It’s exactly two years since President Emmerson Mnangagwa was fired from Zanu-PF and Government. This happened on 6th November, 2017. Within the next 24 hours, he was fleeing for his life, including that dramatic gunfight at Forbes Border Post on the morning of 7th November 2017.
The following is an except from a book that captures the escape.
By Douglas Rogers
The three cars gunned it east at high speed.
It was 1am on Tuesday, November 7th, 2017.
During the day there’s no way a three-car convoy carrying a fugitive politician could make it from Harare to Mutare without getting caught. A scenic valley town in the tumbling Eastern Highlands, Mutare is 220 miles away and there would probably be as many as six police roadblocks on the way.
The police, allied with G40, were everywhere in Zimbabwe at the time, hassling and fining motorists for the most minor offence. The fines filled police coffers and also funded their G40 benefactors. At night, however, the police rested from their plunder, the roadblocks shut down, and the only stops were for three toll booths.
After the drama near the gas station, the going was surprisingly good. The air got cooler outside and large domed rock formations loomed out of open savannah on either side of the road, like the humps of marooned whales.
Men on the run don’t care for scenery, though; they raced on, heads down, for the border town.
They had changed the order of the convoy at the gas station. The front car, a white Mercedes C-Class, owned by a friend of Collins, was driven by Jenfan Muswere, with cousin Tarirai (Tarry) in the passenger seat. ED had switched to the middle vehicle, a Mercedes ML350 owned by Hosea “Limping Jack” Manzunzu, who sat in the back with big Richard Mavhoro, while Wise Jasi drove. The three brothers brought up the rear in Collins’s brand-new white Mercedes C-Class.
By 3am they had made it through the last of the toll booths, ten miles from Mutare, and rested up for a while in a rustic lodge on the right-hand side of the road, at the foot of Christmas Pass. Then, at 5am, the sun not yet up, they made their way over the pass, towards Mutare, the city lights twinkling below.
Forbes border post, the official crossing into Mozambique, was on the far eastern edge of town, at the base of a winding valley road. They curled their way down as a fresh sun peeked up over Mozambique, burning off the mist shrouding the canopy of acacias and msasas in the valley. The land was a resplendent dewy green. A string of commercial trucks lined the side of the road waiting to be processed, but it was easy for the three cars to nudge past them to the front and wait at the gate.
They were the first in line for the 6am opening. A handful of Black Boots guards lounged within the perimeter to the right of the gate under a large fig tree and in front of a military-style canvas tent; the customs building, a low-slung brick structure barely changed since colonial days, was straight ahead.
The plan was simple. The three cars would enter and park to the left of the building. ED, being easily recognisable, would stay in his vehicle, while Limping Jack and Tarry would process the four passports of those who were going across into Mozambique – Limping Jack, ED, Emmerson Jr and Tarry. The rest of the team would return to Harare once they were safely through.
“They will be looking for me,” ED cautioned Limping Jack as he exited the vehicle.
How right he was.
According to the CID report of the events that followed, at 5.30am that morning instructions had come from Mutare Central District Police to “be on high alert and monitor movements of high-profile politicians at Forbes border post to alert the command for further instructions.”
To begin with, things went fine. The four passports, including ED’s diplomatic one, were stamped in 15 minutes.
Limping Jack and Tarry returned to the ML350, and Emmerson Jr, breathing a sigh of relief, now joined his father in the back seat too. The vehicle proceeded slowly to the boom gate, where Limping Jack handed over the exit stamp to the guards on duty.
The safety of Mozambique – freedom – was only 20 yards and a stamp away.
But then there was a delay. Five minutes passed. Then ten. Then 15.
Three men in suits, probably CIO or plain-clothes police officers, ambled over to the car.
Sean, Collins, Muswere and Mavhoro observed them from the other two parked vehicles a few yards back.
Collins now saw that the immigration officials in the customs building were looking over at the ML350. It was clear to him what had happened: they had seen the names on the passports, knew who was in the vehicle and had alerted the police.
He glanced towards the gate they had driven through; the Black Boots were no longer lounging under their tree. They were suddenly very active, conferring with each other, speaking on cell phones, looking in the direction of the Mercedes at the boom.
Soon there were seven CIO officers in suits milling around the vehicle. They didn’t appear threatening but they weren’t letting the car pass either. One knocked on a back window and asked who was inside.
ED, heart in mouth, sat paralysed in the back.
“I know what this means; they are waiting for reinforcements to come and arrest me,” he muttered.
He said there was no way they were getting through and they had to try to get back into Mutare.
It was time to revert to plan B.
The following events happened in a blur but are largely confirmed by the CID report.
Limping Jack, Tarry, and Emmerson Jr stepped out of the car now and started negotiating with the gate guards and CIO officers. They offered a bribe to be let through. It was refused. An argument broke out. Behind them, Sean and Collins made their move.
Collins asked the truck driver blocking his vehicle to give him space so he could reverse, and slowly drove back towards the entry gate they had come through, parking just beyond the perimeter, pointing towards Mutare. He watched events unfold in his rear-view mirror.
Now Tarry and Limping Jack were arguing loudly with officers on the exit gate. It created the distraction ED needed: he lumbered his large frame out of the back of the car and started walking briskly towards Collins at the front gate, 100 yards away. Collins, looking in the mirror, did a double-take: his father had on a wide-brimmed veld safari hat and oversized women’s sunglasses.
It wasn’t much of a disguise. He looked ridiculous. Incredibly, the CIO officers on the boom, distracted by the argument, didn’t notice at first. ED had made it 30 yards when they spotted him. Now all hell broke loose. The lead CIO officer pointed and shouted and he and six others ran at the escapee, shouting for him to stop. By the time they reached him Sean and Mavhoro were already at his side.
Fists started flying, jackets were grabbed; men in suits fell to the ground: Sean, pint-sized but a soldier, and Mavhoro the burly security guy were getting the better of them. ED was running now – fast for a 73-year-old man – and Collins was willing him on from the getaway car. A command rang out from one of the officers to the police at the exit gate:
“Tora AK! Tora AK!” – Get an AK!
ED had 20 yards still to go; then ten. A guard at the gate tried to apprehend him; the old man brushed him aside like a buffalo does a fly and made it to the front passenger side of the car, literally diving in. By now one of the policemen had collected his gun from the tent and reached the vehicle.
Behind the wheel Collins was frantically trying to get the car in gear. A back door was open, though, and the wheel-mounted gear drive on the Merc wouldn’t engage.
Now the soldier was at his window and the barrel of the weapon – an FN, not a Kalashnikov (Collins, a gun enthusiast, recognised it) – was pointing through it right at his head. Watching from 50 yards away, open-mouthed in horror, Emmerson Jr waited for the gunshot that would blow his father or brother away.
But suddenly the FN barrel was yanked in the air and the policeman holding it twisted and fell backwards to the ground. Sean had reached him, pulled the gun up and tripped the man with his right foot. The two of them rolled on the ground, trading punches, wrestling over the FN. Now Mavhoro had made it to the car; he leapt in the back seat and slammed the door. The gear finally engaged; Collins couldn’t wait around for his brothers or the others.
The Merc sped off up the hill at high speed in a cloud of dust, a single shot fired after it.
Junior had watched events unfold in the no-man’s-land between the entry gate, the exit gate and the immigration building. He was holding his father’s heavy brief case which he had retrieved from the back seat of the car. He knew it contained vital documents and cash that they would need to get out, and he knew he couldn’t get caught with it.
A nearby passenger bus had its doors open and he stepped aboard. From inside he made out Jenfan Muswere in the melee below. He stepped off, reached Jenfan, handed him the briefcase and told him to lock it in the boot of the Merc that Jenfan had driven down in. Then Junior made his way to the entry gate.
Chaos reigned among the CIO officers and the police. Frantic cell phone calls were being made; arguments broke out as to who had or had not fired a shot; who had allowed them to escape. Junior reached the gate, which was now half-closed, but a policeman, seeing him, turned his back and calmly opened it, letting him through. That one act saved him.
Junior started walking up the road now, back to Mutare, trying to appear inconspicuous. He looked to his right and spotted Sean running through the bush below and called him on his cell. Sean answered, frantic, out of breath.
Seconds earlier he’d got the better of the policeman he had wrestled with, thrown the FN over a fence and scrambled down the slope below the road into the bush.
“See the white taxi up ahead?” said Junior.
“Meet me there.”
Minutes later, hearts racing, they were in the cab, heading back into Mutare, unaware of where their father and brother were or what had befallen the rest of the team back at the boom gate. On the way up the road they passed six open-back Land Rovers hurtling down, carrying 40 or 50 helmeted riot police: the back-up the guards had called for to arrest ED.
It was 7am on Tuesday morning and Junior was freaking out.
This wasn’t the life he was used to.
- TWO WEEKS IN NOVEMBER: The astonishing untold story of the operation that toppled Mugabe – DOUGLAS ROGERS