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Robert Mugabe: From Hero to Zero

28 Mar 2018 at 15:19hrs | Views
The older generation will recall that in the early part of his leadership of Zimbabwe, former president Robert Mugabe routinely held press conferences in the Airport VIP lounge  both when leaving the country on a visit abroad and on his return.

This was an established ritual and successive directors of information, i.e.  Justin Nyoka, John Tsimba after him and Bornwell  Chakaodza chaired these press conferences where journalists quizzed the then prime minister on the achievements, or lack thereof, of his  frequent  trips  abroad.

At one of these press conferences in the late 80s, a senior security officer, apparently miffed by the boldness of some of the press questions, declared nonchalantly, to a group of us that government would soon ban journalists from future press conferences because their questions were increasingly impudent and confrontational.

The irony of this ludicrous proposition was not lost on us – for weeks thereafter, we laughed about  the patently  preposterous notion of a press conference without the press.

But ridiculous as it may have seemed then, airport press conferences  soon ceased altogether. They were instead replaced by hordes  of ululating women and sloganeering  Zanu PF youth bussed to the airport to see the president off on a foreign trip or welcome him home.

On these occasions, Mugabe no longer had to answer questions from pesky journalists – all he did now was rant against his enemies and scold the meddling west to cheering crowds.

All this is now ancient history but it illustrates how Mugabe transitioned  from the revolutionary democrat  that he wanted people to see of him, to the obtuse demagogue that he became in later years. With the fawning acquiescence of close aides and ministers whom he recycled interminably into his cabinet, Mugabe became increasingly reclusive, accessible only to a select inner circle of sycophants who evidently told him only what he wanted to hear.

He became increasingly detached from reality. Manifestly, it became clear Mugabe had lost all understanding, compassion, empathy or sympathy for the people he pretended to love but instead blithely  took for granted, callously abused and systematically impoverished.

Then came the damascene moment for Mugabe.  This led to a dramatic shift in his behavior. That was when he married his former secretary Grace Marufu, less than half his age and with whom he had carried on an illicit love affair for years before the death of his wife, Sally, from a kidney ailment in 1992.

Mugabe became aloof and indifferent  to the country's mounting problems and seemed only interested  in spending his time aboard aircraft hopping from one international conference to the next stopping only for  briefly  in Zimbabwe. This, in addition to his regular trips to Singapore for medical check-ups, meant Mugabe hardly spent a straight month in the country.

Cynical Zimbabweans even likened him to the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, for  his penchant for foreign travel. It is not unlikely that his wife, Grace, a self-confessed serial shopper  with an insatiable  appetite for the accoutrements  of luxury and high living gave the old man little choice on matters of foreign travel.

It is said by those in the know that each time the president took to the skies on his travels, the RBZ was compelled to release $2-3 million cash as the presidential emergency kitty. Mugabe and his entourage  was never  under any obligation to account for the money.

Little wonder then, the first lady was able to indulge her favorite pastime, which the Americans would say "shopping till you drop,"  while the rest of ordinary Zimbabweans scrimped on less than a dollar a day. But perhaps that was understandable.  Literally jettisoned from the lower rungs of social achievement in the civil service typing pool  to the lofty perch of the First Lady, Grace had a whole nation grovelling at her feet. It was just a matter of time before this sea-change got to her head. And it did, big time.

Needless to say, the fact that Grace abandoned her first husband Stanley Goreraza and probably instigated his banishment to some obscure diplomatic posting in far-flung China where he could not interfere with her new life as the presidential mistress, amply demonstrated her attitude to wealth and privilege. Grace nursed an unbridled ambition to rise to the pinnacle of success by succeeding her husband as president and the opportunity presented itself  when she suddenly found herself heading the powerful  Zanu PF Women's League.

Many took it as an innocent  presidential  joke when Mugabe complained  at one of his rallies  about how his wife sometimes  nagged  him at home. The truth, for a man of Mugabe's pompous character who'd built a fearsome persona behind his Hitler-moustache, this was a desperate cry for help.  Mugabe hoped  that by publicly revealing  this domestic aberration, the exposure would somehow embarrass his vixen  of a wife and cause her to mend her ways.

If Mugabe was frustrated by his wife's behavior, he was obviously very naïve.  Can you Imagine a healthy, attractive woman of age 50, still in the prime of life, having to contend  with the fumbling of a doddering  90-something  year old  geriatric afflicted by multiple old-age afflictions.

Even with the assistance of nurse-aides and modern gadgetry, it cannot be easy to take care of a man of Mugabe's age. The fact that he needed to travel to Singapore for medical check-ups and treatment every so often may have  provided temporary respite to Grace and the statehouse staff from the drudgery of constant vigil over a man would needed assistance to accomplish the most basic of activities like walking to the toilet by himself.

Mugabe knew the only way he could continue to hold sway over his overbearing spouse and political opponents waiting in the wings like vultures  ready to pounce was to hold fast to power like the proverbial  salamander to an aquatic plant.

In the meantime, refusal by Britain and the USA to lift travel bans  on Mugabe and  close associates  remained a sore point. To divert focus from the disastrous consequences of his belligerent  policies towards his detractors  and indifference to the suffering of Zimbabweans, Mugabe adopted Machiavellian tactics which saw the emergence of antagonistic  factions within Zanu PF. Credit must go to  his cunning that the factions, G40 associated with his garrulous wife Grace, and Lacoste  of Emmerson Mnangagwa, all publicly pledged loyalty to him while they secretly plotted his downfall.

All that again is now history.  

Surrounded by ambitious younger men with more than a passing interest in her stunningly captivating morphology, Grace imposed conjugal  insecurity on her ageing husband – which not only  made him morose, irrational and vindictive but  severely compromised his oversight of statecraft. One way or the other, Mugabe's demise on the fateful November day, was not longer a question of why, but rather when and how.

And it came to pass in rather dramatic fashion when, on the instigation of his manipulative wife, he fired his long-time ally and liberation war colleague, Emmerson  Mnangagwa  only to suffer the same fate a few weeks down the line – to be replaced by the same person he had sought to humiliate.  Some may say this was poetic justice on the scale of Shakespearean melodrama, but that is a matter for historians to find the appropriate nomenclature to define that epoch.

Mugabe's recent feeble mutterings  in an effort to re-invent himself  in contemporary Zimbabwean politics as some sort of rescuer of a constitutional order is destined  to go only one way – ignominious humiliation. And as many have surmised, he now risks erasing what little is left  of his political legacy – which is rather sad considering his immense contribution to the liberation of the country.  Mugabe's has been a remarkable journey from being a teacher, revolutionary, iconic leader and now a disgraced dictator reviled and shunned by many who once worshipped  the very ground he stood on.

It is indeed a sad story of "a hero morphed to zero mimicking an unfortunate historical precedent of  leaders who started off well but then,  along the way, lost their moral compass and ended up courting the resentment  and distrust of their people. Human history is replete with examples of dictators who failed to read the signs on the wall and were dispatched  by their own people in shame and disgrace.

Examples of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Muammar Gaddafi (Libya), Nicolae Ceaucescu (Romania) , Samuel Doe (Liberia)  and scores of others of similar ilk spring to mind – it would be sad if the first black  president of an independent  Zimbabwe were to end this way.

*Desmond Kumbuka is a freelance journalist based in Harare and can be contacted on

Source - nehanda
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