PRESIDENT MNANGAGWA cheated death thrice during his lifetime, including the infamous poisoning in Gwanda six years ago and escaping the death sentence on a technicality before independence.
Recounting his life experiences during his 81st birthday celebrations at State House on Friday night, the President said he has endured countless challenges in his life, but he has managed to overcome them because of God’s grace.
The dinner was organised by First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa and members of the First Family.
The most recent attempt on his life, President Mnangagwa said, took place in 2017, when he was poisoned in Gwanda, Matabeleland South province, at a ZANU PF rally, when he was still Vice President.
He said he only survived after he was swiftly airlifted to Harare, via Gweru, before being whisked to South Africa while he was unconscious.
In his address, the President chronicled his life, which he said was characterised by hardships and sacrifice.
“My life history has not been an easy one,” he said.
“I joined UNIP (United National Independence Party) in Zambia in 1959, when I was at college in Lusaka. So, they had broken away from the ANC of Harry Nkumbula, that is, (Simon Mwanza) Kapwepwe and Kenneth Kaunda, so they came to the college and recruited us.
“The blowing of a train that you know about was not the first thing. My first arson was burning of a school, then I was expelled in 1959.”
He said as a UNIP youth cadre, he helped Zimbabwean nationalists, such as Willie Musarurwa, who came to the party’s offices to make photocopies of their documents since he was the only person among the youths conversant in both Shona and Ndebele.
He then left UNIP to join ZAPU, before leaving for Tanganyika (now Tanzania), where he met nationalists such as the late Herbert Chitepo and former President Robert Mugabe.
The President later left for Egypt to undergo military training. He said upon leaving for Egypt, he and 13 colleagues were jailed by the authorities for siding with Zimbabwean nationalists, who were referred back home as “rebels”, for deserting Dr Joshua Nkomo after a split in the liberation movement around 1963.
The “rebels” were led by Ndabaningi Sithole and also included Cde Mugabe and Cde Enos Nkala.
He said he was the only survivor among the 13 cadres he operated with.
“During my time, (the) age of majority was 21; that is why I survived (the death sentence) … my colleagues got hanged,” he said.
“I was the only survivor. I then spent 10 years at Khami Prison in a dark room. God has been very kind to me.
“None of my colleagues, the 13 … we were together in Egypt in 1962 and 1963… none survived.
“In China, when we trained, we were only five; no one else is alive . . . my colleagues again were hanged here … I am the only survivor, even members of the Crocodile Gang, I am the only survivor.
“I had a taste of death three times.
“First in Iringa (Tanzania), but that is a story for another day; second, when I was captured and I got my 10 years (imprisonment) because I was underage, I survived.
“The third one is very recent, in 2017, when I was poisoned there. I am here because of this young man (Vice President Constantino) Chiwenga.
“He and the First Lady were able to rush me to South Africa, where I survived.
“They tell me how I travelled, but I don’t know.
“They tell me from Gwanda (we went to) Gweru (then) to Harare; I was sleeping on Chiwenga’s lap while I was unconscious.
“So, I want my family to know that this young man saved me. He took me to South Africa. It has been a challenging journey.”
VP Chiwenga said the President survived many adversities in his life.
“The life of our ‘birthday boy’ is rich, eventful and, I dare say, stalked by several near-misses.
“I will not depress him, or all of you gathered here by recounting those dark moments and they are many — which threatened his life
“Suffice it to say that the fact that we celebrate his 81st birthday proves that a life of destiny and, what is more, whose living carries with it the destiny of a people and a nation, gets sheltered by providence.
“Tonight, we thus celebrate God’s will and design, right from that seemingly ordinary day when Emmerson Dambudzo left the womb of Mbuya Mhurai, to be thrust into a life of foreign tyranny and occupation.”
President Mnangagwa also explained how he used two names — Dambudzo and Emmerson — at home and at school, respectively.
He said he later abandoned the name “Dambudzo” for “Emmerson” without his parents’ knowledge.
He got the name Emmerson from a book he read in a school library.
“So, in the 40s, when we went to school, results would be announced on a weekend and parents would come,” he continued.
“So, class teachers would announce results class by class.
“At home, I was called Dambudzo, but at school I was Emmerson, because I had never told my parents that I had changed (my name).
“So, the teacher said ‘Emmerson, you did well in English and Arithmetic, stand up’, while pointing at me.
“But I could not stand up because I was sitting with my mother.
“When I then stood up, my mother said: ‘Hezvo! Hezvo! Ko wava kunzi ani?’”
He had his audience in stitches when he told them that the dinner came as a huge surprise as he had anticipated a low-key and brief gathering of family members, only to see the grand arrival of his Vice Presidents, Cabinet Ministers, the First Lady, friends and relatives.
He, however, said he felt humbled by the huge attendance.
VP Chiwenga said President Mnangagwa completed his secondary education behind bars, before starting his early degree studies from solitary confinement as a D-Class prisoner.
It took sharp intellect and “defiant hope amidst engulfing adversity, to decide to read, concentrate, let alone pass in such dim and intolerable circumstances, he said.
“He did that, completing his legal studies as a free, unbroken man still nursing countless wounds of torture and trauma.
“After completing his studies, a call came for him to rejoin the struggle, serving as a special assistant to our late President, Cde Robert Gabriel Mugabe.
“He never recoiled; instead, he left all, including a hard-earned career, as a newly qualified lawyer to join fellow comrades in the struggle.
“As a freedom fighter and a long-time career soldier, I can tell you that no war is a dinner party.
“It takes a lot, including the ultimate form of self-denial, to commit oneself to a life of arms and a protracted struggle such as we all endured, much longer in the case of our Birthday ‘Boy’ and his pioneering generation of fighters.
“Tellingly, he is the only survivor from that generation.
“It’s a life of destiny indeed!”
VP Kembo Mohadi described President Mnangagwa as an inspiration.
“You are an inspiration to us all,” he said.
“Your wisdom, and human kindness have touched so many lives. We are grateful for every moment we get to spend with you. We want you to know that you are loved beyond measure.
“It’s my wish that the Lord grants you many more years.”
President Mnangagwa was treated to a massive 81st birthday dinner that attracted members of his family, the Presidium, traditional chiefs, politicians, diplomats and the clergy, among a host of delegates.
Guests at the glitzy event were treated to a combination of sumptuous Western and traditional dishes, which are famed for their high nutritional value and medicinal properties.
The First Lady explained that the dinner was organised by her children in honour of their father.
“I wish to thank you, first and foremost, for coming to be with us this evening as we celebrate the President’s 81st birthday,” said Dr Mnangagwa.
“It is my honour to see you gathered here for this event.
“Today’s event has been organised by our children, varoora, vakwasha nevazukuru.
“I told the children that I cannot continually hold an event of this magnitude for baba annually, hence I had to put the ball in their court.
“As you see me here, I am now a grandmother, so a grandmother wants to see her daughters-in-law, children, sons-in-law and grandchildren honouring their grandfather.
“We then see what their minds tell them to do.
“I then tasked the children to hold the party to assess their minds.
“This is the Mnangagwa family; it is a big family.
“Some have come from the rural areas and we welcome you tonight to celebrate with us.”
Amai Mnangagwa spoke about the need for women to play a leading role in building and uniting families to ensure children grow in a peaceful environment that is free from drug abuse and other vices bedevilling society today.
“To all women here present and the grannies that I am seeing here, we say, as women, we are the ones who build our homes.
“To varoora vese, build the homes where you were married, be unifiers and peacemakers.
“See to it that you build homes and raise your families in happiness and enjoy sound relations.
“Vanababa nanamai, please, love one another.
“I urge you women who are married that you came for good and shall not go back wherever you came from.
“Vanababa, we love you,” she said.
Dr Mnangagwa, who is also the country’s health ambassador, stressed the need for people to embrace traditional dishes and outlined their benefits.
“I want you to get the food you want but there is a mixture of Western and traditional dishes.
“Do not leave traditional food as it is nutritious and has health benefits.
“It defends us from diseases and please, do this at home and you introduce it little by little.”-Herald