HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsCult of personality: Mugabe legacy at risk of being farcical

Cult of personality: Mugabe legacy at risk of being farcical


The Harare International Airport will on November 9 be renamed the Robert Mugabe International Airport in line with the wishes of the Zanu PF youth league.


This comes as there has been a declaration of Robert Mugabe Day on his birthday on February 21 and the naming of a $1 billion university after the President and we have all the makings of a Ruritanian farce.

Commentators have been saying President Robert Mugabe is working on preserving his legacy, but surely this is not the way to go about it, as it invites scorn and derision rather than the respect and reverence that his supporters think he will have.

There have also been calls to have Tokwe-Mukosi Dam named after the veteran ruler, while every town has at least a road named after him.

On the other hand, every government office must have a picture of Mugabe and there is no telling what will be next to be named after the President.

While his supporters may think being this obsequious will earn them favour, they have absolutely no idea what damage they are doing to his legacy, as one day, Mugabe may be viewed as an egomaniac and Zimbabwe a typical tin pot dictatorship, never mind the popular refrain of a banana republic.

As German philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel once rightly put it: “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.”

There are a number of instances in history where leaders have gone over the top with their eccentricities and years later they are portrayed as case studies of how not to do things and we are hurtling down this all too familiar path as Zimbabwe.

Nicolae Ceausescu ruled Romania from 1965 to 1989 and among a host of bizarre things he did was to demand that his, nearly illiterate, wife be made part of the New York Academy of Sciences and the Royal Institute of Chemistry, and all scientists in Romania had to include her name in their research.

On the other hand, Rafael Trujillo, who ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 to 1938 and again from 1942 to 1952, campaigned for his wife to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, even though she was illiterate.

Zimbabwe is not yet there, but many can point to First Lady Grace Mugabe’s contentious conferment with a PhD as a worrying sign, as up to this day, we are yet to be presented with evidence of the research she carried out warranting the lofty doctorate.

There are other more eccentric leaders, such as Turkmenistan’s authoritarian ruler, Saparmurat Niyazov, who ruled the central Asian country for 21 years, before his death in 2006.

Among the things that Niyazov did was to have airports, cities and months named after himself and his family, with one of his titles being “Leader of all Turkmens”.

A meteorite was also given his name, he was declared President for life and he brooked no opposition to his rule.

Locally, we have seen the youth league campaign vigorously for a public holiday named after Mugabe, having the airport named after him and also having a magazine that will only feature the President and his wife on the cover and these are all the hallmarks of a cult of personality.

A few years ago, there was even a movement to have Mugabe declared the “Supreme Leader”, as politicians sought favour through their unrestrained fawning.

Mugabe has been compared to an angel, Jesus and God, and we have been told that there were prophesies that one day he will rule Zimbabwe and Africa.

If Zanu PF is sincere about preserving Mugabe’s legacy, then they are going about it the wrong way by literally naming everything after him during his lifetime, as this will reduce him to a caricature.

They may argue that Mugabe has done a lot for this country and more needs to be done to honour him, but at this rate, you could as well swear that George Orwell was writing about Zimbabwe when he penned his seminal Animal Farm.

An issue raised in Animal Farm that stuck with me is that all animals agreed that they were equal, but down the line others became “more equal than others”.

With time, one of the pigs, who led the revolution, Napoleon became the leader and as he became a paranoid egomaniac he gave himself titles such as “Protector of the Sheep-fold” and ordered that the gun, which they had taken from the farmer when they revolted, be fired on his birthday.

This reminded me of the supreme leader title that was once touted and having a public holiday on the President’s birthday, both of which are extremely unnecessary and draw ridicule.

Today, the world laughs at the late former Zaire leader, Mobutu Sese Seko for the cult of personality he fostered on his country, Zimbabwe is not as bad as that, but we are on a slippery slope and we may find the country being lampooned and caricatured in future.

In Zaire, the evening news on television started with a picture of Mobutu descending through clouds like a god descending from the heavens, while his portraits were in many public places, and government officials wore lapels bearing his image.

Mobutu had many titles such as “Father of the Nation”, “Messiah”, “Guide of the Revolution”, “Helmsman”, “Founder”, “Saviour of the People”, and “Supreme Combatant”, as his cult of personality knew no bounds.

Supporters may argue that in South Africa there is a municipality named after that country’s late former leader, Nelson Mandela and the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Zambia named after that country’s founding President.

A key difference is that these landmarks were only named after the respective leaders were long out of power and it seemed to be an independent process where the incumbent would not have been a benefactor.

Now the naming of key institutions after Mugabe seems like a self-serving process and it would be no surprise if future generations do not undo the process and with that Mugabe’s legacy would have been tarnished, something his supporters and himself obviously do not want.

In the meantime, in the not so distant future, people may be able to fly into Robert Mugabe International Airport, be greeted by Mugabe’s portrait at the airport, drive down Robert Mugabe Way on their way to Robert Mugabe University and then go fishing at Robert Mugabe Dam on Robert Mugabe Day.

Ruritanian farce?

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