I finished Two Weeks in November in a couple of hours the Sunday before last. That’s how good a tale it is- it totally captured my attention against competing interests of the modern world like Twitter, drink, and , of course, other books.
However for a book that sets on the obviously ambitious task of telling the “astonishing untold story of the operation that toppled Mugabe,” it falls flat.
For starters there is not much of an untold story. Much of what the book claims is an untold story is already known to all who bothered watching the news and reading the papers in November 2017:
Mnangagwa fired, fled for his life with Mugabe’s henchmen in pursuit, heading for the Mozambique border on the east. There he attempted to cross into Mozambique using the official crossing point, a curious lack of foresight if you ask me, before being accosted by border officials. Managing to escape, the now President later crossed into Mozambique and got a jet to South Africa. He’d return after two weeks, victorious.
That much is known.
What is not known is how it all unfolded and this is where Rodgers takes great liberty. After all with most of those intimately involved in the operation not talking, as he readily admits, who can dispute him?
Of Mnangagwa’s border escape and his nighttime trek into Mozambique Rodgers seems to rely on the President’s own account and those of his sons. At the border ED’s small party overpowered and escaped border security, with ED himself at 75, brushing aside a guard “like a buffalo does a fly”.
After leaving the border in such fracas some members of the party even returned later to retrieve a bag they’d left. The trek into Mozambique was no less eventful, complete with a renegade soldier and landmines, plus, as the President’s son, Emerson Junior recalled, “mosquitoes as big as birds”.
Much of the story is devoted to two characters, one Tom Ellis, a white Zimbabwean living in South Africa, and a Zimbabwean spy named “Kasper”, also in South Africa. It is these two that Rodgers makes the central players in his tale.
It is not exactly clear what Kasper and Ellis do to facilitate the coup but Rodgers tries his best to portray them as the chief architects, together with Gabriel Shumba and others such as Horse. It is an unconvincing attempt.
By the end we are left wondering about the things we’ve been wondering about for close to two years: What exactly happened, who did what, what went on in the negotiations? Was there no General loyal to Mugabe, and why did Bob, if he was indeed under duress, not say it the day he addressed the nation?
On this last point Rodgers offers a weak answer, as much speculation as the rest of the book. Mugabe does not tell the world he is under house arrest, Rodgers says, because of his ego, he cannot harm his reputation by admitting that he’s powerless.
Still, it is not a hagiography of the sitting President, and Rodgers does make some important observations about the Zimbabwean political environment and the failure by ZANU PF to create a state where citizens, regardless of their social position, are safe, noting: “It said something about the factionalism within ZANU PF, the betrayal of its revolution and the disaster they had made of the country, that one of its heroes was now running for his life not from white Rhodesians but from his friend and former brother-in-arms“.
Rodgers is a good storyteller, and the tale is fast moving and well written. There’s a good dose of humour too- I chuckled when he described the travails of Kudzai Chipanga who “was soon on TV in a purple-patterned sweater that looked as if it had been knitted by his mother, offering an abject apology to General Chiwenga for his bellicose statement of the day earlier.”
Yet for all the humour, prose and clever statements- “if not for double standards ZANU PF would have none“- his story is nothing short of fanciful.
I felt that he would have benefited from more reliable sources than people watching the action from their roofs or those who have seen mosquitoes big as birds; and from talking to those most involved. But Rodgers concedes that the military are not saying a word and so we have to make do with his shadowy sources.
So here we are with a gripping tale that answers none of our questions. It is still an enjoyable read – one, I suspect, more aimed at Western audiences than Zimbabweans- and it does add, in its small way, to the Zimbabwean story that is still unfolding.