Saviour Kasukuwere ready to return to Zim to face possible criminal charges
Former local government says he will end his exile and could be back within days
Former local government minister Saviour Kasukuwere is ready to return to Zimbabwe from self-imposed exile and face any criminal charges brought against him by the new government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Nearly six months after he fled the country when the military ousted president Robert Mugabe, Kasukuwere talked to the Sunday Times about the stigma of being labelled a criminal, having to tighten his belt, and living in fear. "Being in exile was not an easy thing," he said.
At an upmarket hotel in Ekurhuleni, the former Zanu-PF strongman said he might fly to Harare as "early as this week", possibly leading to a face-off with Mnangagwa's government.
"Home is home and Zimbabwe remains my country," he said.
"We were accused of corruption and that we are the centre of destroying the economy. The reason I will go back home is that if I did commit a crime, then I must be brought before the courts and charged. I must answer to the charges of the crimes that I did commit in the country."It's courage that should drive you to say: 'Let me face whatever has to come my way.' Why should you carry the stigma of being a criminal when you have not stolen anybody's money? If you are charged with corruption and there is evidence of that corruption, so be it," Kasukuwere said.
Since Mugabe was ousted in November, corruption charges have been brought against several former ministers, including Ignatius Chombo (finance), Walter Chidhakwa (mines) and Walter Mzembi (foreign affairs).
Mnangagwa has made fighting corruption the focus of his administration, and a crackdown on corruption was promised in the Zanu-PF election manifesto launched a fortnight ago.
Kasukuwere said he had not contacted the authorities in Harare to try to negotiate a "soft landing" when he returns, and said he had no reason to apologise to the new rulers for any wrongdoing.
"Why should I talk to them? If I have apologised to them, why would I still be in exile?" he said.
At the height of the internal feuding that rocked Zanu-PF last year, Kasukuwere publicly mocked Mnangagwa, who Mugabe had fired as vice-president for being "a border jumper" after he fled to Mozambique. Kasukuwere said his comments at the time were merely "political statements" and were not unusual in the course of politics.
A leading member of the G40 faction in Zanu-PF that was defeated in the intense power struggle to succeed Mugabe, Kasukuwere is among those who the military condemned as "criminals" when it carried out its raids in Harare to depose the Mugabe government.Mugabe's closest allies, Jonathan Moyo and Patrick Zhuwao, also fled into exile, Moyo to Kenya and Zhuwao to South Africa.
Kasukuwere declined to comment on his falling out with Moyo and Zhuwao.
He said it was "unfair" to pile the blame for everything that went wrong in Zimbabwe only on Mugabe, when the entire government was involved in collective decision-making.
"I think that men and women in Zimbabwe need to have the integrity to accept collective responsibility. To shift the blame of everything that happened in Zimbabwe to one man is totally unfair. I think that the sooner we all accept our mistakes, all of us, the better for our country."
Kasukuwere said he was scared when soldiers raided his home in Harare at 2am during the military's "coup" against Mugabe.
"It was a traumatic experience. What happened in November is something that one does not want to take lightly. It was an event that was very challenging, it was not expected and was an event that leaves a lot of bitterness," he said.
Kasukuwere said the conflict that was raging within Zanu-PF at the time was a political one and by its nature did not warrant the involvement of the military."That was a party conflict and to have the army step in, that was not expected. You would have expected political players to deal with each other politically.
"If you feel aggrieved you go and form your own political party, just like Joice Mujuru left and formed her own party," he said, referring to the former vice-president who served for 10 years until 2014.
Kasukuwere said his six months as an exile had given him new insight into the difficulties faced by the millions of Zimbabweans who have fled the country in search of jobs and economic opportunities.
"Once you have left your nation, it's not easy, it's not pleasant at all," he said.
"For the first time, I have a better understanding and deeper knowledge of how citizens feel. It is not a pleasant thing at all, it's something that none of us should ever wish on anybody ... We must learn to resolve our issues and find each other."
Kasukuwere said the past few months had been a learning curve for someone used to the perks of high government office.
"I have had to adapt to the environment, live within my means and do away with yesterday's appetites," he said.
"I can't afford either the luxury or the pleasures of things such as a holiday, all those things are no longer a priority."Where I used to drive around with lots of security personnel, it's gone. I have had to learn to take care of myself. I always used to tell people to get ready for a rainy day and to never get used to having someone carrying your bags.
"I understand where a [luggage] carousel is and am able to pick up my own bags."
At the peak of his political career, Kasukuwere was often touted as a possible successor to Mugabe among the emerging young leaders in Zanu-PF.
Now, with his political career cut short, Kasukuwere said his time was spent reading, observing and scouting for business opportunities across the world.
Recent media reports have suggested that Kasukuwere wants to return to Zimbabwe so he can take the reins of the newly established opposition party, the National Patriotic Front, of which he is a co-founder, from Ambrose Mutinhiri.
But the NPF has said Mutinhiri remains its leader and there are no looming changes in the party hierarchy.
Asked what regrets he had about how things had turned out - his forced departure from Zanu-PF, the government and the country - Kasukuwere paused.
"There is nothing you can regret in life," he finally said. "It's just the course of life."
He stood, picked up his bags and headed off to catch a flight out of South Africa. He would not say where he was going.