HARARE – Cephas Msipa, was one of the few people in Zimbabwe who would speak openly with President Robert Mugabe, died in Harare on Monday after a chest infection, according to his family.
Mspia was 85.
On July 11, Msipa, who was a member of the late Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu) during the struggle against white rule, went to see Mugabe at State House, and the two old comrades spoke frankly.
In an interview with African News Agency (ANA) in Harare last month, Msipa recalled his meeting with Mugabe.
“He wants to die in office. He said he is not retiring. He said people don’t retire in politics and that he was going to stay here (in office) until he is 100. So I said to him, ‘well in that case you will be a speaker at my funeral’. I suppose that was a joke, but that is his aim. I told Mugabe about the massive corruption of some of his ministers. I was frank. I told him there will be bloodshed in this country if he doesn’t change now, when there is time,” Msipa told ANA at the time.
“And that he shouldn’t be surprised if that happens. I told him that if either of us has a heart attack, no one will be surprised. I told him I was ready, but is he? He is a prisoner somehow. He just looked at me, and I felt sorry for him. He said no one talks to him so I did that. I talked with him. He respects me. I offered to help (over the succession issue) and said we shouldn’t still be fighting with young people.
“I told him he loves his party (Zanu-PF) more than he loves the people. That was a blunt statement to make. He didn’t react. He said nothing, and then he looked so frail. He became more active when I told him the churches and business wanted to talk to him. I will go back to him in a month or two and we will talk again.”
Msipa said Mugabe would not be worried that his expensive lifestyle would change if he retired.
“It’s not a question of money. He knows he will still be well-paid and he will still travel as he does now, on the state,” he said.
“He is worried about his family. And people really hate her (first lady Grace Mugabe). Many people think all our problems are because of her. I suspect once he goes, she will pack and leave in 10 minutes.”
Msipa, who was briefly arrested during the crackdown on Zapu in the early 1980s, later joined Mugabe’s Zanu-PF, and was one of the mediators who helped forge a political unity agreement between Zapu and Zanu-PF after thousands of Nkomo’s supporters were massacred and detained after 1980 independence by a new, North Korean-trained brigade.
The massacres became known as Gukurahundi in Mugabe’s Shona language, or “the early rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains”.
“I reminded him that during Gukurahundi I invited him to meet people who wanted to see him, and I asked people to talk to him freely, and that he should listen to the people and respond to them. So he asked me if I would be prepared to chair such meetings again, now, in the interests of the country, and I said I would do it.”
Msipa said he also planned to discuss that with Mugabe when he met him again. But it is unlikely Msipa did see Mugabe again. The interview with ANA was on September 8, and Msipa fell ill soon after.
Msipa said he had spoken out about tough issues directly to Mugabe before.
He recalled: “His wife, is saying, what will happen if you go? Well, she is saying he will rule from the grave. Well, I had told him in the (Zanu-PF) politburo we have a problem in this country, because your wife has been hijacked. I expected him to react, but he just looked at me.
“Perhaps it is possible that he sees remaining in power as some kind of protection, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. But I also remember that once when we stayed together he was an extremely nice man. Somehow he respects me.”
Msipa said he loved his country, and that he suffered for it. And so he said to Mugabe in July: “If you had to travel in the streets with me we would be saying, ‘Is this what we believed Zimbabwe would be? Is this what we fought for?’”
Msipa said several ministers in Mugabe’s cabinet did not agree with the way the country is governed. “They haven’t got the courage to say anything. So Mugabe believes those people are behind him.
“But he also has so many people who are corrupt behind him. When I come to Harare and I look at that house, for example, which belongs to so and so, and I say, where do they get the money to build that (enormous) house? I don’t know how they do it. And of course, when he goes, they will be exposed, they will be in trouble. So if you are in government and you are not clean you will do anything to remain in power.
“And I know this started a long time ago.”
Msipa recalled the days when Zapu was a formidable force in Zimbabwe’s politics.
But, “we knew even if the people voted for Zapu, it would not be allowed to take over. Think of what they have done to Dumiso (Dabengwa). They would just cut our heads off,” he said.
Dabengwa was Zapu’s highly regarded intelligence chief who was accused of treason two years after independence in 1980, then acquitted but immediately re-detained for a further four years.
“People who have guilty consciences, have a problem, they don’t think they will be forgiven, so they must protect themselves by remaining there, around him.”
Msipa told ANA that the succession issue was worrying as people were not sure what would happen if Mugabe suddenly did decide to retire, or when he died.
Msipa said Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, 74, has problems with another faction in the party which is loosely known as G40. “I think there are cracks within that G40,” he said.
“Despite differences with Mnangagwa, I believe in terms of ability he is the most able. If we want the country to prosper, then he would be the right man.”
Mnangagwa has been accused of playing a leading role in the crackdown on Zapu after independence, including the Gukuruhundi massacre.