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CNN'S AMANPOUR

An Interview with Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe

Aired September 24, 2009 - 15:00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, the future of Zimbabwe. An exclusive, in-depth interview with President Robert Mugabe, his first in five years.

And good evening. I'm Christiane Amanpour. Welcome to our new program.

Tonight, we're focusing on Zimbabwe. We try to make it our mission to bring you more depth on the stories that have impact on people's lives. Farms in Zimbabwe are still being seized and food production, in a land that was once plenty, has plummeted, and foreign investment has mostly dried up.

But Zimbabwe's economy is struggling to improve since a political power-sharing deal went into effect. President Mugabe is now calling for international sanctions against him and senior leaders to be lifted. He did recently lift some press restriction and allowed CNN's Nkepile Mabuse in to report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NKEPILE MABUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 1980, and Zimbabwe's in a state of euphoria. The former British colony gains independence.

ROBERT MUGABE, PRESIDENT, ZIMBABWE: I, Robert Gabriel Mugabe...

MABUSE: Zimbabwe's first black ruler, Robert Mugabe, is an African hero, a revered liberation fighter jailed for 10 years for battling white minority rule, a darling of the West, preaching reconciliation with whites.

Mugabe quickly invested in education and health care, making real improvements in the lives of black Zimbabweans, but he also showed intolerance to opposition. A rights group estimates his regime was responsible for the deaths of at least 20,000 people in the 1980s as it crushed a rebellion in the southwest.

And after losing a constitutional referendum in 2000 that would have given the government power to take farms owned by whites, Mugabe cracked down, encouraging the seizure of white-owned farms anyway, saying he was redressing colonial imbalances.

MUGABE: The land is ours. It's not European. It's our land.

MABUSE: His so-called land reform program is blamed for destroying Zimbabwe's once prosperous agricultural sector, creating chronic food shortages.

The Movement for Democratic Change was formed in 1999, led by Mugabe's most vocal critic, Morgan Tsvangirai.

MORGAN TSVANGIRAI, LEADER, MOVEMENT FOR DEMOCRATIC CHANGE: He has betrayed whatever revolutionary (inaudible) Zimbabweans.

MABUSE: The response: Tsvangirai was targeted by police, arrested and beaten. Presidential elections in 2002 turned violent, and international observers rejected the results amid vote-rigging allegations. Western nations imposed sanctions on Mugabe and senior government members, but not trade sanctions.

Still, Mugabe blamed the sanctions for the collapsing economy.

MUGABE: They want to come to us and dictate to us what we must do. That shall never be, not in Zimbabwe, never, never.

MABUSE: After another disputed election in 2008, African leaders pressured Mugabe into signing a power-sharing deal with Tsvangirai, a temporary measure to stop violence and prepare the country for free elections and a renewed constitution.

But many Zimbabweans believe Mugabe will never willingly give up power. Mugabe once famously said, "Only God, who appointed me, will remove me."

Nkepile Mabuse, CNN, Johannesburg.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR: And here to address the United Nations, President Mugabe joins me now in the studio.

So welcome to this program. Thank you for coming in.

ROBERT MUGABE, PRESIDENT, ZIMBABWE: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: What are you going to ask? Are you going to ask President Obama to lift the sanctions that are imposed?

MUGABE: Not really. I haven't come here for President Obama to address the United States alone. I've come here to address the General Assembly, which is part of the United Nations' structures. And we are entitled to discuss matters that affect us in the global environment and the matters that affect us in a particular way as Zimbabwe. And this is what I'm going to do.

AMANPOUR: So you -- but you obviously are calling for sanctions to be lifted.

MUGABE: Yes, that -- that I will do, certainly. The sanctions are unjustified, illegal, and they are meant for regime change, to address that illegal principle.

AMANPOUR: You say for regime change, but it all really is about trying to get the political situation stabilized. And for the last year, you've been in so-called power-sharing agreement with the leader of the opposition, Morgan Tsvangirai. What does power-sharing to you mean? Many people say that it's in name only right now.

MUGABE: No. It is really power-sharing. And that power-sharing is encapsulated in an agreement we call the global political agreement. And this was arrived at through the facilitation that we got from South Africa, and specifically through the facilitation by former President Thabo Mbeki.

AMANPOUR: The problem, though, is, Mr. President, that many people are saying that you're still -- and your party -- is trying to sort of reduce the MDC majority or their officials in parliament. There are MPs who are being arrested. They're being charged with alleged crimes to prevent them from being able to take office. Why is this still happening?

MUGABE: First, may I make this quite clear, that the global political agreement was arrived at after a series of meetings which involved not just ZANU-PF, as represented by myself and our negotiators, and numbered (ph) also between ZANU-PF and the MDC, as represented by Tsvangirai and Professor Chambara (ph) and their negotiators.

AMANPOUR: Right.

MUGABE: And these -- these provisions in the global agreement were reached after very strenuous discussions had taken place.

AMANPOUR: Right. But the question really is...

MUGABE: And so they were not -- they were not forced upon us. We -- we came to...

AMANPOUR: No, but the question really is...

MUGABE: We came to them deliberately.

AMANPOUR: All right. So why then...

MUGABE: We arrived at them deliberately.

AMANPOUR: All right. So if you say you arrived at them deliberately, why then are their MPs and officials still being harassed?

MUGABE: Because the issue of those who have been arrested is a different matter altogether. Some of them had committed crimes before the global agreement, crimes such as rape and kidnapping. You couldn't -- you couldn't let people who have committed such crimes get away with it merely because there is a global agreement.

AMANPOUR: Has Roy Bennett committed a crime? Why is he not being sworn in?

MUGABE: Roy Bennett has been charged, and on the face of it the charges are very serious. But I'm told -- and I'm told this by the leader of the MDC -- that the prosecution is addressing (ph) no evidence. There are no witnesses. And I've said, if there are no witnesses, the prosecution will arrive at a time when they will say so.

AMANPOUR: So charged with what?

MUGABE: But let's not read that for them. Let them read that conclusion on their own.

AMANPOUR: Do you think that he will -- do you think that he will be appointed?

MUGABE: I have -- yes, yes, yes, if he's acquitted, he will be appointed.

AMANPOUR: But charged with what?

MUGABE: Charged with -- with having, you know, tried to put -- I think he was found responsible for -- that's the allegation. The allegation is that he's responsible for organizing arms of war against Zimbabwe...

AMANPOUR: Well, we'll obviously have to ask him about that, but...

MUGABE: ... and -- and -- and that this -- these are the charges that are being made on the face of them.

AMANPOUR: Well...

MUGABE: But if the prosecution cannot prove that, in fact, he did so, that, in fact, he's guilty of, you know, trying to organize, you know...

AMANPOUR: Mr. Mugabe, that's certainly the first I'm hearing of it, and we will, obviously, put that to them. But can I say this? There are a lot of people -- and you heard in that report -- who considered you an African hero back in 1980, that you came and -- some of my own friends, Rhodesians, some of the people I've worked with who were in the Rhodesian army, then became journalists in Rhodesia were stunned by the conciliatory nature and the addresses that you gave back in 1980...

MUGABE: Yes.

AMANPOUR: ... and describe how, for 10 years, your policies led to prosperity, led to successes in mining and agriculture, and all sorts of things, and then, over the last 10 years, things have really gone south in a big and bad way. Why is it that that's happened?

MUGABE: Over the -- over the last 10 years...

AMANPOUR: No, no, since land reform. And -- and remember that the presidents of Mozambique and Tanzania, when you took the country to liberation, said to you that you have the jewel of Africa in your hands, now look after it.

MUGABE: Yes, we are looking...

AMANPOUR: Did you look after it?

MUGABE: Yes, in a very great way. Over the last 10 years, we have had ZIDERA, the sanctions imposed on us by -- by the United States, plus sanctions imposed upon us by the European Union, over the last 10 years.

AMANPOUR: Right, but they were specifically targeted sanctions...

MUGABE: No.

AMANPOUR: ... against individuals, not against the trade or development.

MUGABE: Zimbabwe -- no, no, no, no. The United States' sanctions on us are real sanctions, economic sanctions. Have you looked at that? Look at them, and you'll satisfy yourselves that they prevent companies from having any dealings with us.

AMANPOUR: But they're very, very specifically targeted.

MUGABE: They prevent any -- any -- they prevent any financial institutions...

AMANPOUR: But how do you account...

MUGABE: ... also from having any relations with us.

AMANPOUR: ... for these incredible statistics, where, since you took over, life expectancy has dropped, manufacturing has fallen...

MUGABE: But I'm just telling you -- I'm just telling you...

AMANPOUR: ... 1 in 14 people are malnourished...

MUGABE: I'm just telling you the reasons. It's because of sanctions mainly.

AMANPOUR: But everybody says it's not because of sanctions. It's because of mismanagement.

MUGABE: Not everybody says so.

AMANPOUR: Most people do. Most independent observers say that.

MUGABE: In Zimbabwe -- it's not true.

AMANPOUR: How to get out of this now? How to get out of this? Do you think -- for instance, right now...

MUGABE: The sanctions -- sanctions must be lifted. And we should have no interference from outside. The continued imperialistic interference in our affairs is affecting the country, obviously.

AMANPOUR: I would like to play one sound bite by a neighbor of yours, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said the following.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU, NOBEL PEACE PRIZE WINNER: He's destroyed a wonderful country, a country that used to be a breadbasket. It has now become a basket case itself. But I think now, I mean, that the world must say, "Look, you -- you -- you have been responsible with your cohorts, you have been responsible for gross violations and you are going to face indictment in -- in the Hague, unless you step down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: How do you respond to that, first that you've taken the breadbasket of Africa into a basket case?

MUGABE: No, it's not a basket case at all. Last -- last year, we managed to grow enough food for ourselves. We are not a basket case anymore.

AMANPOUR: One in fourteen people are called malnourished.

MUGABE: No, no, no, no...

AMANPOUR: Your country is practically dependent on humanitarian aid.

MUGABE: ... just now -- you're not talking of the present.

AMANPOUR: I know things have got slightly better in the last year...

MUGABE: They have got much better in terms of food.

AMANPOUR: ... but it's still like a war zone.

MUGABE: People have grown enough food for themselves. We have had years, continuous, successive years of drought. Don't forget that. And in addition...

AMANPOUR: I've seen the drought figures. I've got all the statistics here.

MUGABE: ... sanctions, as well...

AMANPOUR: Yes.

MUGABE: ... and combine the effects of drought with the effects of sanctions, and what do you get?

AMANPOUR: Well, and the effect of what many people are saying is the land reform that really created this huge discrepancy in your ability to farm.

MUGABE: The land...

AMANPOUR: We're going to go to a break, and we'll talk about that when we come back, all right?

MUGABE: Yes, but the land reform is the best thing that could ever have happened.

AMANPOUR: The best thing?

MUGABE: Yes, that could ever have happened to an African country.

AMANPOUR: We will talk about it in a second.

MUGABE: It has to do with national sovereignty.

AMANPOUR: OK. Let's talk about it in a second.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MUGABE: I will never, never, never, never surrender. Zimbabwe is mine. I am an Zimbabwean. Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans. Zimbabwe never for the British. Britain for the British.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: Is that just political rally rhetoric or -- or did you mean that? What did you mean?

MUGABE: That Zimbabwe belongs to the Zimbabwean people.

AMANPOUR: Right. Do you consider...

MUGABE: Pure and simple.

AMANPOUR: ... and everybody believes that?

MUGABE: Yes. All people believe it.

AMANPOUR: So do you consider white Zimbabweans to be Zimbabweans?

MUGABE: Those who are naturalized and have citizenship, yes.

AMANPOUR: Those who've been living there for years and years and years?

MUGABE: But historically...

AMANPOUR: Right.

MUGABE: ... historically, they have a debt.

AMANPOUR: The people who -- contributing to farming -- historically they have a debt to pay?

MUGABE: Yes, yes, their land. They -- they occupied the land illegally. They seized the land from our people.

AMANPOUR: Look...

MUGABE: And therefore, the process of reform, land reform, involved their handing -- having to hand over the land. We agreed upon this with the British, by the way.

AMANPOUR: Some 80 percent of that land was acquired after you took office, some of the farmland, and with the very certificates that mean government approval. Why are these people being hounded out of the country? Why are they being...

MUGABE: They are not -- they are not being hounded.

AMANPOUR: ... hounded off their land, then?

MUGABE: No, no, no, they're not being hounded out of the country at all.

AMANPOUR: We've just done reports about it.

MUGABE: Those who are in industry and manufacturing and mining are not being...

AMANPOUR: The farmers I'm talking about. Why is that...

MUGABE: ... are not being affected.

AMANPOUR: ... wonderful farmland and why are they being...

MUGABE: What are you talking about? We are getting land from them, and that's all. They're not being hounded out of the country, not at all.

AMANPOUR: They're being hounded off their land.

MUGABE: (inaudible) their land.

AMANPOUR: It's not theirs?

MUGABE: Our -- our land.

AMANPOUR: Even though they bought it, even though they bought it with the certificates of approval from the government?

MUGABE: But haven't you heard of the Lancaster House discussions and the agreement with the British government? Because they are British settlers; originally they have been British settlers. And we agreed at Lancaster House that there would be land reform.

AMANPOUR: But they're citizens. But they're citizens, aren't they? And isn't this farming disaster contributing to your...

MUGABE: Citizens by colonization, seizing land from the original people, indigenous people of the country.

AMANPOUR: But how did that all go so wrong?

MUGABE: You approve of that?

AMANPOUR: How did that all go so wrong? Because when you came in, you -- it was -- it was about reconciliation.

MUGABE: They knew about it. They knew we had this program of land acquisition and land reform. They knew about it.

AMANPOUR: But what about the blacks, then?

MUGABE: And the British knew about it.

AMANPOUR: OK. Let's -- let's talk about the black farm workers whose houses and shanty houses, who work on these farms, they're being bulldozed in an operation that was called "Drive Out the Rubbish"? These are black Zimbabweans.

MUGABE: No, no, there -- there was no -- no operation of that nature. That's...

AMANPOUR: But -- well, how come they're being driven off and their shanty houses...

MUGABE: Who?

AMANPOUR: The farm workers.

MUGABE: No, you're mistaken about the mrabanshina program (ph), which had to do with slums, getting rid of slums, not getting rid of farm -- farm workers. It had nothing to do with farm workers at all.

Farm workers, by the way, were to be given three choices. One, they could remain on the farm under the new owner and continue working on the farm. Two, if they were alien...

AMANPOUR: The accusation was that they were opposition.

MUGABE: Let -- let -- let me -- no, if they were alien -- and most of them from Mozambique and -- and -- and Zambia, they could choose to go home, in which case we would discuss the package that they deserved.

Three, they could decide to leave the farm and go elsewhere. And also, to -- if they wanted to -- to get resettled, we could resettle them...

AMANPOUR: Mr. Mugabe...

MUGABE: ... under our program of resettling.

AMANPOUR: The fact is, though, that the country has pretty much plunged into a pretty dysfunctional state by all international indicators.

MUGABE: No.

AMANPOUR: My question is, do you regret that some 4 million people have left in the last three to five years?

MUGABE: I don't know about those numbers.

AMANPOUR: But do you regret -- because these are the brain drain, these are the people who've helped make Zimbabwe the success that it was?

MUGABE: Because of the economic situation...

AMANPOUR: OK.

MUGABE: ... people are bound to leave any country. And they have not just left my country. They have left other countries, as well, to go to Britain, Australia, and -- and other places.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you a question about...

MUGABE: And at the moment, they are coming back home, anyway.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you a question. We'll move on from this, and we'll ask you a question about -- you heard what Archbishop Desmond Tutu said.

MUGABE: That's nonsense. It's just devilish talk.

AMANPOUR: Devilish talk?

MUGABE: Yes. Yes.

AMANPOUR: Do you -- do you...

MUGABE: He doesn't know what he's talking about, the little man.

AMANPOUR: The little man? He's a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

MUGABE: Oh, come on.

AMANPOUR: He's a liberation fighter, too.

MUGABE: What -- what liberation?

AMANPOUR: South Africa.

MUGABE: No, of course, you don't know what -- what he -- what his status in the ANC amounts to.

AMANPOUR: Can I ask you a question about Nelson Mandela?

MUGABE: He's a great man, that one, yes.

AMANPOUR: Nelson Mandela has got so much of the attention for being the great liberator of -- of Africa.

MUGABE: Yes.

AMANPOUR: You did it earlier. Do you sometimes wish that you had got as much attention?

MUGABE: President Mandela is President Mandela, and Robert Mugabe is Robert Mugabe. Look at him in his own circumstances, and that's it. If you damn him, well and good, but I know my people have great praise for me. I know the African people think -- think very highly of me.

AMANPOUR: Are you...

MUGABE: And that -- that satisfies me.

AMANPOUR: It does?

MUGABE: Yes.

AMANPOUR: Even though you lost these elections?

MUGABE: Which elections?

AMANPOUR: The last ones.

MUGABE: No, we didn't lose the elections at all.

AMANPOUR: But that's why you're going into a power-sharing group. Look...

MUGABE: Come on.

AMANPOUR: ... we can -- we can argue about this. But my question is this: Why is it so difficult to leave power in a reasonable way when you're up, instead of waiting until it gets to this stage?

MUGABE: You don't leave power when imperialists dictate that you leave.

AMANPOUR: No -- no imperialist. You are the president.

MUGABE: No, there is regime change. Haven't you heard of regime change program by Britain and the United States, which is aimed at getting not just Robert Mugabe out of power, but Robert Mugabe and his party out of power? And that naturally means we dig in, remain in our trenches.

AMANPOUR: Are you going to stand for election again?

MUGABE: That will depend on what I decide to do in the future.

AMANPOUR: Can you tell us?

MUGABE: No, not now.

AMANPOUR: Can you imagine running for another election?

MUGABE: I won't tell you that now, I say.

AMANPOUR: Are you afraid, as some have suggested, that one day you might be indicted by the International Criminal Court?

MUGABE: No, I don't care about that, the international -- what they decide is entirely their own affair -- their own affair. I'm concerned about Zimbabwe, and I'm concerned about the lives of the people of Zimbabwe. And don't forget, it was my party which brought democracy into the country. I fought the British. We had to fight the British for democracy for one man, one person, one vote.

AMANPOUR: And that's why people are so disappointed in what happened, because you do get the kudos for having brought that.

MUGABE: But that is still -- that's still the environment.

AMANPOUR: But now people -- and yet this election was so heavily disputed that you have to go into a power-sharing deal.

MUGABE: Well, elections -- elections are...

AMANPOUR: I guess I want to know why -- why to hang on for so long?

MUGABE: Elections -- elections don't go all that smoothly all the time in many countries. That's the situation. Look at what happens elsewhere. They didn't go smoothly here during -- during the first term -- before the first term of -- of office of President Bush. You know what happened in -- in Florida. The 400,000 votes, where did they go? They were stolen by Mr. Bush. And you people said nothing about it.

AMANPOUR: Well, it was very heavily covered, and there's a dispute about the word "stolen." But here's the thing. The power-sharing agreement in Zimbabwe, do you think that that's actually going to be a real power-sharing agreement? I mean, you do control all the heavy-duty ministries, defense, police, mining? Is there going to be real power- sharing? Is it going to get better?

MUGABE: The inclusive government is a real power-sharing arrangement. Don't denigrate it.

AMANPOUR: All right.

MUGABE: We have 14 countries in SADC which are responsible for assisting us in bringing that about and for assisting us also in making it run.

AMANPOUR: All right.

MUGABE: And read what they say. Listen to what they say.

AMANPOUR: All right, Mr. Mugabe. Thank you for coming in. Thank you for talking to us.

MUGABE: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: That's all we have time for.

And this conversation will continue online on our Web site, cnn.com/amanpour, where you can see an interactive timeline of President Mugabe's career. So join us there.

And that's it for now. Thank you for watching. We'll be back tomorrow with an exclusive interview with another top African leader, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa. For all of us here right now, goodbye.

END

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