I heaved a sigh of relief as George Bush stepped down and Barack Obama was sworn in as the President of the United States. I had nothing against Bush. As an African I was celebrating the inauguration of Obama but that was not the reason for my relief.
Bush’s departure was the fulfilment of a prophecy that had dogged me for six years pitting my journalism principles against my religious beliefs.
I have been a journalist for over 30 yeas and I am a member of the Zion Christian Church, a Zimbabwean-based Christian organisation that has spread its wings to neighbouring countries as well as to the United Kingdom and the United States.
A prophet from our church predicted way back in 2003 that despite the country’s economic woes, Mugabe would outlast his main adversaries- John Howard of Australia, Tony Blair of the United Kingdom and George Bush.
All three have now gone. Mugabe still hangs on in office, by the thread one might say, sitting at the deathbed of what used to be one of the “Jewels of Africa”, but he has outlasted his adversaries.
Even though prophecy is one of the cornerstones of our church, I had doubts about its veracity when I heard about it. True, Mugabe had just won a six-year term that would see him in office until 2008. Bush and Howard were facing elections the following year. Blair was going to the polls in 2005. But Mugabe was also facing a crucial party congress in 2004 at which everyone expected him to step down.
Mugabe’s biggest enemy was, however, the economy. It was in shambles. The country had no fuel, no cash, and no food. Inflation was galloping. We did not know then, or even think, that things would get worse.
People were calling on Mugabe to go. Opinion polls showed that opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who had lost elections the previous year, was more popular than Mugabe.
But the prophecy still nagged me. Despite my little faith, the scripture: “Truly I say unto you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin,” kept ringing in my head.
As a journalist I was guided by the need to seek the truth. Prophecy was predictions that no one could prove until they happened. But what kept bothering me was that the prophecy was not about the political situation in the country. It was about an impending visit to Britain and the United States by our church leader Bishop Nehemiah Mutendi.
He had embarked on a mission to spread the gospel to the West to show how God had manifested himself in Africa. The prophet had told church elders that during the Bishop’s visit, there would be a big omen to show the world that the “Man of God”-as the bishop is also referred to- was in the area.
Just in passing the prophet had warned church elders to tell their members not to dabble in politics. Some church members were now active in politics because of the general disenchantment and this was causing friction within the church.
“Taurirai vanhu kuti vasiyane nezvenyika. Ngavasimbe pakunamata nokuti murume uyu haabvi pachigaro kusvika vavengi vake vainda. Ndizvo zvinonditaurira Jehovha,” the prophet said in Shona, the vernacular language spoken by more than 80 percent of Zimbabwe’s people.
(Tell the people to leave politics alone and concentrate on worshiping the Lord. This man (Mugabe) is not going to leave office until all his enemies are gone. That is what the Lord has said).
I was stunned when I heard about the prophecy. Even the church elders were baffled. Things were bad in Zimbabwe and everyone was praying for an end to the misery. How could God allow the suffering and humiliation that the people of Zimbabwe were going through to continue? How could God justify the brutality that the people were enduring?
It did not make sense at all. It was only when the bishop landed in Boston in August and there was a huge blackout that the prophecy which had been made two months earlier dawned on the elders who were accompanying him.
They realised what the blackout was all about, but they could not explain this miracle to anyone in America. No one would understand or believe them. They would be lucky not to be called lunatics or even end up in a mental institution.
This was not new to the elders. Scientists have always battled to explain things God has done. Some are even challenging creation itself. They had experienced a glaring example of how scientists could explain miracles away in 1976 when the founder of the church Rev. Samuel Mutendi died.
Before his death he told church elders and his followers that his time was up. He was now going to meet his creator and enjoy the fruits of six decades of spreading the gospel. He told his followers that if nothing extraordinary happened three days after his death, they could forget all that he had taught them and go back to drinking beer and consulting n’angas (traditional healers) because he had misled them.
He died on 20 July 1976. Three days after his death, a bright star with his picture was seen gliding across the sky for all to see. Scientists explained it away as an Unidentified Flying Object (UFO). The local daily papers carried the story about the UFOs.
When one of the elders told me the story about the blackout and the prophecy my curiosity overcame my journalistic cautiousness. I wrote the story and posted it on my website in September 2003. But some doubt still lingered at the back of my mind.
I watered down the prophecy and left out details about Howard and Bush, concentrating on Blair. “Just over half of the people interviewed in a survey by the Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI) have said they want President Robert Mugabe to retire now and pave way for fresh elections,” I wrote. “But The Insider has heard through the grapevine that someone has predicted that though under increasing pressure, Mugabe is likely to outlast his biggest adversary, British Prime Minister Tony Blair.”
The story was a mixture of fact and prophecy but I did not disclose that the so-called prediction was a prophecy. I was in a catch-22 situation. I could not ignore the prophecy because my teaching told me: “Mwari haazi munhu, haangarevi nhema”. (God is not man, that he should lie). But facts on the ground told another story that I could not ignore either.
The main reason why I wrote the story was that, despite my doubts, I felt somehow that the prophecy would be fulfilled so I had to do it so that I would not be accused of fabricating things if the prophecy turned out to be true as it now has. I wanted to have something to fall back on.
The economy which was in shambles in 2003 began to recover in 2004. Inflation dropped from 623 percent to 133 percent. Fuel became readily available. But Bush won the presidential elections at the end of the year, meaning he would be in office up to the end of 2008. Howard also won the elections but his term expired before Mugabe’s.
“Bush might outlast Mugabe,” I thought. “But the prophecy was still true about Blair.”
Most people were convinced that Mugabe would step down as leader of the Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) at its 2004 congress so that his successor could take over the reins while Mugabe served the remainder of his term as state president. The three-year transition would give his successor enough time to build a political base.
But strange things started happening. Mugabe changed tact just before the party congress. He said he was not stepping down. One of the vice-Presidents had to be a woman. The party was thrown into turmoil. There were rumours of a “smart coup”. But the “culprits” were exposed. Mugabe retained his post which meant he would remain party leader until 2009. Joyce Mujuru became party vice-president.
Six provincial chairmen who were allegedly involved in the abortive “smart coup” were expelled from the party. Most people thought that the party was going to split ahead of the Parliamentary elections scheduled for March 2005. But Mugabe triumphed. There was no split. His party went on to win a two-thirds majority, enough to enable it to amend the constitution without any support from the opposition. The opposition which had 57 seats in the previous parliament went down to 41.
But there was another surprise two months later. Blair called an early election and won. He was now going to be in office until 2009 or 2010.
I began to lose heart. Despite Mugabe’s victory things continued to fall apart. Inflation continued to soar. Central bank governor Gideon Gono who had come on with a lot of promise vowing “failure is not an option” slowly disappeared from the public arena sparking rumours that he too might be giving up.
But Mugabe would not go. The opposition split over whether it should participate in elections for a new senate or not. Mugabe had survived another crisis. But divisions within ZANU-PF continued to grow.
There were fears that the West realising that the opposition had crumbled was now financing a faction within Mugabe’s own party to effect change from within. The divisions burst into the open at the 2006 annual conference held at Goromonzi in Mashonaland East.
The province refused to endorse Mugabe as the sole presidential candidate for the 2008 elections sparking a major rift between Mugabe and the province’s kingpin, Solomon Mujuru, husband of vice-President Joyce. Instead, they called for a special congress in 2007. It was only at congress that the party could elect a new leader.
Realising that they might be overshadowed by the reformists within ZANU-PF, the opposition launched what it termed its final push. Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders stepped in and asked South African President Thabo Mbeki to spearhead talks between ZANU-PF and the MDC so that they could draw up a new constitution for the next elections.
Calls for Mugabe to step down increased. They were so intense that a Brussels based think-tank, the International Crisis Group, said in February 2007 that Mugabe would not last another five months.
A meeting of the party’s powerful central committee, however, endorsed Mugabe as the party’s presidential candidate for the elections in 2008. Two months later, Tony Blair announced out of the blue, on May 10, that he was stepping down as Prime Minister on June 27.
Part one of the prophecy has been fulfilled. I drafted my story on May 12 planning to have it out before May 19, but abandoned the project when more predictions about Mugabe’s downfall began to surface. My doubts and lack of faith had taken over. I felt Mugabe might not last until June 27 so I decided to hold the story until a day after Blair had actually resigned.
I wrote the story and asked one of the church elders David Nyama whether I could submit the story as it was. He said I should ask the bishop. I did. He asked to see the story and after going through it he advised me not to publish it.
“There is nothing wrong with the story or the prophecy,” he told me. “My only worry is that the opposition might not understand that this is prophecy and not the church’s position. Why don’t you wait because part of the prophecy is still to be fulfilled?”
I had put everything into this story. My first instincts as a journalist were that I should protest because the story might be overtaken by events. But I could not defy the bishop.
Bishop Mutendi instructed me to rewrite the story confining myself to the prophecy linked to the development of our multi-million dollar church that was being built at the church’s administrative headquarters at Mbungo Estates.
Construction of the church which has a capacity of 15 000 to 18 000 started in October 2005. There had been several prophecies about what would happen when it was completed. I wrote that story and it appeared in our supplement which is published every year in July to coincide with the anniversary of Rev Samuel Mutendi’s death.
Pressure on Mugabe to go continued to mount. But in November Howard lost to Kevin Rudd in the Australian elections. Part two had been fulfilled. Mugabe was endorsed as party leader and presidential candidate at the special congress. All the squabbling in the run-up to the congress had fizzled out. No one challenged him.
But the divisions were even wider. In February Simba Makoni left ZANU-PF to form the Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn project. The movement had strong backing from the business sector and the West. It was supposed to attract people from both ZANU-PF and the MDC but it was a total flop because most people viewed it as a ZANU-PF decoy meant to rob Tsvangirai of the urban vote, the MDC stronghold, and allow Mugabe an easy victory.
People flocked to the MDC leading Tsvangirai to win the March 29 elections. Reports that Tsvangirai had won the elections massively started circulating as early as March 30. Initial reports said he had won 68 percent of the votes. The reports said most of the ZANU-PF heavyweights had been kicked out.
I was inundated with calls from colleagues whom I had told about the prophecy. I told them to cool down and wait for the final official results.
A different picture started emerging when the electoral commission started releasing the results. Tsvangirai’s victory margin began to fall until it settled at just over 50 percent. The Zimbabwe Elections Supervisory Network, an independent non-profit organisation which had deployed monitors throughout the country, said Tsvangirai had won but by less than 50 percent of the vote. This would necessitate a run-off.
I dreaded any run-off because I knew that ZANU-PF was not going to accept defeat. It was going to unleash unprecedented violence to win the presidential election. That was the only language the party knew would force people to vote for them. My colleagues argued that no amount of violence would change the people’s minds but I told them that ZANU-PF would not embark on the campaign if it was not sure it would win.
There was a lot of tension raised by the manner in which the results were released. The results trickled in so slowly that everyone felt that they were being “cooked”. Worse was to come when the commission withheld the presidential results. When they were finally released, Tsvangirai had beaten Mugabe by a small margin. There had to be a run off.
The world disputed the results and called on Mugabe to step down but he would not. His lieutenants launched a violent campaign that left nearly 200 people dead forcing Tsvangirai to pull out of the run-off. Mugabe won unopposed and was quickly sworn in as President and the same evening he flew to Cairo for the African Union meeting.
I knew then that there was now no turning back. The MDC had lost the battle. Mugabe was now dictating the pace once again. I sent a copy of my original story to my editor in London as background material so that he could understand why I had argued all along that the end-game for Mugabe was nowhere near.
Nine months of acrimonious negotiations which saw Mbeki being forced to step down as President following accusations that he was biased towards ZANU-PF and Mugabe followed. Pressure for Mugabe to go and threats that the country would not receive any assistance as long as Mugabe was part of the government mounted. More sanctions were imposed on the country. But I was now totally convinced that Mugabe would hang on.
SADC leaders suddenly all rallied behind Mugabe. The lone voice of protest from Botswana President Ian Khama soon died. The negotiating teams of the three key political parties came up with an agreement that baffled everyone. Mugabe would remain President while Tsvangirai would be appointed Prime Minister.
The West was stunned. I was not. The prophecy had now been fulfilled. I relaxed because I had faced a lot of criticism and accusations that I was a Mugabe apologist. Maybe I was. But all I knew was that I was bound by my religious belief.
As an ordinary Zimbabwean, I too wanted change. How could I accept a life where my salary could only buy two loaves of bread? How could I accept a life where I could not remember when I last had a bottle of coke? How could I accept a life where my children sometimes taunted me by asking if people were still selling bananas because I could no longer bring any home?
Now that this prophecy has been fulfilled I am now wondering whether, it is now time for Mugabe to go. He is facing a crucial party congress this year. Will he stand again for another five years which would make him party leader until he is 90?
I don’t have any answers. I can only console myself with the other prophecies associated with the completion of our church now scheduled for Easter this year.
The prophecies say that Zimbabwe is going to regain its status as the region’s bread basket. Its currency is going to regain its strength and compete against the South African rand, the Botswana pula and the United States dollar. And a cure for Aids will be found.
Elder Nyama has this to console his colleagues, the people of Zimbabwe as a whole, and perhaps the world: “Munyika muno makafira munhu mukuru. Mwari haangatenderi kuti anyadziswe”– God will not allow this country to go to the dogs because a very important person (Samuel Mutendi) died in this country.