After spending nearly five decades on the periphery, a 46-year-old man claiming to be the late president Robert Mugabe’s son has come out of the closet.
Tonderai Gabriel Mugabe, born on April 20 1977 at the Chimoio base in Mozambique alleges he is Mugabe’s biological son.
In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with ZimSeen, Mugabe narrated where he was born, his upbringing, and how he got to know that the late president was his father.
He spoke about the arduous road he travelled to be traditionally and legally accepted as a family member.
Mugabe provided a plethora of official documents to buttress his claim.
A senior Mugabe clan member based in Zvimba, who requested not to be named, told ZimSeen yesterday he was aware of Tonderai Gabriel’s case.
“We know of his existence but we haven’t done family traditions to welcome him into the family,” he said.
His account starts in 1976 when his mother, Hilda Maeka whose Chimurenga name was Cde Paidamoyo joined the liberation struggle from Honde Valley and was stationed at Chimoio base.
There, the then 18-year-old Maeka allegedly met the ex-Zimbabwean leader who had been released from prison where he had been incarcerated for 11 years.
During this time, Mugabe was still married to Sally who ten years earlier had lost their firstborn son Michael Nhamodzenyika Mugabe to cerebral malaria on December 26 1966 in Ghana. He was 3.
Nonetheless, Tonderai Gabriel was born a year after his mother’s initial meeting with Mugabe, a development confirmed by Lawrencia Mugabe, daughter to national liberation war heroine and the late president’s sister Bridget Mugabe.
An affidavit in ZimSeen’s possession, signed by Lawrencia on February 11, 2020 reads: “I Lawrencia Machengedza Mugabe…declare that Tonderai Maeka was born at Chimoio base in Mozambique in 1977. I was there when he was born Gabriel Tonderai Mugabe.”
Mugabe wartime ‘son’ presented ‘proof’
Following his birth, Tonderai Gabriel Mugabe told this publication that he was briefly in the care of Lawrencia before his mother took him to Osibisa, a sub-camp at Chimoio where pregnant women and nursing mothers were taken.
Lawrencia confirmed this development in her written affidavit.
“We separated when the mother took him to Cde Fay Chung. After the war, we thought he and his mother had died because we could not find them. Later on, he was found by Tete Bridget who is my mother. He is the son of Robert Gabriel Mugabe,” reads the affidavit, in part.
Chung was running Osibisa.
Author Josephine Nhongo-Simbanegavi describes Osibisa as a horrible place characterised by dire conditions.
It was a place representative of rejection and uncertainty.
War veteran Freedom Nyamubaya’s poem aptly describes the conditions at Osibisa.
“A place of mental torture,
Where women and children were dumped,
Cut off from life,
A mental prison for mothers in war.
Mentally disconnected, but physically involved …”
This is where Tonderai Gabriel spent his early days before being taken to Glen Norah where he lived with his mother’s family.
“I attended Shiriyedenga Primary and Glen Norah 2 High School. My mother was responsible for my upkeep as well as my educational requirements,” he told ZimSeen.
“She was one of the first people to get into business after the war. She had a number of knitting machines which she used to generate income.”
Life for him took a sudden downturn following his mother’s sudden demise in 1995 after succumbing to hypertension-related complications.
She received liberation war heroine status years almost 10 years after her passing.
A letter gleaned by ZimSeen dated July 18, 2016, addressed to the Secretary to the President and Cabinet Misheck Sibanda, and signed by the then Zanu PF’s secretary for administration Ignatius Chombo confirmed the development.
“His excellency, the President and first secretary of Zanu PF, Cde R.G. Mugabe has conferred a Liberation War Heroine status to the late Cde Hilda Maeka who passed away on September 29, 1995. Her family would be contacted through our Harare Provincial offices.
“I shall be most grateful if you make the usual arrangements for her burial and payment of benefits to her dependents…”
Around 2015-2016, this was the time when Tonderai Gabriel was making efforts to connect with the late Mugabe
Tonderai Gabriel was doing form three when his mother passed and he resorted to dealing in scrap metal to raise money for his tuition.
Queried about how he got to know that he was Mugabe’s son, Tonderai Gabriel said: “Neither my mother nor my grandfather was at liberty to discuss the paternity issue with me. I frequently asked about my father but did not get convincing answers. This is why I ended up adopting my maternal surname, Maeka.”
It was not until 1997 when he visited the Zanu PF party headquarters that he got the shock of his life.
He narrated how one Edna Matamba advised him that Bridget Mugabe wanted to see him in her office.
She had ostensibly heard him speaking and wanted to meet him.
Upon entering her office, Tete Bridget as she was affectionately called, told the shell-shocked Tonderai Gabriel that she was spiritually gifted adding that she saw visions about an issue that she thought had now been revealed to her.
She then proceeded to ask him to raise his left hand and clinch his first, something he did not understand why she was requesting him do it.
“Tete Bridget then told me that her second child (Lawrencia) went to war and she shared some information about what happened there with tete (aunt) adding that she is in constant conversation with her brother about that information.”
At that point, Tonderai Gabriel did not know who she was or the brother she was referring to.
She allegedly quizzed him about his background, and his mother’s chimurenga name among other critical issues, so she compares his narration with what she had gathered.
Before they separated, she told him that she was Bridget, sister to then President Mugabe.
Stunned, he listened as she narrated how he was born and cared for by Lawrencia, her daughter, and how he and his mother “vanished” after the war.
“You were handed over to Lawrencia because had colonisers known that you were Mugabe’s son, your life would have been in danger. They (colonisers) were desperate to get rid of any of Mugabe’s offspring,” Tete Bridget is alleged to have said.
“I was kept a secret because of fears that Amai Sally Mugabe could be angry at the president (Mugabe). Information that I have gathered shows that she was going to be receptive since she was unfortunate not to have children after Nhamodzenyika’s passing,” he said.
Thomas Maeka, Tonderai’s grandfather, corroborated his grandson’s story.
“Tonderai’s mother worked in one of the offices in Mozambique that is when she met Robert Mugabe,” he said.
“We did not know the father of the baby she brought from the war because she was secretive about it. We only got to know about it when Tonderai met some senior party officials in Harare. From there, I had numerous interactions with one of Mugabe’s close relatives but nothing materialised.
“He always promised me that he was going to talk to Mugabe about the issue but he would get evasive each time I made follow-ups. We eventually kept quiet.”
Contacted for comment Lawrencia Mugabe told ZimSeen that she was not feeling well and the publication should get in touch with her at a later period.
*This article is the first in a three-part series. The remaining parts will cover Tonderai Gabriel’s supposed 2005 meeting with the late president, his meetings with the Mugabe family in Zvimba, interviews with other family members, predicaments faced in trying to change identity documents, and most importantly the DNA test! ZimSeen