Former president Robert Mugabe this week came out guns blazing at his successor President Emmerson Mnangagwa during his first ever briefing to outsiders since his ousting by the military last November, saying his successor's rule is "unconstitutional", detailed notes provided by those who attended the meeting show.
In a scathing brief to African Union Commission (AU) chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat at his "Blue Roof" mansion in Harare's Borrowdale suburb on Monday afternoon, Mugabe said the Mnangagwa government was illegal and the AU should help to "restore normalcy and democracy in Zimbabwe".
In the emotionally-charged meeting, Mugabe also said the country was effectively under military rule, hence the need to urgently restore democratic order.
He said he was willing to call a spade a spade as he was not afraid of anyone to help bring Zimbabwe back to a constitutional and legal path. He added that his security and wellbeing were not guaranteed as he was being denied his constitutional benefits while his wife was being harassed.
Mugabe further said the upcoming general elections would not be free and fair as they would be run by the military.
Apart from Mugabe and Mahamat, the meeting was also attended by Mugabe's wife Grace, AU Commissioner (Political Affairs) Minata Samate Cessouma, the AU chair's interpreter, Zanu PF secretary for administration Obert Mpofu, chief secretary in the Office of the President and Cabinet Misheck Sibanda, Zimbabwe's former ambassador to Namibia Chipo Zindoga, and a former diplomat in Angola now a senior official in the Foreign Affairs and International Trade ministry. The interpreter translated from French to English, and vice-versa as Mahamat asked to speak in French, but listen to Mugabe's address in English.
The meeting, recorded by several officials who attended, began with the usual greetings and an exchange of pleasantries between Mugabe and the AU officials before serious business commenced.
Mahamat who met with Mugabe, Mnangagwa and Foreign Affairs and International Trade minister Sibusiso Moyo and National Assembly Speaker Jacob Mudenda, among other officials, — then indicated he was in Zimbabwe on a fact-finding mission to understand the political and security situation on the ground in the aftermath of events which occurred in November last year. He did not use the words "coup" or "transition" in his address at the meeting, notes show.
The AU boss said he was happy to be given an opportunity to meet and talk to Mugabe, adding the continental body values and needs Mugabe's insight and advice on important issues. He suggested the AU sees him as an elderly statesman.
Mahamat also said it was important for him to understand what was going on in Zimbabwe from the new government's leaders and Mugabe as there was an important AU meeting which will be held in Kigali, Rwanda, on March 21. The AU will hold an extraordinary summit which will be presided over by current chair Rwanda President Paul Kagame.
He expressed gratitude to Mugabe for donating US$1 million to the AU and some cattle.
Officials say Mugabe listened attentively to Mahamat throughout, although he looked anxious to jump in.
When the AU chief finished, Mugabe immediately jumped in and asked: "Are you done?", to which Mahamat replied: "Yes, I'm done."
Mugabe then began talking and went on for about one-and-a-half hours. He began by expressing his gratitude to the AU and Mahamat for affording him an opportunity to tell them about what about happened and what is going on in the country now.
"To start with, the political and security situation in Zimbabwe has radically changed since November 15 last year; certainly not for the better, but for worse," Mugabe said, according to the notes.
At that point government officials became uncomfortable, those who attended said.
Mugabe proceeded to say: "As Zimbabwe, when I was still prime minister and later president, we were assisted by the OAU (now AU) to integrate our different military forces coming out of the liberation war and we managed to build an integrated military structure with technical assistance from China, Russia, Cuba and Romania. Also in general terms, we got assistance from different countries in Africa to build a professional national army.
"At home, I worked closely with the late vice-president Joshua Nkomo to build a professional army for our newly-independent and democratic state. We had gone to war to fight to defeat and reject colonialism. In the process we also rejected military rule and this has always been important and consistent with our liberation struggle principle that we will not allow the gun to lead politics. Our philosophy is politics leads the gun.
"Having built our new system, with a professional army, we then assisted other African countries which were under military rule to ensure that they became ruled by democratically elected leaders. We understood that it was the only way we could unite and develop Africa. This is why I'm happy that there is going to be an AU meeting in Kigali next month to discuss these issues. It's tragic and sad that in Zimbabwe since November 15 government and state institutions have been taken over by the military which is now part of the current unconstitutional administration."
'Mugabe then said he was forced to resign under military pressure, notes reveal.
"I was pressured by the army to resign; I did so in order to avoid conflict and bloodshed in my country. I was worried because it had been brought to my attention that people had been intimidated, illegally seized, attacked, homes had been raided at gunpoint and destroyed, and weapons confiscated from other state security agencies," Mugabe said.
"The army had been unconstitutionally deployed without permission of the commander-in-chief and soldiers continue to be used in this operation. So from a constitutional point of view, he (Mnangagwa) is there unconstitutionally.
"Mnangagwa is in power illegally, yet some of his officials dare call me a dictator. What dictator?
"Maybe a dictator for dictating that we must take over our land and give it to the people; maybe a dictator for demanding that our people must be empowered. If that's why they call me a dictator, I have no problem with that.
"The one sitting next to you (Mpofu) used to be my minister, but now I hear he had the temerity to call me a dictator." Turning to Mpofu, Mugabe then said: "Am I a dictator, sir?"
Notes say Mpofu fiddled uncomfortably and the delegation burst into laughter to ease the tension.
"No, I didn't say that," Mpofu replied. "It was the media which lied that I called you a dictator."
Mugabe then continued: "Anyway that's the situation on the ground in Zimbabwe."
He the added a new dimension: "Now you want to know whether elections will be free and fair. Of course, I don't think so. How can they be free and fair when the military is running everything?"
Mugabe said the situation was worrying, adding his security was not guaranteed.
"For instance, they told you, I was safe, but how can I be in this environment? My wife is crying daily. They are persecuting her; that is obviously directed at me. What am I without my wife and family? We are not safe," Mugabe said. "We have constitutional benefits, for example, but these are being denied."
Addressing the 30th African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in January, Mnangagwa pledged to preserve Mugabe's legacy. He also assured African leaders that he was safe and well.
"It's not like I am crying for those benefits. I joined the struggle to fight to free my people, not to personally benefit anything, but why deny me benefits that I am constitutionally entitled to?" Mugabe asked.
Pleading with Mahamat, he continued: "You need to assist us to bring this country to normalcy and democracy. There is need for people's rights to be restored and normal life to continue. Now there is no freedom of expression. If you disagree with them, then you must die.
"We need the spirit of Kenneth Kaunda in this country; 'One Zambia, One Nation'. This country is now deeply divided along regional and tribal lines; that is wrong. We want our own 'One Zimbabwe, One nation'. Harassing and intimidating people must stop; witch-hunting against people must stop."
Notes indicate Mugabe then became emotional and said: "Why are they harassing people? Some of them are overzealous. How do you arrest a whole university vice-chancellor over lies about a PhD? Some of these people are just idiots; they are ignoramuses."
University of Zimbabwe vice-chancellor Levy Nyagura was last week arrested for alleged abuse of office after being accused of facilitating the awarding of a fake PhD degree to Grace.
Mugabe said before doing her PhD, Grace studied Chinese and got a degree.
"It wasn't easy," he said. "She then continued with her studies and ended up doing a PhD. I used to see her here working hard day and night. I would assist her here and there, so how can someone wake up and claim she didn't work for it? This is harassment," Mugabe said.
At that point, he paused and said: "Anyway, just give us our benefits!".
Mugabe went back to the political situation which he said had badly deteriorated.
"I'm going to tell the truth; there is no more democracy anymore in Zimbabwe. How can it be there when the military is ruling? I'm saying this as Robert Mugabe and, of course, I am not afraid of anyone. I was imprisoned for 11 years by the Rhodesians so there is nothing to fear," Mugabe said.
He then turned to Mahamat and said: "Please don't appease them. Be honest and tell them the truth, guide them forward. We want you to assist to restore normalcy and democracy in the country and stop this thing of ruling through guns."