The year was 2003 in June. We landed in Zimbabwe to a warm reception by the protocol officers and were whisked in the official motorcade to the Sheraton Hotel and checked in.
The air was hot but the ambiance relaxed as guests milled around the foyer. The Zanu-PF offices were a stone's throw away and could be seen with imposing insignia.
Members met us for a briefing session about the state of the country. We were invited to a sumptuous dinner with lots of fresh fruit, and in the morning we undertook site visits to farms and agriculture projects in Chegutu and the environs of Harare.
We saw at first-hand the land restoration project, and were inspired by seeing vast amounts of land given back to the indigenous people. We were ecstatic and sang praises of Zanu-PF and its visionary leadership. All this time we were deeply anxious to meet the man, the maker of miracles: Cde Robert Mugabe.
Next day we were driven to the state house amid tight security as though we were visiting dignitaries. Two hours in the waiting room amid the heat heightened our trepidation.
Then a hefty and imposing man called us into the presidential room. Maxwell Nemadzivhanani intimated the man could be part of the dreaded Fifth Brigade, given his wrestling stature.
Finally, the moment presented itself to share close proximity with a colossal man. President Robert Mugabe made what could be called as star entrance to our unreserved delight, and we clapped instantaneously, then stood to military attention. His walk was nonchalant and casual.
He looked at us as though inspecting a parade and smiled with white teeth that illuminated the room. He gave each one us a hug with reassuring warmth.
I froze and thought back to where I came from in the dusty township of Sebokeng: to now stand before this revolutionary behemoth.
The rest of the next four hours was a long political lecture about the thrills and the hardships of the struggle for self-determination. Imperialism and neocolonialism were denounced. We were warned never to auction or sell out our people’s birthright.
We took copious notes like students lectured by a sage professor. Msebjane Malatsi made some remarks and they triggered a long engagement by the now animated Mugabe: “The struggle is about the people first and foremost and you dare not forget that."
As with all liberation movements, we held and still hold Zanu-PF in very high esteem given their heroic struggle. The recent scenes in Zimbabwe were tragic to note, given the history of that country.
The peaceful coup by the soldiers exemplified deep internal schisms within Zanu and tipped the scales against their own leader and founding president.
The great leader had failed to heed his own advice to safeguard the gains of the struggle and putting his people first. His capture by Grace and her ilk spurred them to desperate lengths and mobilised his own comrades to an open rebellion.
We should learn lessons from each other's struggles and challenges. When one of our own is a faced with hardships we must reflect on what is it that we too can do better to avert the same hardships.
The liberation movements in the continent are under great strain under veterans, and its leading cadres must have a vested interest in how they deal with these challenges.
When Colonel Muammar Gaddafi came under attack, we should have taken stock and derived lessons from his challenges. It’s a matter of time before we too are engulfed by the same raging fires of apprehension and dissent.
Whatever the verdict of history will be on Mugabe, he aptly fits the title of Defier of the Undefiable. For such a small country to take head-on imperialism and its running mates was something unheard of in recent times. The heavy price had to be paid. The imperialist sanctions and international isolation dubbed him a tyrant.
Being allowed to overstay was the greatest undoing of Zanu. The question is, quo vadis Zimbabwe? Will the land that was taken in 2001 now be handed back to white settlers? What will be the conditions for European re-investment? Will indigenisation be reversed? Will the servant-master relations occur between white and black Africans in that country?
These are some of the hard questions that needs resolution. In the light of our current challenges we are reminded of the advice from the writer Ralph Waldo Emerson: "God may forgive sins, but awkwardness has no forgiveness in heaven or earth.” The era of awkwardness is upon us and, brutally, cynicism and confusion stares us in the face. We must ensure it has no place in our lives.
* Ka Plaatjie is adviser to Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and head of ANC research.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.