I never got to know Retired General Solomon Mujuru personally, although I came across him a number of times going about his private business quietly in town like everyone else.
So this is not meant to be a cameo of his life but snapshots gleaned from those who knew him and what I read about him.
Mujuru never seemed to want his presence felt as some politicians who are in the habit of imposing their presence or attracting publicity through cheap stunts.
Even though I never got to know him personally, his horrific death in an inferno this week shocked and pained many Zimbabweans including myself.
This finality about death makes it grim, it takes such a tragedy to remind us that we all belong to the human race, no matter the political hue.
What I knew from a distance is that he was a forthright man; he was reputed as a straight talker.
A proud soldier, there was no way he could be obsequious. According to Zapu leader Dumiso Dabengwa, Mujuru plainly told President Robert Mugabe and Vice-President Joshua Nkomo that they had to make way for the next generation of leaders unlike one academic who infamously said Mugabe should die in office because his two Vice-Presidents had done so.
At times, life experience is a better teacher than books. Mujuru saw that the future of the nation could not be in the past. Yes, there is need to re-energise our politics with new faces with new ideas.
Observed Dabengwa, who has a way of making profound statements without shouting: “He was a very strong member in Zanu PF and probably the only one remaining that was capable of speaking his mind about anything he didn’t like and the only one who could criticise the party.”
Yes, Dabengwa, whether you agree with his views or not, has a knack of making candid observations without screaming, the same way Mujuru did.
This is not a hagiography or praise song. Grave political mistakes have been made over the past 31 years and Mujuru was very much part of the system.
The nation still has to acknowledge and emerge from the phenomenon of people feeding into the system. Some leaders should realise how selfish they have become over the past 31 years.
But this does not detract from the fact that Mujuru and many other brave Zimbabweans, such as his long-time comrade-in-arms Dabengwa, made Zimbabwe a reality. The two forged a strong bond from very early in the armed struggle.
However, because of widespread political oppression and corruption, it’s not surprising an increasing number of people are beginning to question the whole purpose of the liberation struggle.
In this highly polarised atmosphere, there is a tendency to swing from one extreme to the other, missing the point altogether.
This polarisation has permeated across all political parties with people looking for self-serving, facile answers.
For instance, criticising Zanu PF corruption does not make one a puppet, attacking MDC-T does not make one pro-Zanu PF, and slamming MDC-N does not automatically make one a tribalist. People should not be branded like cattle.
We can’t have such a fundamentalist approach to politics. There are valid grounds for criticising all these three main parties.
There is a great deal of truth in what former United States ambassador Chris Dell wrote in the leaked diplomatic cables about the strengths and weaknesses of these parties’ leaders.
But, naturally Zanu PF will get the most criticism because it has the effective power and this has been so for the past 31 years.
The more the power, the more the responsibility, and the ruling class has presided over national decline.
But people ought to be reminded that there was nothing benevolent about colonialism under the so-called white man’s “civilising” burden of Africa.
It was there to subjugate and the ensuing development was incidental, not altruistic. People were displaced from fertile land and dispossessed of livestock to force them into the economic mainstream as cheap labour.
That’s the nature of settlerism over the ages across all continents. Mujuru recognised this early; that’s why he took up arms of war. This is not to canonise him, but his military exploits are there on record for all to see.
After the attainment of independence, he remained in touch with the people; that’s how he fought and survived the liberation war. As a true soldier, he did not mythologise the war and make himself out to be a superman.
Mujuru’s cool demeanour said it all. He was also beginning to see debilitating political intolerance in independent Zimbabwe. His political courage, like his military courage in the beginning, manifested at the end.
Though not pronounced, it was plain to see that he and Dabengwa were among the prime movers behind Simba Makoni’s Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn party candidature in the 2008 presidential election.
He was against rabidly negative campaigning as this poisoned the political atmosphere and he expressly said so.
Being versed in war, he knew that the opposition was not an enemy, but a political adversary which could be wooed or outwitted peacefully.
Significantly, this man who experienced real war cautioned voters in his constituency against sloganeering “Down with Tsvangirai”, as, he said, that meant they wanted MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai dead, as opposed to Jabulani Sibanda, who never saw any military action, preposterously saying Tsvangirai “is like a fly I will squat at any moment”.
Mujuru appeared to go along with some of the patently wrong things, but was his heart really into it? I have my doubts. Maybe he knew what he was up against, being an insider, so this could have been a merely tactical stance.
That’s why Mujuru was working behind the scenes to formulate what would have, in fact, been a new political dispensation of tolerance.
That he could mix and mingle across the political spectrum made him suitable for that role.
As United States President Barack Obama has put it, it’s time to put the next generation before the next election.
All said, this is not to steal Mujuru from Zanu PF or expropriate his legacy to the party he served loyally and unselfishly for decades. This is in homage to an open-minded and reform-minded hero.
Deepest sympathy to Vice-President Joice Mujuru and family.
Go well, General.