FORMER President Robert Mugabe finally bade farewell at 95. The Mugabe story had lost currency, albeit temporarily, since his unceremonious departure from office in November 2017. Zimbabweans are just too busy trying to survive the negative effects of Mugabe and his successors’ decades of misrule and mismanagement of the economy.
But news of his death on September 6 aroused a new wave of feelings, emotions, odes, attention, moments of déjà vu and reflections on who Robert Mugabe was. It is evident that the demise of a life lived for 95 years, half of which in the limelight as a leader of a people upon whom their hopes were invested and divested, is certainly not a negligible junction. Mugabe’s leadership is polysemic and divides global opinion.
The various media platforms will be awash with his eulogies in the coming days, weeks, months and even years. Here I will attempt to briefly look at the three dimensions of Mugabe; the village boy, the Pan-African and dictator who crushed anything that stood between him and power, including the economy.
To the immediate Mugabe family, Robert represents everything inspirational. Born in the rural village of Kutama, going through the emotional pain of witnessing the death of his two brothers, his father abandoning his mother and fleeing to Bulawayo, watching his single mother toiling to fend for the family, stepping into his absent father’s role, while pursuing education would have crushed the dreams of a young Robert. He withstood the vagaries of that season to become a teacher, an academic, a husband twice, an accidental politician, a freedom fighter, a liberator, a Pan-African, a Prime minister and a President of a country. At that personal level, that is unquestionable success.
Indeed, sometimes it takes one member of the family to take a plunge to transform the future of a generation. Mugabe’s determination and the accruing achievements certainly transformed the lives of his immediate and extended family. The Mugabes may never be the same again and all thanks to the fortitude of one Robert Gabriel Mugabe, whose legacy will undoubtedly influence his family and generations to come.
Robert Mugabe’s liberation war credentials and Pan-African agenda are beyond questioning. Once he joined the struggle in the 1960s, albeit accidental, he was unwavering as he tactfully grabbed leadership opportunities mainly the void left behind after the imprisonment or exile of the forerunners of the struggle. As a gifted orator aware of the power of eloquence to galvanise the masses to fight against racial discrimination, it did not take time before Mugabe incited riots which resulted in his imprisonment in 1960s, marking the beginning of two decades of struggle for independence. Not even a decade of imprisonment inhibited his resolve and by 1977 he had taken over Zanu and the army to pre-position himself for the position of the first Prime Minister of the independent Zimbabwe, once the Lancaster House negotiations reached their conclusion.
In 1980, Robert Mugabe, the village boy from Kutama, and the freedom fighter became the first Prime Minister of the independent Zimbabwe. In the ensuing years, he played a role in the liberation of Namibia and South Africa, including contributing to peacekeeping in other African countries, promoting Pan-Africanism and standing up to western imperialism and neo-colonialism at regional and global fora. He was a rare and forceful African voice.
Behind in all this was the hidden insatiable love for power and global attention. Once Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1991, the attention on Mugabe faded leaving the two African icons at loggerheads.
However, the euphoria that came with independence and the global attention on Mugabe, mainly from Britain, blinded and disillusioned the nation from seeing who the real Robert Mugabe was, to the extent that even today there are some among us who believe the Mugabe of the 1980s was less brutal than the one of the 2000s, but he really never changed. There is blatant evidence in most of his biographies that shows how Mugabe was selfish, hated to lose and to be challenged even as a young boy. He loved to dominate.
During the war, this characteristic was embraced, deployed and called the “resolve” needed to unseat the Ian Smith administration. In the post-independent Zimbabwe, the same characteristic turned out to be tyranny that manifested in various forms of brutality against citizens. It came in the form of the 1980s gukurahundi, the violent land invasions after losing the 2000 constitutional referendum, Murambatsvina of 2005 to disenfranchise opposition strongholds, detention of opposition leaders, election rigging and the reluctance to leave power. That he died without being charged for atrocities his system committed is another feat.
He justified his autocracy by giving opposition leaders labels, and he would deploy State media and security apparatus guised as addressing national threats. It is for this reason Abel Muzorewa and Morgan Tsvangirai were labelled puppets, Joshua Nkoma a dissident and Edgar Tekere a lunatic, with most of these and others such as Ndabaningi Sithole being tried for treason for simply challenging him.
That Mugabe failed to grow or maintain the second biggest economy in Africa he inherited at independence, but still managed to retain political power all the way through, speaks volumes of what was priority to the man. In 2000, he sacrificed the economy over political survival by destroying the agriculture sector. He left a dead economy, but an intact political system. The high literacy rates he prides himself of was a tool of submission because an educated citizen is a law abiding one.
A genuine educationist would not have destroyed the economy over political power. Adios, comrade! You left us with a toll order of dealing with your political remnants.
Tapiwa Gomo writes in his own capacity