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Good start, bad and sad end: The story of Robert Gabriel Mugabe

27 Sep 2019 at 07:51hrs | Views
It did not have to end this way. It is a story that started well but ended badly. Mugabe was poised to be greater than Mandela or Gandhi. Outside and inside Zimbabwe, Mugabe was revered and considered one of Africa's greatest sons. Sadly, he spoiled his legacy. His revolutionary credentials are now questioned, and a subject of endless debate. Mugabe died miles away from his homeland in a foreign country and a foreign hospital, after being deposed as the president of Zimbabwe by his army generals who claimed they were "protecting" and "restoring" his legacy.

What legacy?
The legacy of Mugabe is conflicted and problematic. Two diametrically opposite views about Mugabe's legacy are emerging: a hero and a villain. Mugabe supporters and sympathizers are convinced beyond doubt that he was a hero. Mugabe praise singers point to his role in the armed struggle, his progressive and utilitarian educational and health policies in the early 1980s, and more importantly the indigenization and the land reform programs of 2000. They posit that without Mugabe at the helm of ZANU and ZANLA, Zimbabwe could not have been liberated. Mugabe is presented as a Messiah and the godfather of Zimbabwean liberation politics. According to Mugabe's supporters and admirers, Mugabe took over the leadership of ZANU and ZANLA at a critical stage in the armed revolution. He single-handedly revolutionized and transformed ZANU as a party, and ZANLA as a guerrilla army. ZANLA was transformed into a formidable people-oriented guerrilla army that mesmerized the Rhodesian army with its hit and run tactics.

Mugabe is credited for uniting antagonistic elements within ZANU and creating a harmonious working relationship between the military wing of the party and the ZANU political leadership. Internal conflicts caused by ideological differences and ambitions for power had weakened ZANU and slowed down the pace and tempo of the armed struggle. Notably, Mugabe's entry into the armed struggle in 1976 came at a time the "Young Turks" had taken charge of the armed struggle after the Mgagao declaration infusing some life and zeal for the armed struggle. To assume total control of the armed struggle, Mugabe deployed and employed Machiavellian politics, arrested and detained ZIPA/ZANLA top military commanders in the not so known Vashandi Revolution. Months later, Mugabe turned against some ZANU leaders who had supported him thereby becoming the undisputed supreme leader of ZANU and ZANLA.

Mugabe went on to close the Chitepo college, an ideological school built by the ZIPA commanders to teach guerrillas the basic tenets of Marxism and socialism to equip them with skills and knowledge to create a new Zimbabwe totally different from the colonial Rhodesian state. The slogans of the party and the armed struggle were swiftly changed to eulogize Mugabe. The armed struggle was Mugabe and Mugabe was the armed struggle. That Mugabe had joined the liberation war very late, mattered no more. The role played by other ZANU leaders particularly the ZIPA/ZANLA commanders before him in starting and sustaining the armed revolution were forgotten as all attention was focused on one man: Robert Gabriel Mugabe.
It is evident that Mugabe was obsessed with power and control and the pursuance of the cult of personality. He was a nationalist masquerading as a revolutionary. Mugabe was no Marxist or Maoist, but a Jesuit educated Blackman who had the "gift of the gab". It was this eloquence that had catapulted him into nationalist politics in the early1960s. Mugabe's habits, taste, dress, morals, opinions and intellect were English. Despite his vitriol and vilification of the West, Mugabe never experimented or toyed with any novel ideas or completely overhaul colonial structures or institutions. In fact, he maintained colonial laws and structures using them to silent dissent and dealing harshly with his perceived enemies. His entry into Zimbabwean nationalist politics was not by design but by chance. It was not out of his personal choice or decision but mere opportunism.

As prime minister and president of Zimbabwe Mugabe will be remembered as both a hero and villain. Mugabe made a promising start. He made access to education and health for all. Schools, clinics and hospitals were built with the support of non-governmental organizations and international donor agencies. Primary education was made free. Free of charge health services were provided for people earning minimum wages. In the rural areas where most Zimbabweans live health facilities (clinics and district hospitals) are now easily accessible.

Zimbabwe, because of Mugabe's educational policies has the highest literacy rate in Africa standing at a staggering 83.3% (UNESCO). Similarly, Mugabe's health policies increased life expectancy for most Zimbabweans in the 1980s. However, the early 1980s witnessed genocide as Mugabe unleashed the Fifth Brigade upon the minority Ndebele tribe who were mostly ZAPU supporters. The Ndebele and anyone who supported ZAPU were accused of sponsoring and sheltering dissidents- former ZIPRA guerrillas who had deserted from the Zimbabwe national army and assembly points because of unfair and discriminatory practices of the Mugabe government. It is said that 20 000 people from the western and central regions inhabited mostly by Ndebele speaking peoples were gruesomely massacred by the Fifth Brigade which reported directly to Mugabe himself. Mugabe, who has died before apologizing about this sad chapter in Zimbabwean history referred to it as a "moment of madness".
The issue of the dissidents was a perfect excuse and masked Mugabe's agenda: destroy once for all his archrival Joshua Nkomo's support base and ZAPU as a party. The now infamous Gukurahundi as this incident is referred to in Zimbabwean historiography, clearly ,illustrate Mugabe's obsession with power and unquestionable authority. Mugabe knew very well that ZAPU and Joshua Nkomo were impediments to his one-party state agenda. To stop the massacre of his people Joshua Nkomo was forced to enter a "marriage of convenience" in the so-called unity accord of 1987 (December 22). ZAPU was swallowed by ZANU. Mugabe's wish of becoming the supreme leader of Zimbabwe was now complete and cemented.

By the 1990s Mugabe's educational and health policies had seriously drained the fiscus. Financial resources had been cchannelledinto the service sectors (unproductive sectors of the economy), and not the productive sectors of the economy. Industry and commerce were in dire straits. Half-hearted implementation of the economic structural adjustment reforms recommended by the IMF and World Bank worsened the situation. Unbudgeted expenses (e.g. payment of war veterans and the intervention in the DRC civil war) further drained the fiscus. Workers were retrenched in public and private sectors, and unemployment soared. With the re-introduction of school fees, unemployed and low-income parents could not send their children to school. Service fees were also re-introduced in the health sector threatening the health of most people. These fees in the service sectors eroded the gains and benefits of Mugabe's educational and health policies. The country was ravaged by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Basic goods and medical drugs were in short supply and expensive. Worker disposable income shrank by each passing month. Opposition to Mugabe's rule and ZANU-PF exploded.

The economic hardships and repressive policies of Mugabe led to the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change. To many Zimbabweans, Mugabe was now a liability. His imagined impeccable revolutionary credentials and role in the armed struggle no longer mattered as people focused on bread and butter issues. He had overstayed in power. His economic policies were considered disastrous-price control and interference in the market (command economy). For the first time Mugabe faced the reality of losing his grip on the levers of power-his most treasured possession. It was against this background that the land and indigenization policies were hurriedly promulgated and implemented.

The land reform program was chaotic. It destroyed agricultural production and reduced Zimbabwe to basket case from the breadbasket of Africa. Since the land was taken away from white commercial farmers, Zimbabwe has experienced a serious deficit in agricultural produce. Hunger and starvation have continued to stalk the country. The land reform benefited Mugabe himself and his relatives and hangers-on, not the ordinary people. In fact, the real reason behind the land reform was not the desire to increase agricultural productivity, but to buy rural vote to ensure that Mugabe remained in power. The selfishness in most of Mugabe's reforms is evident. Heroes are not selfish, but selfless. They (heroes) have ga enuine interest in peoples' welfare, not themselves. By the time of his death ,Mugabe amassed wealth like Mobuto in Zaire, yet the abject poverty in Zimbabwe is shocking and unimaginable.
The mush talked and vaunted Mugabe indigenization policy has not born any tangible fruits. It has led to de-industrialization and the near-collapse of the Zimbabwean economy. It has halted direct foreign investment and a rapid rise in unemployment. Basic commodities are now expensive because of lack of competition in the market. The current administration inherited an economy which had collapsed. Zimbabwe, perhaps, is the only country in the world where the informal sector employs more people than the formal sector.

Mugabe left Zimbabwe bankrupt, isolated and economically vulnerable, financially bankrupt and without a currency because of his ruinous economic and political policies. Interestingly he will be buried in a mausoleum. Dying in exile in a foreign hospital is a serious indictment of his policies. Mugabe was so blinded by power that he still felt he was in total control, yet those around him were plotting to depose him. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. One of Mugabe's close relative a former minister at the burial of Mugabe reported that Mugabe died a ‘sad man" and was "not a tribalist" but "unifier". Sad because absolute power had slipped from his hands.

To suggest that Mugabe was a unifier and not a tribalist is an entertaining half-truth. Mugabe's cabinet positions and powerful positions in government and parastatals since 1980 were dominated by his Zezuru tribe. The so-called presidium was at some point all Zezurus (Mugabe as president, Joseph Msika and Joyce Mujuru as vice presidents). He has never loved the Karangas, particularly intelligent ones. The brilliant Harvard trained lawyer Edison Zvobgo was always assigned to not so important and influential ministries and shunted around. Mugabe never trusted the Karangas since the Vashandi 2 revolution in Mozambique. Fingers are pointed at him for the death of Josiah Tongogara and Colonel Gaza (Herbert Mahlaba) and many other comrades, perceived as threats to his rule. As for the Ndebele, they were "cockroaches" who needed to be crushed. Zezuru hegemony and dominance drove most of Mugabe's policies.
To say that Mugabe is a hero is nonsensical. He can only be a villain. His rule was defined by brutal oppression and economic chaos. Mugabe hijacked the revolution, and because of him, the revolution lost its bearings. Now that he is gone, Zimbabwe can move on without him, although the effects of his 37-year rule will linger for a long time. It's time to build a post-Mugabe era and learn from his mistakes. As Zimbabweans w,e should never again glorify a human being and raise a man to the level of a demi-god. The rumblings and cacophony emanating from remnants of the G40 (Jonathan Moyo, Savior Kasukuwere and Patrick Zhuwao, etc) should just be ignored. They are living pretty in exile from ill-gotten wealth. Indeed, they are missing the gravy train and the attention of the former First Lady Grace Mugabe. Mugabe is dead but Zimbabwe lives on. Long live Zimbabwe. Long live the people of Zimbabwe. Aluta continua.

Lovemore Gurajena Sibanda PhD
University of North Texas
Denton, USA.

Source - Lovemore Gurajena Sibanda PhD
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