It’s not that Mugabe was a better leader

Guest Column: Learnmore Zuze

It’s an illusion that former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was a better leader than his successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa.

The ex-President was not as competent a leader as the world would want to portray him today. Take away his eloquence and immaculate sense of dress, and there is nothing more to the leadership style that made Zimbabwe a pale shadow of its former self.

Truly, his role in the liberation struggle cannot be taken away from him, but that’s as far as his candid success goes.

Today, stories abound in various media fora of how Mugabe could have done things differently today. This view is quite skewed. Mugabe’s record of governance speaks for itself.

In 1980, Mugabe took over an efficiently-run country, whose own currency eclipsed the United States dollar. He took over one of the most excellent healthcare systems in southern Africa at independence.

Mugabe inherited a country whose job was to provide food security for the region yet in his later days, it was even unthinkable that Zimbabwe could itself assist any other country with food when its shops where empty and people scrounged for basics. Economically, Mugabe brought Zimbabwe to the lows that are simply being resurrected under the so-called New Dispensation. Ads

Talking of human rights, their erosion and the wanton disregard of the rule of law; all that began during Mugabe’s era. Voter intimidation and blatant violations of people’s rights were vices conceived under Mugabe’s rule.

The culture of corruption so entrenched in public institutions went unchecked in Mugabe’s time. Even cronyism and the rewarding of mediocrity all formed the hallmark of Mugabe’s rule.

Today, Zimbabweans look with disgust at the unsightly fuel queues that have become a permanent feature at filling stations, but in 2008, during Mugabe’s reign, fuel queues much similar to what we see had begun forming and it looked like Zanu PF in its entirety had resigned to fate.

Price hikes and bribery were the top two defining challenges under Mugabe. So where does the delusion that Mugabe was a better leader come from? It’s simple to the discerning mind. People are deluded today after the momentary economic reprieve that came due to a national unity government.

The credit being given to Mugabe was never his. People must not have a short memory; the era that saw stabilisation of prices and a return to normalcy then, can be squarely put on the MDC, otherwise Mugabe had dismally failed the economy.

In fact, Mugabe’s yielding to a Government of National Unity (GNU) after having described the MDC as puppets of the West, is clear testament that he had failed to run the economy. In an excerpt from his book, the late MDC founding president, Morgan Tsvangirai, mentions that they had to agree to a GNU because of “the immense suffering” of Zimbabweans at the time. Mugabe would just look on. The country virtually had no electricity and salaries had become meaningless.

The fallacious message now spreading everywhere is that Mugabe was better, but the undisputed truth is that Zimbabwe was no better under Mugabe’s leadership.

The truth of the matter is that things have only become shoddier in the post-Mugabe era. What makes the present difficulties of Zimbabwe unbearable is the reprieve that they had become accustomed to under the GNU.

Mnangagwa, if anything, is being lampooned for taking back Zimbabwe to the Mugabe era (that is, before the GNU). If memory serves us well, Zimbabwe nearly became the poorest nation, especially towards 2007 and 2008 when Mugabe spewed venom against Britain and the United States while propagating the philosophy that Zimbabwe could survive in solitary confinement.

The hapless citizens had nauseating “empowerment” jingles forced down their throats. But if the truth be said, it was the magnanimity of the late Tsvangirai who consented to a GNU in 2009 that ameliorated the crisis-torn country. Zimbabwe could possibly have been shutdown as a country.

People today erroneously believe that life was better and the economy stable under Mugabe, but it must be appreciated that it was during Mugabe’s rule that inflation hit a record setting four digit figures.

Also, it was the Mugabe’s style of leadership that oversaw the incredible disregard of the rule of law and a culture of abductions to dissenting views, the most eminent example being the unaccounted for Itai Dzamara to date.

The Dzamara case will, for years to come, remain a damning indictment on the Mugabe regime. We all know how efficient Zimbabwean law enforcers can be if need be. But it is such a shame that to date, there is no lead to the Dzamara case which took place in the full glare of Glen View residents.

It was during the forgettable rule of Mugabe that even the revered rule of educators lost steam. The education sector has never fully recovered since then. The same is true for most key sectors.

The current government takes its fair share of blame. As I have argued on several occassions, at least they could have maintained the stability that existed when they took over power. If they had failed to move the nation forward, at least they could have kept things in their unspoiled order.

 Learnmore Zuze is a legal officer and writes in his personal capacity


  1. You are right. The unexplained deaths, corruption, lack of accountability, brutal murders which happened during the liberation war under Mugabe’s watch continued after 1980 with matebeleland disturbances, disappareance of certain critics, unexplained deaths of nationalists, increased corruption and entitlement mentality are all rooted in Mugabe’s era. Also his successor is a product of his long rule and grooming so whatever results it gets cant be separated from him. 2000- early 2009 he was entirely in charge so who else apart from him could be blamed for that. Short and long sleeve political project happened under his watch and for his benefit, same Chiadzwa looting not mentioning low income housing funds looted with Chihuri and Grace being chief looters. Shortsightedness and poor memory is the only thing which wil make one to celebrate Mugabe’s leadership or lack thereof.

  2. But in order to mantain the so called stability, the new government would have to continue the same policies which include funding government out of overdrafts indefinitely which would lead to eventual hard landind of the system. Till when do you think the government could survive by issuance of treasury bills in an economy that had no currency of its own and which had no functioning manufacturing and even extractive sector? Till when could they sustain the status co by borrowing non existent funds? We only need to be realistic and know that solutions to dificulty problems are most of the time painful. Austerity is always the right starting point for a nation that has always lived by extravagance and with deeprooted corruption in its adminstrative sysem. Those who used to steal should discover and convinced that therere is nothing more to steal without being detected. During austerity periods, the accounting system naturaly tends to be vigilant and very effective.

    1. But surely the point is, if Mugabe had done all the right things, instead of all the wrong things, austerity wouldn’t be the reality that it is, at all. Mnangagwa has had to take 40 years of wrong-doing – and an entire generation grown up enmeshed in it, not knowing any different, or any better – and try to start a process of redemption. Which should never have been required, or necessary. Ian Smith must be laughing in his grave.

  3. mugabe was never better! most of today’s adults were children under their parents during mugabe’s fuel queues…then they became adults during GNU and the ten or so years of stability that followed…now they see mugabe’s apprentice doing exactly what mugabe taught him but say mugabe was better…no! they are a carbon copy of each other! same fanana

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