In this week’s Throwback Thursday, we re-visit a 2009 exclusive interview in which a combative, healthy and young-looking President Robert Mugabe sparred with CNN’s most feared interrogator a few months after the highly contested elections widely believed to have been won by Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC.
Mugabe is known for his selective granting of interviews to a few international media agencies, where his default position is to go on the offence throughout the interaction.
In a wide-ranging interview with the no-nonsense Christiane Amanpour, British-Iranian television host and chief international correspondent for CNN, Mugabe didn’t mince his words and gave Amanpour a run for her money.
Towards the end of the interview, Amanpour riled up Mugabe when she played a clip of Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu saying: “He has destroyed a wonderful country which used to be a [bread basket], which has now become a basket case itself. He is responsible for gross violations.”
“That’s nonsense. It’s devilish talk. He doesn’t know what he is talking about. The little man!” a visibly outraged Mugabe stung back. Amanpour continued stepping on Mugabe’s toes, and reminded him Tutu was a Nobel Laureate.
“You don’t know what his status in the ANC amounts to,” Mugabe retorted.
The discussion then took a detour to the ubiquitous status apportioned to Nelson Mandela as the liberator of all oppressed people on the African continent, and asked whether Mugabe was envious of Mandela’s stripes.
Mugabe would have none of the condescension. “President Mandela is President Mandela, Robert Mugabe is Robert Mugabe. Look at him in his own circumstances. I know my people have great praise for me. I know African praise think highly of me, and that satisfies me.”
This afforded Amanpour what should have been a home-run opportunity. She reminded Mugabe his statement was incompatible with the reality on the ground, as he had just lost the elections. She bravely asked him what motivated him to cling to power by the skin of his teeth.
“You don’t leave power when imperialists demand you leave. There is a regime-change programme by the United States and the United Kingdom, which is which is not just targeting Robert Mugabe, but Robert Mugabe and his party [to remove them] out of power. That naturally means we dig in and remain in our trenches,” Mugabe responded.
Mugabe belligerently refused to state whether he would be standing for re-election in future (he did), only saying that would depend on what he would decide: “I won’t tell you now!”
In response, Amanpour launched another missile and asked whether his reluctance to relinquish power was out of fear of being prosecuted by the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
“I don’t care about that the international [court] … What they decide is entirely their own affair. I am concerned about Zimbabwe, about the life of Zimbabweans. Don’t forget it was my party which brought democracy into the country. We had to fight the British for democracy, for one man for one vote,” Mugabe stuck to his guns.
Amanpour pressed on one last time before running out of time, and reminded Mugabe the recent elections in 2009 were “heavily disputed” and that he was spewing hypocritical rhetoric. Mugabe remained undeterred.
“Elections don’t go all that smoothly all the time in many countries. That is the situation. That is what happens elsewhere. They didn’t go smoothly here [USA] during the first term of office of president Bush. The 400 000 votes, where did they go? They were stolen by Mr Bush, and you people said nothing about it,” he challenged Amanpour.
Amanpour rattled Mugabe a bit further, and said the Florida’s “stolen votes” issue was “heavily covered” and that there was “a dispute around the word, ‘stolen'”.
She unequivocally quizzed Mugabe on whether the power-sharing agreement in Zimbabwe would stick, as Zanu-PF controlled all the heavy-duty ministries.
“The inclusive government is a real power-sharing government, don’t denigrate it. We have 14 countries in the SADC [Southern African Development Community] which are responsible for assisting us in bringing that about and making it right. Read what they say. Listen to what they say,” Mugabe concluded.
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