mean.
I said the unity would bring peace and tranquillity to the nation and we would concentrate on unity. I said the current atmosphere is characterised by accusations and counter accusations.
On the name I said I know you feel that the people of Matabeleland will worry about the name. Then, I quoted Shakespeare to him, where he says, "What's in a name? A rose by any name, would smell as sweet as a rose". So I said what I have stated here is more important than the name.
So I pleaded with him to be courageous enough to accept the name. I said I sympathised with him, but it should not stand in the way of unity. I said don't answer me today, take your time to think about what I said. I said it can take a week or more than a week, I am not in a hurry. Then after three days, he called me and asked whether I had been talking to some people in Zapu about the unity discussions.
I told him I wasn't because the agreement with Banana was that this should be kept confidential and had not talked to anyone about it. He then gave me three names of people he wanted me to talk to about it in confidence. He said Welshman Mabhena, Sydney Malunga and Naison Ndlovu. He said please speak to them separately and bring their answers to me.
That's how he replied to what I had said to him at the previous meeting when I asked him to listen to me. I made it a point to meet each one of these people. To my surprise their answers were similar as if they had talked to each other about it. Each of them said, look Nkomo is our leader in PF-Zapu.
LG: Did you tell them you were also talking to Dr Nkomo?
CM: I told them I had been talking to Nkomo about unity and now I want to know what you people think about it. Should there be unity between Zapu and Zanu or not because I had been talking to Nkomo and he says I should ask what you people are saying. I was quiet open with them in confidence of course. I told them I am talking to you in confidence. I said the same thing to each one of them.
In summary their answers were that Dr Nkomo, Umdala wethu is our leader and if he thinks by uniting with Zanu it will be in the interest of our people and the country at large, we will go along with him. I then went back to Dr Nkomo and told him the answers I had received and he said to me awungtsheli amanga wena?
I said it is the truth, but nothing but the truth. I said the decision will affect the whole country, not only the present generation, but future generations, so I would not mislead you. He then paused and said to me tshela uBanana ukuthi ngiyavuma. Tell him that I accept unity. As you can imagine I was thrilled I couldn't believe my ears.
I thanked him and left quickly in case he changed his mind. I quickly went home and phoned Banana and told him sevumile iunity Umdala uNkomo. Banana couldn't believe it.
He laughed and said are you sure? I said yes it's true, he has accepted. He thanked me saying my advisors were correct that you could make it. I said it was difficult, but we have made it. The same day Banana phoned me saying the Prime Minister wants me to hear it straight from Nkomo not me.
So I said doesn't he trust me and Banana said no, no in case Nkomo says Msipa didn't hear me properly. So I phoned Nkomo and said old man can you please meet Cde Banana and confirm what you said to me. He had no problem and he said that is fine and I asked when. He said he could meet him on a Tuesday. So I phoned Banana and said it's all arranged, he will come to your office at 10am on Tuesday.
Then what happened on that Tuesday, Nkomo didn't turn up and I was in Kariba. Banana phoned me and said Nkomo hasn't turned up what's now happening again? He said can you find out why? So I phoned his home in Bulawayo, I phoned everywhere. Eventually I found him at the Blue Lagoon restaurant. I said mdala why are you not in Harare?
LG: Where was this Blue Lagoon restaurant?
CM: Blue Lagoon is somewhere in Bulawayo. It's his daughter Thandi's restaurant I think. He said angizwa kuhle, I am not feeling well. I said, but why didn't you phone? He said my phone isn't working properly. So I said you mean you can't phone to Harare and I said I can phone Bulawayo and Harare quiet easily from Kariba so when are you going to see Banana?
Let's make a fresh appointment and he said Thursday. I suspected he was still consulting some people, I could understand because he was making an important decision of his life.
Come Thursday, everything went according to plan. They then agreed to meet the Prime Minister. Now I was no more in the picture. Now it was up to them to form their different parties and work out details, mine was merely to get Nkomo to say yes I agree.
To be continued.