Revisiting Mugabe’s legacy: Where the rain began to beat us

A COUPLE of weeks ago, war veterans’ leader, Christopher Mutsvangwa said President Robert Mugabe was at his astute best in the 1980s and made the best decisions any country could ask for.



Closely linked to this, MDC-T leader, Morgan Tsvangirai has repeatedly called on Mugabe to leave now to salvage his legacy or, at least, what is left of it.

There is a consensus that Mugabe was at his best in the 1980s and somehow lost his way, particularly after 2000, which is revisionism of the worst kind.

For me, this is where Zimbabwe’s problem lies, our understanding and diagnosis of the Zimbabwe problem is ahistorical and lacks context, as we have a somewhat jaundiced view of the country’s history, particularly what we see as the golden age of 1980 to 1990.

A Nigerian saying says a man who cannot tell where the rain began to beat him cannot know where he dried his body, with iconic writer, Chinhua Achebe underscoring this by saying there is need to know where the rain began to beat us.

In a nutshell, what this means is that it is important to get the genesis of a problem if you are to proffer a solution.

Because of the lack of interrogation of our post-independence history, I believe we are misdiagnosing it and applying the wrong ointment, and ultimately the rot continues.

For instance, one of the issues that Mugabe is accused of is vote-rigging and electoral violence, and there is need to interrogate voting patterns since 1980 and question this so-called astuteness.

Zimbabwe’s first elections were mired in violence, prompting Zapu to seek out the governor of the then Rhodesia, Christopher Soames, who promised to postpone elections where Zanu was accused of violence.

Probably because Britain was too eager to get out of Zimbabwe, Soames did not make good on his promise to postpone elections in the hotspots and from there, a pattern of electoral violence and impunity began.

The 1985 elections followed a similar pattern, witnessing probably the worst electoral violence this country has ever seen.

Back to the 1980 elections, Mugabe was in Tanzania when the votes were being counted and pronounced that Zanu would get 56 seats to win the polls, he was off by one, they got 57.

Imagine the hue and cry if this was to happen today, this would be seen as a sure sign of rigging, add the electoral violence and the story will be complete.

The reason I am highlighting this is to question Mugabe’s legacy and this so-called astuteness and show that the President, like a leopard, has not changed his spots and those who say he is a bad leader now, should not be looking at the 1980s with rose-tinted glasses.

Another accusation that Mugabe faces today is that of corruption and patronage, but this has been a hallmark of his legacy since 1980.

The infamous Willowgate scandal comes to mind, where he allowed corruption to go unchecked.

He did not start turning a blind eye to corruption today and this history is important to understanding his actions in present-day Zimbabwe.

For example, Frederick Shava was accused of corruptly benefiting from the buying and selling of cars. Instead of being fired, he finds himself with a cushy job as an ambassador at the United Nations.

How different is this from Francis Gudyanga, who today is accused of corruptly running a one-man show at the Minerals and Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe?

Parliament has called for his axing, but what does Mugabe do? He moves him to the Higher and Tertiary Education ministry, in spite of all his very obvious baggage.

We can even discuss impunity, where the late Edgar Tekere was accused of killing a white farmer, but hardly saw the inside of jail and the same goes for national hero, Elias Kanengoni and the late Kizito Chivamba, who were convicted for the attempted murder of Patrick Kombayi, in yet another case of brazen electoral violence.

The point I am trying to bring out is that I do not understand why we have two views of Mugabe — one of the 1980s and one post-2000 — because I insist that the man has not changed at all.

When we talk of Mugabe preserving his legacy, then we are preserving the corruption, the nepotism, the impunity and the electoral violence.

I know others will point to his spending on social services and education, but this needs a column of its own, as the result of that policy was the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Esap).

A common lie is that Esap was imposed on Zimbabwe, but the reality is Zimbabwe overborrowed and could not pay back, resulting in the country approaching the International Monetary Fund to structure its debt and eventually leading to the structural adjustment programme.

Then, in the 1980s, as he still does now, Mugabe overspent mainly for populist purposes and, as a result, the economy suffered.

It is important to know where the rain beat us first, to understand our history and know why we are in this scenario.

Mugabe got away with excesses in the 1980s and was confident he could do so again at the turn of the millennium.

There are many examples that I can bring about that point to the fact that Mugabe has not changed and he is the same man he was in the 1980s.

Thus, I find hard to reconcile myself with Mutsvangwa’s statements that in the 1980s, the President made “the most astute decisions, which any country could ever make”, because I believe this is revisionism of the worst kind and does not tell the full story of Zimbabwe.

There are people that will point to his liberation war history, which I cannot begrudge the President, but I feel that is half the story.

I believe the wheels came off in 1980 and Zimbabwe has been suffering a slow puncture since.


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  1. Thats quite an eye opener

  2. very true.he just got worse

  3. We should endeavour to carve our names on hearts of the people, not on tombstones.

  4. waaaal what an insightful history. I always knew our history is cooked to make these leaders look great.

  5. well articulated!
    I guess this article comes at a time when mishap is taking it’s toll.

    If you take a close look at all those who see R.G as a great steward before the turn of the mellenium, its simply because he sympathised with them then!

    Today the same members of the ZANU pf mafia argue that he is old and incompetent because he has just reduced his sphere of influence.

  6. That is good debate. Aiesh, I feel like reading this article over and over every day until after elections.

  7. The day we voted this warthog into the State House (were he never stayed) is the day we lost it. Very true. You left the Gukurahundi era, which was soon after independence.

  8. RGM is only “great”to those with either blindness or poor memory or both. These are the vultures surrounding him, taking in all his insults and demeaning statements simply to preserve a house, a farm or a car. These cheapskates have sold their souls and the potential success of the country for 30 pieces of silver.,,,and the range is very wide, soldiers, policemen/women, judges, lawyers, doctors, engineers etc including village idiots. Grown men have been reduced to hapless boys as if they are incapable of introspection or independent thought. How tragic!

  9. i have no kind words for this dictator, who is like a chameleon that chages colours depending on the enviroment. All that has been happening about factionalism in the party has happened before since formation of ZAPU spearhed by non other than the one with an angles name. Becoz he can play people u wont point a finger at him and thats how he has stayed in power for this long

  10. Dumisani Ndlovu

    Dr NQaba Matshazi thanks so much for the info. For the benefit of Zimbabweans could you kindly enlighten the nation whether dissidents really existed or its a myth or Zanu PF propaganda? If they really existed, were did they come from and who was behind them?

    1. baba they were no true dissidents as the world was made to believe. but people who were fully sponsored by the govt. You know how the effective the security sector of Zim is. How long did it take to fight matsanga in Mozambique. The said dissidents were never arrested despite being known by their names. How many dissidents known dissidents were known and how many where arrested. only the X zipra soldiers who were found in their homes were killed unarmed. but the said dissidents like Gwesela ; Tambolenyoka or Gayigusu were never arrested. I think Xolisani Gwesela is from the same family with Gwesela the dissident. he was given that job as a form of payment.

  11. Jus a few days ago I was reading online of the history of Mugabe from the time he joined mainstream politics in 1960. There is a pattern of violence wherever the man went. Violence is his persuation tool of choice

  12. Great article. The only thing I would expand on is that the fact is not that a blind eye was turned due to Britain being eager to get out of Zimbabwe. Mugabe was actively supported by the UK both before and after independence. He was viewed as their man and Nkomo was viewed as a Soviet man..

  13. muchangwarira

    well said and an eye opener to all who call this man a hero ,his hands are soiled with evil everywhere he laid his hands on.I had lost interest in today’s journalism but Matshazi has given me hope to continue reading newspapers coz his research carries the truth

  14. Matshazi! I guess this is the preamble to the detailed BOOK in the offing.

  15. Very good article. Lets also not forget that in the 80s Zim received a lot of aid as an emerging nation and that made the govt of the day look good. When that aid stopped Mugabe had no plan whatsover hence the freefall.

  16. what a great insight

  17. great article malume. l like the fact that you deliberately ignored Gukurahundi though being Bob’s worst shortcoming you chose to highlight and remind the people that they is more to his dark side and what his doing now has always been his nature from the word go.

  18. While your article makes an interesting read, your views on ESAP are jaundiced as the authors of that programme (IMF/ World Bank) have conceded the weaknesses of the structural programmes. Even the academia is awash with the one size fits all structure of ESAP; hence its failure. In any case ESAP advocated for cuts on Govt expenditure including on social services not its promotion as you allude in your article. So on ESAP get you facts right!!!

  19. Dead right Matshazi. Zimbabwe started descending into the abyss in 1980. The euphoria of independence blinded us from seeing what was happening. Indeed ESAP was introduced as home-grown and different from IMF impositions elsewhere.

  20. No contribution has ever been so unanimously accentuated across the board. True. Very true. Well articulated, researched and scholarly article.

  21. Nonsense iwe…
    The President has dealt with corrupt leaders before. There is just no evidence against those implicated and perhaps one day they will. When that day comes, the president will act!

  22. ndatenda hangu,,, pahuori, ko GMB ,chibage,kangai,construction,zvidhinha,chikoore,harare council ,solomon tavengwa,noczim,mafuta,, , ,,aaaaaaa apa wataura chokwadi apa,pane akambonhuwidza jeri here apa?NRZ,njanji,munodawafa ,rtd bgd kkkkkkk aaa,pakaipa

  23. Yebo yes. Shava was actually convicted and sentenced but never spent a second in jail. In fact I remember that on the day he was sentenced he was wearing a white suit fully aware that he would be pardoned while awaiting transportation to gaol

  24. This is great I always tells my friends that the man is good for nothing has never been good thanks my brother.

  25. Zee museyamwa

    Ask the Americans. They really know how to solve disputes very fast.

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