The white Mazda 323 left a trail of black soot in its wake as it meandered up the vlei from Shamva into Bindura, the capital of Mashonaland Central province.
My two companions and I kept our thoughts to ourselves as we pondered our safety in this volatile province where everything and anyone not directly associated with Zanu PF was considered an “enemy”.
We were still counting our fortunes that so far, we had survived overzealous party apparatchiks who mounted “roadblocks” and “vetted” every visitor into Mashonaland Central.
Throughout the journey, we had used our own ingenuity to sweet-talk our way past Zanu PF youths who manned these roadblocks and it was by some stroke of luck that finally, we were in Bindura.
The year was 2001 and I was still living my other life as a journalist.
To date, I am still not sure what would have been had those youths discovered that we were reporters from The Daily News, then considered an “unpatriotic” publication.
By then, brave journalism was really a hard hat area.
But still we made it into Bindura in one piece.
There were three of us, senior political reporter Sandra Nyaira (now with a foreign-based radio station), Aaron Ufumeli (now chief photographer for Alpha Media Holdings) and myself, then a political reporter.
We were making our way into volatile Bindura to cover a by-election following the tragic death of Border Gezi, the MP for the area who was also the Zanu PF national commissar.
That by-election had generated great interest amongst all and sundry, not least because of the violence in the area, but because of the impending electoral battle between Elliot Manyika (Zanu PF) and Elliot Pfebve (MDC).
We, in the media, had dubbed this by-election: “The Battle of the Elliots”.
But the race to succeed Gezi had become so hot that Zanu PF activists had murdered the MDC candidate’s brother, Matthew Pfebve, at their rural home in Mt Darwin in a tragic case of mistaken identity.
As the three of us made our way into Bindura, we were very much aware of the blistering political temperature in the area.
So we pitched up at a restaurant and found fellow journalists from the public media in the company of senior Zanu PF officials and an unfamiliar lady, then the chief spook at the local Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) offices in Bindura.
Our colleagues pretended they did not even know us. It appeared it was even dangerous to speak to us.
General Mujuru passed by, greeted us and took us to his apartment in Bindura town.
As we partook to whiskey which he had given us, he personally took to the stove and began preparing sadza for us.
It was an unforgettable three hours that we spent in this apartment, which he said the Vice President did not know about (Amai Mujuru was still an ordinary MP for Mt Darwin).
A few months before, we had covered a story in which the good General had barred Joseph Chinotimba and his team from campaigning for the Zanu PF candidate in Chikomba.
We asked him why and his answer was simple.
“These guys believe in violence. They are going around preaching violence and beating up people in the country. I cannot have those guys beating up people in my own home area. Over my dead body,” he said in his trademark stammer.
“Ndakamuudza Chinotimba kuti ndikakuona kuChikomba ndinokurova magadziko.” (I told Chinotimba that if I ever see you in Chikomba, I will beat up your bums).
Twenty-one years after independence, the good General was still a soldier.
He spoke about political violence and the succession intrigue that continues to dog Zanu PF to this day.
He spoke about the public media and their irresponsible journalism.
It is not too often that you meet a decorated soldier and still feel at ease, but General Mujuru was hewn from a unique stone.
We were to meet years later, this time in my new life of politics. I had just come out of prison on trumped up charges of terrorism when he told me to leave politics and go back to journalism.
As his casket was lowered at the national shrine, I mused over that ironic comment, especially amid the speculation that he was murdered.
The major question on everyone’s lips was how a hardened soldier who had survived sophisticated artillery in the war could die a simple death associated with a candle and matches.
He retired as army general at his prime and the lesson he leaves us is that it is possible to leave office and enjoy other pursuits.
Though he later became the MP for Chikomba, the lesson he left for the Nyikayarambas of this world is that you must remove the people’s uniform if you want to participate in politics.
Go well, General.
Fambai zvakanaka Mwendamberi.
Luke Tamborinyoka is the spokesperson for Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. He can be contacted at email@example.com