It was not well known in TT, but the late Robert Mugabe was mesmerised by Exodus Steel Orchestra.
So said former envoy to South Africa Harry Partap, who met and chatted with Mugabe five years ago.
The Zimbabwean president, whose rule for 40 years earned him a bloody reputation for torture and divisiveness, died on Thursday at 95. Despite his more recent reputation, he was also Zimbabwe’s freedom fighter and African liberator.
Partap, a retired journalist, presented his diplomatic credentials to Mugabe at the State House, Harare, and had discussions with him.
Partap told Newsday yesterday that weeks before, Exodus had toured Zimbabwe and Mugabe was thrilled by its performance.
“He kept repeating to me, ‘Good performance; those are commendable skills,'” Partap said,
So much did Mugabe love the sound of pan, Partap added, that he expressed interest in an exchange cultural programme between TT and Zimbabwe.
But, he said, “It got no traction, even though the High Commission in Pretoria (South Africa) took up the challenge.”
Partap said despite the reputation Mugabe had chalked up by then, he was in awe at the presence of the president in the state house once occupied by Ian Smith, former prime minister of what was then the British colony of Rhodesia, and an advocate of white rule.
Mugabe gave Partap a history lesson on the building in which they were meeting.
“He told me how he was brought here in chains to meet British Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson to talk about stopping the bush struggle. He was in defiance, despite being in chains,” Partap said.
During the liberation struggle, Partap said, Mugabe spent ten years in prison.
Partap, who was accompanied by his wife, Nazra, said, “I presented my diplomatic credentials to president Robert Gabriel Mugabe on June 5, 2014. He was uninhibited in conversation, betraying anger over promises made 34 years ago by the United Kingdom to help him solve the problems with the white farm owners. It was an old issue, but he did not seem to get over it.
“Meeting Mugabe, one could never believe that he had presided over a political system that killed, maimed and literally destroyed any opposition that threatened his rule. He was soft-spoken, articulate, jovial and charismatic.
"Even though Mugabe’s bloody reputation is well known, he is still regarded as a hero of the liberation struggle by the older Zimbabweans.”