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Mugabe’s last drive in Harare

IT is 5:30pm in the city centre of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, and the sun is setting to mark the end of yet another day in a country that is experiencing economic and political turmoil.

BY Tapiwa Zivira

IT is 5:30pm in the city centre of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, and the sun is setting to mark the end of yet another day in a country that is experiencing economic and political turmoil.

Two hours earlier, the body of the late former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe had arrived at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport from Singapore, where the long time ruler succumbed to a long illness at the age of 95.

Mugabe’s death came nearly two years after he was deposed in a military coup in November 2017 which catapulted his long-time aide and friend Emmerson Mnangagwa into power.

However, Mnangagwa’s two years in power have been tumultuous.

Since he took over the reins, Mnangagwa has twice deployed the army to deal with protesters venting their disquiet on the direction he is taking the country, leaving dozens dead and hundreds injured, nursing either gunshot or baton stick wounds.

The economy is tanking and shortages of basic goods, including bread, fuel and medicines, amid price increases and an erosion of workers’ income, a situation which has left many Zimbabweans poorer and more afraid of the State, which has not hesitated to unleash its security apparatus on unarmed citizens.

While Mugabe is no angel, and has, during his time in power, presided over phases of human rights abuses, political crackdown on opponents, economic mismanagement and corruption, the current deteriorating economic and human rights situation has kept the memories of Mugabe stuck on the back of the mind of some Zimbabweans.

It is within this context that when the announcement of Mugabe’s death came, it was met with confusion over the true nature of the veteran leader’s legacy, with some choosing to remain indifferent.

So, as Mnangagwa presided over the processions to receive Mugabe’s body at the airport, named after the late ruler, it was business as usual in Harare, with the largely small-scale businesspeople choosing to ignore the big news, or at least, talking about it as they went about their daily business.

It was only when the sun was setting, with the majority of people beginning to leave the city centre, that commotion began near Town House, at the heart of the city, following a rumour that the motorcade accompanying Mugabe’s hearse was about to pass through the city.

Immediately, and spontaneously, hundreds of people, rushed and lined the edges of Julius Nyerere Way, chanting Mugabe’s totem “Gushungo”.

As the motorcade began to pass, people kept chanting, hoping they would catch a glimpse of the hearse carrying Mugabe’s body.

They did not see it, and instead, watched as Mnangagwa’s motorcade, complete with snipers pointing guns at the crowd, made a movie style drive-by.

Many could not wait to grumble in disapproval as they went back to their business.

Within minutes, a police motorbike blew a siren as it led another motorcade along Julius Nyerere Way, and almost immediately, crowds formed on the edges of the street, and this time, it was Mugabe’s hearse.

As the people cheered, top-of-the-range vehicles carrying Mugabe’s relatives and friends rolled by.

It was almost like some uptown, elite motor show, except that this was Julius Nyerere Way, where those that were cheering were the ordinary poor Zimbabweans who had borne the brunt of the ruinous policies of the system that Mugabe presided over for the 37 years, and the same system that Mnangagwa has taken over and continued to follow by the book.

As the last vehicles drove past, the cheers died down, and it was back to the normal; a normal that is characterised by vending, transport woes and hardships.

Mugabe had made his last roll past the street that he used for his many trips from the State House to the airport — for 37 years!

It was only in death that his motorcade received an ovation as it rolled past, for in his lifetime, he was a feared creature, a brutal dictator who had earned a reputation of not tolerating any unusual behaviour towards his motorcade.

It appeared that it was only death that demystified him, and whether it was genuine love or something else, for the first time, people whose lives Mugabe had ruined for nearly four decades, praised him as they got the closest to his motorcade as it passed.

However, for some in the crowd, the cheers for Mugabe were to spite his predecessor, Mnangagwa, who has so far wasted the goodwill he was accorded soon after the 2017 coup, where he promised to open up democratic space and improve the economy.

Instead, it appears that he is taking Zimbabwe down the familiar road, of repression and economic ruin.

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