Independence 34: Is it time to deconstruct the Mugabe legend?

OVER the last 34 years, a period in which Zanu PF has ruled Zimbabwe almost without interruption, a myth has been built around the figure of Robert Mugabe.

Paidamoyo Muzulu

His story is reads like a Greek epic.

He has become a legend, a man who went on an epical journey to fight for his country, came back victorious and led his country to a prosperous future.

Mugabe’s odyssey has been characterised by a series of achievements and events which the State-controlled media has narrated in an elevated style. It reads like Homer’s Iliad.

The narrative has papered over some of his greatest weaknesses so much so that in the intervening years, it has become difficult to identify the man from the myth.

Media and contemporary history has made him a giant that lords over all and little has been done to show his Achilles heel.

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In Africa, he is viewed as a giant, the ultimate nationalist and unwavering pan-Africanist.

He has been lauded for standing up to the West which formerly held the continent in its colonial grip.

Indeed Mugabe has, in this regard, played to the gallery at one time telling former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to “keep your England, let keep my Zimbabwe”.

For most Africans living in semi-decolonised States on the continent, Mugabe became the epitome of the fight against neo-colonialism.

Whatever forum he graces on the continent he, is received with a standing ovation. He has been compared to Nelson Mandela with a lot of hot air expended on how Mugabe is the greater African statesman.

But his African stature has in the past few weeks been put to scrutiny.
This was after the faux pas over the recent European Union-Africa Summit which he tactlessly refused to attend simply because his wife Grace, who is on European Union sanctions, was denied a visa to travel to Brussels, Belgium, where the conference was being held.

African scholars were able to see in this apparently insignificant incident how Mugabe’s idiosyncratic behaviour could have scuttled a huge African initiative to strike a more balanced trade deal with the European bloc.

Discerning Africans can now see how Mugabe’s egoism destroyed a country touted at independence in 1980 as the “jewel of Africa”, leaving its people at unprecedented levels of poverty.

As Zimbabweans reflect on 34 years of his rule, perhaps it is time to deconstruct the Mugabe legend.

Mugabe has lorded over the country in good and bad times – more of the bad it can be noted. He successfully created a coalition government at independence that set about reconstructing the war-damaged country and set the nation on a path to socio-economic development.

His government embarked on building schools and clinics, bridges and highways and, more importantly, the first phase of land resettlement.
Some 3,6 million hectares of land were distributed countrywide mainly to decongest crowded communal lands.

Mugabe’s star was rising. He became the de facto regional leader, a darling of the West and even hosted the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government Meeting (Chogm) in 1991 where the world-famous Harare Declaration was penned, setting the Commonwealth of Nations on a new course.

The declaration reaffirmed the principles that guided this huge international bloc of former British colonies.

The principles were:

We believe that international peace and order, global economic development and the rule of international law are essential to the security and prosperity of mankind;

We believe in the liberty of the individual under the law, in equal rights for all citizens regardless of gender, race, colour, creed or political belief, and in the individual’s inalienable right to participate by means of free and democratic political processes in framing the society in which he or she lives;

We recognise racial prejudice and intolerance as a dangerous sickness and a threat to healthy development, and racial discrimination as an unmitigated evil;

We oppose all forms of racial oppression, and we are committed to the principles of human dignity and equality;

lWe recognise the importance and urgency of economic and social development to satisfy the basic needs and aspirations of the vast majority of the peoples of the world, and seek the progressive removal of the wide disparities in living standards amongst our members.

Mugabe stood on the pedestal of international statesmanship, but that was his peak. Soon after the heads of state and government of the Commonwealth nations left Harare, he began to unravel the Harare Declaration and since then his stock began declining both locally and internationally.

But Mugabe’s darker nature was apparent from the outset. But in the independence euphoria many Zimbabweans failed to notice Mugabe sliding into a dictator soon after assuming power.

He started centralising authority and systematically decimating national institutions like the police, the army, intelligence services and parastatals.

As early as 1982, Zimbabwe started training a militia – Fifth Brigade – that was not part of the national army and was only accountable to Mugabe.

The North Korean-trained militia was deployed to effectively deal with military insurgency. It was deployed in Midlands and Matabeleland provinces with devastating effects in an operation codenamed Gukurahundi.

The operation was to effectively deal with acts of insurgency by a section of former guerillas some with links to Zipra forces. Thousands of civilians died in the five-year war that Mugabe described as a “moment of madness”.

However, many analysts believe the Gukurahundi was meant to decimate Joshua Nkomo’s Zapu, the then main opposition party, in preparation for the establishment of a legislated one-party state.

The international community stood idly and continued to fund the new State despite the rising scourge of political intolerance and persecution of political opponents.

Unfortunately, this sad episode taught Mugabe that the world does not mind new African leaders oppressing and persecuting their political opponents.

Mugabe since then has used the same tactic to stifle opposition. Edgar Tekere, Ndabaningi Sithole and, most recently, Morgan Tsvangirai have suffered the same fate as Nkomo. They were arrested, their activities banned by police and their supporters persecuted relentlessly by Zanu PF functionaries.

Along the way, the world economy was quickly changing with the East’s socialist economies fast crumbling leaving the West, through the Bretton Woods institutions, to pick up the pieces.

Zimbabwe was not spared from the ravages of the world economic spasms, especially considering its sustained social spending that was not backed by economic growth and production. Mugabe and his government were forced to adopt the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Esap) despite massive protestation from labour unions and social movements.

Zimbabwe adopted the Washington prescription despite the fact that structural adjustment programmes had not worked anywhere else in the world.

As the economy continued to contract, Mugabe’s Cabinet started to engage in systematic corrupt activities whose effects still haunt this nation today.

The first scandal was the Willowvale Motor Industry scam, infamously dubbed Willowgate Scandal, where ministers could get vehicles at factory prices and then resell them on the market at inflated prices in the process making thousands of dollars in profit without any value addition.

The Sandura Commission set up to investigate the scandal and the subsequent prosecutions against those implicated gave two important lessons to this country. Mugabe was too weak to deal decisively with corruption.

Corruption pays handsomely if one is connected to the system. Frederick Shava became the prime example of this. Mugabe pardoned him as soon as he was convicted and sentenced to a custodial term. Shava is the current Zimbabwe ambassador to China.

Since then other scandals have rocked the country with little or no action being taken against those implicated, particularly if they are Zanu PF bigwigs.

Those that come quickly to mind are the War Victims Compensation Fund (implicated several Cabinet ministers and Mugabe’s brother-in-law, Reward Marufu), the Senior Civil Servants Housing Scheme (which also implicated Mugabe’s wife, Grace), Grain Marketing Board scandal that sucked in Kumbirai Kangai and more recently the chaotic land reform where the majority of senior bureaucrats and ministers became multiple-farm owners.

High Court judge Justice Nicholas Mathonsi in a recent land dispute judgment came out forcefully that the new landowners cannot afford to turn their farms into weekend resorts when the country needs production.

Mathonsi said: “One cannot be allowed to hold on to large tracts of land they are not using simply to babysit an inflated ego. If a beneficiary is not using the land, that is breach of the conditions upon which the land is offered.”

The generally peaceful but disputed July 2013 poll seemed to have given Mugabe the final opportunity to amend and solidify his legacy as not only Zimbabwe’s but Africa’s greatest statesman.

However, the EU-Africa Summit boycott has dashed that hope. Both Sadc and African Union rewarded Mugabe in his twilight the opportunity to lead the regional and continental blocs.

He will chair the two blocs at their next annual general summits.

Mugabe, the giant of the liberation struggle and the African icon, allowed a selfish reason to destroy his legacy when he failed to attend the EU-Africa Summit on April 2-3.

His boycott despite the regional and continental obligations on him to attend was caused by Brussels’ refusal to grant his wife Grace a visa to the summit.

Zimbabwe, turning 34 today, was about to reach the pinnacle of her power in international relations when the first time since independence in 1980 Zimbabwe was going to this global stage wearing the two hats — regional and continental leader, but this was dashed because of a failed diplomatic stratagem.

Opposition parties, industry and labour while agreeing that independence should be celebrated and those who fought for it recognised, concur the country needs to introspect after more than a generation without renewal.

Main opposition MDC-T spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora summed it up: “The ideals of the war of liberation have now been abandoned by those running the affairs of the State in favour of pursuit of self-aggrandisement. Economic opportunities are now the preserve of a small elite linked to Zanu PF.”

For now, the time may be nigh to start deconstructing the Mugabe myth.

28 Comments

  1. the main purpose of land reform prog was to give the black majorit land. But kana vatema vacho kana vakunzi chibvai ini ndinoda kuti paiswe my family park or resort ipapo pashata. Mugabe’s wife has become Mary Antoinett. Is the one who precipated the boycot to eu africa summit in brussel. This boycot painted blact the Mugabe odyssey to freedom. Due to this we cant celebrate when our lands are being taken for family parks and resorts it means we are not indepence.

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  2. what was outcome of eu-au summit? It seems this summit is the most important summit ever held in the world yet the writer does not tell the nation what it missed by the non-attendance of Gushungo and his wife. What was it that was agreed and the likely benefits that those countries that attended will receive and Zimbabwe lose?

    1. @gandanga its not abt the outcome of the meeting itself but your absence as a nation is noted.mangwana it will come back to bite knowing tiri a nation ikurarama nemahandouts at the moment.maafrican countries akaenda havapengi.

      1. @terence, with all due respect, it is the outcome of such an ‘important’ meeting that counts the most, not who was or was not there. The fact is, hapana chakafamba, only some gay prime minister telling Africans to embrace gayism or else.

  3. I think mising out on the EU will not change how the Africa sees Mugabe,he is a true African statesman standing for and defending Africa,we all know Zuma did not go as well,has it changed how we view him?no. Always remember this,mugabe has played his part in Africa and the world over and you cant undo it.the other leaders actually get excited if they know that they wil attend the same meeting with Mugabe,journalists as well,its a big scoop to capture what Mugabe says at any international forum.

  4. @ Gandanga, u seem not to understand the whole idea behind having summits in the first place. Do u realy need the reporter to explain such things to u? You are a Gandanga for sure

  5. Who cares if mugabe is a great statesman in africa or the world or whatever yet he is a failure in his own country. What kind of a man is good to his neighbours children while being cruel to his own?

  6. They lack the concept of love of their people. They seem to only care for their immediate families and friends. We deserve better leadership and it’s ridiculous to try and make us believe that we’ve freedom in our own country. Actually, it’s only those senseless politicians who can kill their own people. Yet still they have the capacity to continue playing those delaying tactics. Surely, the youth of Zimbabwe should rise and decide their own future through their own poverty alleviation programs and order, etc. http://www.zimyo.com/about-us (check what have started here)

    We need to unite on our own in the absence of our political leaders…Aren’t we educated enough! And for me celebrations we’ve opened this topic to celebrate 34 years of constant hardships.

    http://www.zimyo.com/topic/let-s-celebrate-the-independence-of-zimbabwe

    http://www.zimyo.com

  7. why is it that some people get excited whenever they hear a rumour about Mugabe’s death?the sort of hushed excitement exhibited in rural areas when suspected witches and wizards demise.

  8. @ stan wasnt south africa represented?and one thing you seem to not get is its not about zuma or mugabe its about SA n ZIm.and ohh ZUMA is now very unpopular in his country for many blundrs he always makes belive me you cant achieve much by comparing anyone to him.

  9. MarailasMechavio

    Independence is time to reconstruct Mugabe’s and Liberation legend.

  10. A good analysis. There are things that we need to look at carefully before we criticize each other. The reason of boycotting EU Africa Summit of our President was because of his wife visa. Can that stop him from attending meetings that will benefit our Country. Was he representing Zimbabwe or his family. We need to go deeper into this man, is he fit to move alone without his wife. What about his age.

  11. Recently Mugabe went to Dubai but newsday didnt cover the trip because it was not important. USA is going to host a summit with some African countries excluding Mugabe because he was not invited. Hopefully the same noise will be made on how Zimbabwe is losing out and Mugabe’s legacy is dented by his absence. If he attends, the same will complain on him dorsing/sleeping during the summit meeting

  12. Africans have a problem of FOCUS. They spend lots of energy focusing on individuals and the past instead of focusing on issues and the future. The focus must be on economic prosperity for the MAJORITY and not individuals. They must focus on the future, not the past.

  13. Paidamoyo Muzulu – You are actually making the MUGABE LEGACY more stronger. Your narration of the bad side and good side of Mugabe tips the balance almost 80% on the good side. Do not under estimate Africa’s response Africans are very keen lot when it comes to their freedom.

  14. whatever your arguements cdes,under the tutelage of his excellency this country has gone to the dogs. how can we be so poor when we have such revered leader. Bad governance is the order of the day. tirikudya nhoko dzezvironda………….

  15. Mugabe is not a statesman at all…. He doesnt want to accept that he has failed. The country is better off without him. Today we have no currency because he doesnt want to admit failure. He doesnt want to give others a chance. Even Mnangagwa is ok……..give others a chance to rule.

    Mugabe is just a failed dictator……..

  16. The reasons are varied but in my village we get excited because his death would achieve what 8 elections and 13 million people have failed to do in 34 years. In the next village where I married am told the consensus is his death will unite people and change the fortunes of a country gone to waste while in white circles am told they expect his death will give them a chance to regain their farms. In Munangagwa and Mujuru villages his death will present an opportunity for them to take over. All neighbouring countries will be rid of a big bully whose dellusions about war are a threat to the collective security of the region. All dead dictators will be happy whereever there are to receive him in their club for he aldo misses them. Personally I want to go to his funeral for I know certainly that meat will be served in the ‘free’ meals for mourners.

  17. Strted skul in the mid-eighties through college in the early 2000s….I love my motherland but my opinion and judgement on RGM post independence is
    RGM is the most cunning selfish leader of my generation, his selfishness is so perfected to be celebrated by either simple or selfish mindsets. God have mercy on him. He is so decieved and has decieved many. Doubtless war liberation heroes were selfless but post independence it became them, their families, their friends first….
    Unfortunately the last I celebrated this chap I was force-marched as a school kid.
    At 90 here amana…,aaaaaah……..anywhere its just an opinion only Christ can deliver any man from selfishness

  18. The country is in a mess becoz of MDC and sanctions. West through MDC tactic was to destroy Zim economically n socially so that we could revolt against land reposessor Mugabe. Granted corruption n misgovernance from all of us has made things worse but without Sanctions we wd b at a different level. In a way hardships are what will make us greater. In a way the economy has started sheding waste through closure of inefficient companies and tightening of governance issues. ISRAEL has one river and is just sand but it is thru such hardships that it now leads in innovation n development. It is also surtounded by enemies but has however found a way to insulate itself. This is what Zim needs. Frankly speaking I have read more desparate n admonishing articles on Mugabe but the truth is he is a rare gem whose legacy is cast in stone.

  19. @Mugabe Chete Zanu pf invited sanctions not MDC. It is in the song book of Zanu pf and Mugabe that sanctions were not invited by MDC. We are tired of cheap politics. For your information Zimbabwe sanctions are targeted sanctions. They are not for everyone. You and your brother Robert yes you are on sanctions but not everyone. If you are a culprit you must be punished. I am in Europe i don’t any problem coming in and going out of Europe. Israel Government managed to solve its problems with the International community, Zanu pf Government made Zimbabwe a failed state.

  20. What kind of an animal is called Mugabe…to hell with it..

  21. Argh shame…….What sanctions……. is it sanctions that killed hundreds of Zimbabweans in 2008’s post election imbroglio. Is it sanctions that made Nkomo flee Zimbabwe, as 20 000 defenceless citizens were massacred? Is it sanctions that made Rashiwe Guzha disappear? Is it sanctions that gave Mugabe, John Nkomo Mujuru and many more 100% disability, and $Millions in compensation? Is it sanctions that demoshed thousands of houses and displaced 700 000 citizens in Murambatvina? Is it (us) who have stolen millions and sent our children overseas to get degrees, at the expense of local institutions? Is it (us) who refused to institute democratic reforms to usher in better governance practices? Its only one man. Zanu pf is not a bad party, MDC is not a bad party……. only one person has presided over the destruction of Zanu and Zimbabwe. He must die. i have budgeted a significant amount of money to share beer with fellow Zimbabweans upon his demise…. maybe then i will be able to breath without fear.

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  23. now that the bigwigs took farms from white farmers, they nw want to takeover their businesses without injecting any capital. Mr president hw come the chinese have 100 percent ownership of our diamonds. U are nw a blind and toothless bulldog thats why Kasukuwere gave u fake cheques in public talking of community share ownership schemes. Take advice from me you are now just a place holder, you are now being used, without you there is no zanu pf because you also never wanted to give others a chance or groom a sucessor. As you once said Blair keep yo england and let me keep my zimbabwe let me hear you say Obama keep yo USD and let me use my zimdollar. Wazviona ka wakauraya nyika kuita kuisa 12 feet kuti haife yamuka

  24. this reporter speaks of opposition parties but only refers to monzora what about other opposition parties .this is exactly the way state media reports very selective and censored give us balanced news not what you want us to hear. or are you trying to align our thinking towards your goal .did monzora give you a token of appreciation you sound like a corrupt reporter

  25. the stumbling of our nation is mugabe and zanu thugs they have failed us as a nation. it doesn’t take a man from mars to show us were these perveted fools have failed it’s all in the open for any one who is sane enough to see. we are being led by a bunch of failures and looters, a mafia gang

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