Memoirs and memories as Tsvangirai reaches inevitable retirement

File Pic: Former Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, and MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai

Article appears on Hopewell Chin’ono’s Facebook page and is published with his permission.

Leaders come and go and events happen and people move on. However, the memories stay with us.

One such memory was interviewing Morgan Tsvangirai in 2008 when he was in hiding at the Dutch Embassy in Highlands, Harare.

This was after the 2008 post election violence had begun and his supporters were on the run across Zimbabwe.

Tsvangirai was as frightened as we were and as inquiring about what was happening as all journalists around town.

He didn’t lose his jovial and cheeky smile, always the happy fella who likes teasing you about your own fears, something that didn’t escape his own world either.

He had come to realise that he was the embodiment and symbol of a people’s struggle, hopes and aspirations against Robert Mugabe’s entrenched dictatorship.

I always look forward to interviewing politicians who talk to you without pretence, I have never met many who don’t believe in their own hype, Morgan Tsvangirai is one of the few that I came across who were genuinely humble.

He always had the school boy twinkle in his eye and the cheeky smile.

Whilst at the Dutch Embassy, he asked me about what was being reported about his ‘escape’ to the Dutch embassy and what the general people were saying about him.

I assured him that only the international press was fully seized with the story.

I had been denied the election media permit to cover the 2008 elections on the premise that I was a security risk, I joined my colleague Brian Hungwe in this ridiculous club.
It showed how paranoid the state had become. I joked about it with Morgan Tsvangirai, finished my interview with him and left.

I was to become the only Zimbabwean television journalist and filmmaker who met him whilst on the run in South Africa from Mugabe’s goons after he pulled out of the election.

At that time, I had just won the CNN overall African Journalist of The Year Award in Accra and had been snapped up by UK’s ITV News as their producer. I combined this new gig with my eNCA role as their man in Harare .

My ITV News bosses arranged that I flew to Johannesburg to interview Morgan Tsvangirai and also come back on the same flight with him to Harare the next day.
I was booked to fly Business Class on the basis that Tsvangirai couldn’t fly Economy Class. My bosses were nicely a bit presumptuous.

Strive Masiyiwa’s bodyguards and team which was assisting Tsvangirai drove him to the airport.

I followed behind them and when we got to the airport, I saw Jameson Timba who had just flown into South Africa from Harare. Timba said that he was running away from the marauding violent gangs.

I was surprised that the MDCT leader was booked to fly Economy class. So I now had a problem on my hands, how do I film him when he is in Economy class and I am in Business class?

Economy class was jam packed with foreign journalists who had heard about his imminent return to Zimbabwe. A fast thinking flight attendant realised my predicament, she went and spoke to the Captain of the SAA afternoon flight from Johannesburg to Harare.

Morgan Tsvangirai and his bodyguard were upgraded to Business Class so that I could interview him from there. He was as excited about going home as he was about seeing his whole family including his wife, Susan.

He was afraid of being arrested, he looked at me as the flight was touching down in Harare and whispered a question, “….are you going to film me all the way?”

I told him that I would. I realised a bit of fear in him, who wouldn’t after so many of your supporters had been bludgeoned to death?

This to my colleagues and myself was just nothing but work. We were merely telling stories about what was happening, something that journalists are supposed to do everyday without being partisan.

Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe went on to sign the Inclusive Government deal with Robert Mugabe and Arthur Mutambara. The night before the official ceremony, I got a call from a socialite called Bryline Chitsunge, a relative of Morgan Tsvangirai.

Bryline can get you into any state house you can think of in Africa, well connected and resourceful.

She asked me if I was in town adding that if I were, she would organise for me to be allowed into the Tsvangirai household to film the celebrations before the offcial ceremony the next morning.

I took up the offer and beat my colleagues to this scoop, we led our bulletin that evening in London on ITV News at 10 with those exclusive pictures.

My team and myself were given unfettered access to the MDCT leader and his family, dancing, drinking and eating. Bryline understood the power of the media and pictorial story telling. Something that our local politicians are yet to grasp and master.

That was the last time that I was to speak to Amai Susan Tsvangirai, she died in a horrible car accident, which Tsvangirai survived but not unscathed.

Morgan Tsvangirai became the Prime Minister who was dogged with women scandals after his wife’s passing, not that the other side was squeaky clean.

He failed to realise that he had NO power at all regardless of being Prime Minister, he was an inconvenient compromise for Mugabe. Mugabe’s cruelty came out full throttle when he made sure that Morgan Tsvangirai did not have a proper wedding to Elizabeth Macheka.

He used all the tricks in the book including putting legal roadblocks and some members of the judiciary and legal fraternity should be ashamed of their role in all this. But it is now in the past, however we should use the past to figure out the future.

I was to meet Morgan Tsvangirai for the last time before the 2013 election in Barcelona, Spain where he was one of the two keynote speakers at the World Justice Forum. I was there preparing for a film that I co-produced with Lorie Conway looking at the life of Beatrice Mtetwa.

The then Prime Minister spotted me in the lobby talking to the other keynote speaker, Cherie Blair, the wife of the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. I joked about whether the World Justice Forum was a ploy for Tsvangirai to get orders from the Brits, he laughed and instead gave orders to one of his ministers to make sure that I joined them for dinner.

He was a different Morgan Tsvangirai, not pompous or taken by the trappings of power, but he was different. I will one day write about it, he had changed.

I looked at him and thought of his wife and felt like welling up, something was missing in his life and I think it was Susan. A lot of things happened since the Barcelona dinner, which I will write about in detail in my book chronicling my life as a journalist in Zimbabwe.

When I saw Morgan Tsvangira’s latest visuals, I was hurt like most Zimbabweans.
He was still jovial, smiling and welcoming but his sting has clearly gone. I can’t think of anyone who has given so much to the cause of democracy in postcolonial Zimbabwe.

Whatever he does from now on, he played his part and will be remembered for generations to come as the warrior who fought for a good cause and gave all that he had and lost the love of his life in the process.

I wish him well and hope that he will recover from his current illness, I am so grateful for the opportunities that he gave many journalists like myself to speak to him and to help build a true picture of that part of our history.

Was he perfect? NO. But who is perfect? Like Nelson Mandela said, “…do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again”

I share with you below an Awards trailer of my documentary film, A Violent Response.
This period in our history will come to define Morgan Tsvangirai’s life. He won an election but chose to play the under dog in order to see his country prosper.

He could have played hardball, he argued to many journalists that no life was worth losing in order to fulfill his journey to the state house.

I genuinely wish him well in his inevitable retirement. He gave us a front row seat to record the most tumultuous period of postcolonial Zimbabwe.

Posted by Hopewell Chin'ono on Tuesday, January 9, 2018


  • This article first appeared on Hopewell Chin’ono’s Facebook page.