We received the news of the tragic death of Retired General Solomon Mujuru while in Luanda, Angola, for the 31st Sadc Heads of State and Governments Summit.
Circumstances in which the Retired General died were so shocking and difficult to believe.
I had known Mujuru’s name since the war of liberation in the late 1970s.
Liberation war songs celebrating his military proficiency were constantly sung during pungwes (all-night political gatherings) in our rural area, Mambwere Village in Zimunya District.
One of the common and popular songs went like Hona Mukoma Nhongo bereka sabhu tiende chauya chauya, Hona Mukoma Nhongo bereka sabhu tiende pasi ne Dzakutsaku.
After the war of liberation in 1980, I, like many other Zimbabweans, followed the life of Mujuru as he rose from being army commander to a wealthy businessperson.
During his time as commander of the army, I frequently heard members of the Zimbabwe National Army ((ZNA) extol him for according them an opportunity to pursue education studies because the majority of them had dropped out of school to join the war of liberation.
They praised the Retired General for ensuring all soldiers had decent shelter above their heads. In Dangamvura high-density suburb where I grew up, houses were built exclusively for members of the ZNA courtesy of Mujuru.
I had an opportunity to finally meet Mujuru early this year at some commercial offices in Milton Park, Harare. He was in the company of Zanu PF Mashonaland East chairman Ray Kaukonde, believed to be his long-time political disciple.
I had just been promoted to the post of Political Editor and Brian Mangwende, the Editor, invited me to meet Big Solo, as his admirers affectionately called him in social circles. It was important to meet him. After all, he was a power broker in Zanu PF’s treacherous internal politics.
The Retired General looked relaxed, but very alert.
But, after a few exchanges I noticed Mujuru became uncomfortable.
The Retired General then withdrew himself from the discussions and concentrated on partaking his lunch. He was eating sadza with goat meat and beef stew with vegetables.
He, however, kept staring at me each time I was given an opportunity to speak.
I later realised, the Retired General might have thought I was mimicking the way he talked. He was known to stammer.
From time to time I also have similar challenges.
But, after realising I was not mimicking him and that I in fact shared the same challenges with him, he then appeared to look relaxed and rejoined the discussions which ranged from Zanu PF politics, to the political dynamics in MDC-T, the state of the economy and other general issues.
Mujuru turned to Mangwende and stammered: “Saka mati comrade awa wanonzi ani zviya? (By the way, what is the name of this comrade?)”
He then sought to know more about me. When I told him I was from Manicaland Province, he stammered: “Ndimi maguta nemadiamonds. Chipaiwo wamwe chance wambodyawo. (You have enjoyed enough from diamonds now give others a chance.)”
Mujuru then invited us to join him in eating the goat meat he was partaking again stammering: “Ngatidye mbudzi, wakomana. (Boys, let’s eat goat meat)”.
We gladly joined him. As we were eating, he told me how united politicians and businesspeople from Mashonaland East Province were chiding political heavyweights, businesspeople and corporate leaders from Manicaland Province for not being united.
He said because of that discord the people of Manicaland were unlikely to derive meaningful benefits from Marange diamonds.
He was against the idea of holding an early election in Zimbabwe saying politics was destroying the economy.
He told us as journalists, we should contribute meaningfully to the recovery and not to contribute to the downfall of the country.
We agreed with him and he smiled.
After almost an hour, we bade him farewell. As we were going, Mujuru said it was important to meet constantly to discuss issues affecting our country and be players in finding solutions.
I found Mujuru in this hour-long interaction with him, to be a humble person who, despite his towering status, was a simple man who found time to discuss issues affecting the common man in the street.
After receiving news of his tragic death, memories of that meeting with him flooded back to my mind.