Following a six-week stint behind bars after being denied bail by the Harare Magistrates’ Courts, Remnant Church pastor Phillip Mugadza (PM) became a talking point.
He was subsequently granted bail by the High Court, but had to endure another weekend behind bars after a clerk at the court initially refused to accept his bail money, purporting that authorities wanted to authenticate the order.
It is against this background that deputy chief writer Tendai Kamhungira (TK) spoke with the anti-Mugabe cleric upon his release on his future plans and jail experience.
TK: When you were incarcerated, we had a chance to meet some of your peers in Kariba, who said they warned you against participating in political activism. Do you ever regret taking part in political activities?
PM: No, I don’t, I will never do that and I really don’t take what they said seriously in the sense that I am not annoyed or offended by such statements, because there is one thing I know that we are called differently. And because of that understanding I know my calling is different from their calling. As a result, they cannot understand the things that I do, in as much as I would not understand what they do as individuals.
TK: After all that has happened, do you now realise the weight of prophecies that are made by men of God, considering what you have gone through?
PM: I have said before that under normal circumstances, the prophetic word which I gave didn’t guarantee anybody to be arrested not in any way but because our situation is not a normal situation, anything is possible. They can do anything to you for saying anything, whenever they feel that they really want to incarcerate you, they can do that.
TK: During your time in remand prison, we understand your church disintegrated. Are you likely going to abandon the ministry?
PM: Not really. I may not only continue in Kariba, but what I would do is maybe relocate to Harare. One development I think is positive in Harare, is that many people know me for what I am doing and what I stand for, what I believe, so when they come in, they will not be surprised. I think it’s going to be a good move for me to be starting all over here.
TK: As a pastor, do you think the church has a role to play in the politics of the day?
PM: Seriously, biblically, we see that God was the one who chose leadership, so if God would choose leadership, what more of today? The church has got to be involved because the church is the body of Christ. It means the church represents God here on earth. What God desires, what God wants to see happening in nations, ought to be propagated by the church. So the church has a very critical role to play, especially in the Zimbabwean situation. God has been speaking for a very long time saying that this cross-over is the “Jordan Cross-over”.
We crossed over in 1980, which was the war of independence but now after 37 years, we have been in the wilderness and it’s high time we cross over the Jordan River. And this challenge we have is the Jordan River Challenge, which has got to be the crossing by the leadership of the church in the sense of the church moving ahead, being at the front of the whole thing because if it is not done that way, there is going to be a lot of bloodshed.
TK: Did you ever feel let down by your fellow pastors during the time that you were incarcerated, considering that very few were vocal about your arrest?
PM: Zimbabwe has always been like that and maybe particularly for me. For me, I have seen that right from 2015, with the Victoria Falls escapade, I have realised I also didn’t receive a lot of support from the clergy and the same thing has been going on, though slightly different this time around because I received some bishops who actually came to visit me and some pastors also came to see me.
Bishop (Ancelmo) Magaya came to see me. But of these renowned prophets, I am not sure, maybe they supported me verbally, I am not aware. But it’s like a norm in Zimbabwe, many of our well-known pastors and “prophets” are so fearful which causes them to misinterpret the word of God.
Where they say the church is only meant to be praying and praying for the leadership and I would say fine in that case, how do you pray for the president, how do you pray for President Robert Gabriel Mugabe and they will stop there, they will not tell me that because when they say that, it’s a cover-up for their fear.
So the bottom line is that the church in Zimbabwe is still so fearful but my word is that they have got to wake up because the Bible says we were not given the spirit of fear but of sound of power, that’s what we have.
TK: As a man of cloth, what do you foresee happening as the country moves towards next year’s crucial elections and what should the church do in the circumstances?
PM: We know the tendency of our crazy Zanu PF party, whenever they come to polls, they really make sure that they intimidate people, they put more fear in people. People are already fearful, but they would really want to add more fear in them so that when they vote, they vote in the “right way”. I strongly believe that it is going to happen again.
We need as a church to be pro-active, we cannot only be seen to be there condemning what could have happened, instead we should be all out and speak even before things start to happen. It’s very, very important and that we even put contingent measures in place, programmes to reach out to the whole nation to bring people together and say, we are brothers, we are sisters, there is no need for us to be fighting for the party which stands up and say we are superior to other parties.
TK: By failing to name a successor way before the squabbles currently bedevilling his party started, do you think Mugabe blundered?
PM: I am so much in disagreement with the idea that he has got to name a successor; this is not a chieftainship. We are not a kingdom in any way, so there is no way we can say somebody has to name a successor, for what? Where does that leave the people, if somebody, an individual has got the mandate to name a leader who is going to be leading people? It doesn’t work like that, people have got to be given their chance, people have to do what they are supposed to be doing.
Mugabe says we are a democratic country. It should not be a prerogative of one person to say that so and so must be taking over from me, it doesn’t make sense, who are you?
It’s not on, we are propping him up to think that he is some guy from some universe such that he can name his successor. He should not and he cannot name his successor, people have got to make a choice.
TK: Given the political, economic and social situation currently prevailing in the country, where do you think we are heading?
PM: As things are, I don’t think we are going in the right direction, but by faith, everything works for the good, but its only when we pull together, we come together and we begin to be determined and we make decisions which are not selfish but decisions which are for the interest of the whole nation.
Zimbabwe is a great nation and eventually it will change its name to Great Zimbabwe, because of what we have gone through, when we come out of it, we are not going to be a small nation.
TK: Now tell us about your prison experience?
PM: Nasty I should say, I have just realised that the Prison Act was never changed since 1980, which means that whatever has been done or whatever has been happening is still (Ian) Smith’s way of running things and this is the shocking thing about the whole situation.
Mugabe spent close to 11 years and many of his other friends under those same conditions which were so terrible, they saw them, they knew them, it pained them very much but when they came out, they never looked back and began to say no, what we went through, not even one of our people will go through the same, they left it intact and it is still working today, that’s the worst part and it really made me so angry when I was looking at all that, but I am saying what’s going on with these guys, they have even perfected oppression.
The whole system is a whole lot better than the way it was being done and run by Smith. That’s a pathetic situation and I strongly believe that if Smith was alive, he would have asked, guys is this what you really wanted?
I shouldn’t have fought you, I was just going to say, right, change the name and I have a got my farm in Shurugwi, as simple as that . . . they started learning from Smith and started perfecting the whole system and it is a very, very sad situation. That is what is going on in the prison, people are just being beaten for no apparent reason.
I saw four guards taking turns to beat inmates and I had to stand up and I went there and when this other guard saw me, he asked everyone else to stop beating this other guy because I had stood up to say guys, this is not on, you can’t just do that, if you want to do that, you can do that on me because I cannot be here and seeing this happening and say nothing about it.
The other sad issue about prison is the lice, plenty of lice in there and they can make one sick. I have never heard of any sickness that comes out from being bitten by lice as is with mosquitoes but I am telling you that people got wounds from lice and I had a fever from lice. Unfortunately, I lost my tin of lice. I had collected lice because I wanted to bring them over just to say Mr President, these are your boys in the prison, who are just eating people.
These are parasites, as my friend Evan (Mawarire) said that the state of the nation is reflected by the state of the prison. I strongly believe the same thing. There are parasites in prisons and there are parasites in the nation of Zimbabwe. They are sucking our economy dry, they are sucking people out of every cent on roadblocks, the system is sucking people of every penny, they would have earned in a very hard way. There is corruption at every turn in the nation of Zimbabwe. It’s so terrible. That experience of lice in prison was not so good for me.
TK: How does your family, especially your wife, take your decision to participate in political activities?
PM: Initially, it wasn’t very easy but she has since adjusted in a very amazing way and I want to thank God. She is a young woman but is getting to be very strong and bold. She can’t be able to really say much concerning what I am doing but the support is very amazing and I really thank God for the woman she is and being in my life and being the mother to my boys. I strongly believe that she is going to be doing more, even though I appreciate what she is doing now.
TK: How has she been coping during your absence?
PM: Friends have been coming through, sending this and that so that she could keep on going and take care of the family. On her conjugal rights, she was obviously shortchanged, which I strongly believe the government of Zimbabwe has got to be charged for taking those rights from her, because they are her rights.
It’s the Zimbabwean regime which arrested me and I was their prisoner but they also made my wife a prisoner. She was not getting what she was supposed to get from me as a husband, so I am saying I think it’s very important for the government to be held accountable for that.
I don’t know how people will take it because in prison I have seen condoms and I have seen them not with guards, I have seen them with inmates, what does that tell you? It means some gay activity is most likely going on, though even I am told that you can actually have sexual intercourse with a woman in jail. It’s a shocking thing but I am told it’s possible and they told me how that could be done, though I was asking could I have my wife coming?
They said no. I said I only want to have sex with my wife and no one else and I began to realise that there is need for the government to seriously think about this and even Mugabe says gays and lesbians are worse than dogs, which is not a very good statement from a leader because from my point of view as a clergyman, everybody was created in the image of God irrespective of what they do.
They could be doing wrong things but that does not make them a dog at any given point. The best way is to speak to them so that they know what they are doing is wrong, so if the president seriously is against this, what does he have to do, he has got to create a situation where he is going to have what I call “conjugal cottages” in prison.
The women as they come in to visit the husbands, they can go in and sleep with their husbands, once a week or once a month, that’s a good idea. It is done in Rwanda because they know it is very important, because it reduces the rate of gay activities.
So if he (Mugabe) is serious about it, he has got to open such cottages because you end up arresting two people, you end up arresting the husband and arresting the wife at the same time or the opposite if the wife is actually the one incarcerated.
TK: Do you harbour any political ambitions?
PM: I really wouldn’t want to say harbour because at times harbouring is like hiding, it’s like you are not really coming out in the open, I have always wanted to be involved in active politics, because I have realised that if you want to see a change, be involved in the change, be part of it and it is not a sin or a crime to be a politician.
TK: Have you so far taken any initiative towards achieving that goal of fully participating in politics?
PM: As I have been doing my stuff for the past one year, I have been linking up with a number of political parties, which I may not be able mention right now, but I have realised that in the process of interacting, there were a lot of weaknesses in the process, so I then said to myself I will wait and see where exactly I would fit in. Seriously any time, I will be making a decision as to where I will exactly be belonging. Maybe I will go independent.