Robert Mugabe celebrated his 87th birthday a few days ago,as a child my nicknames included Kaunda(ex-President of Zambia) and Mugabe, indeed one of my aunts still fondly calls me Mugabe. I’m not so sure I would like to be associated with the current version of Robert “Mad Bob” Mugabe. This hasn’t always been the case though, for at a certain time Mugabe was a hero of mine and no doubt many other Africans. With the help and influence of his beautiful Ghanaian wife Sally, Mugabe proved that sometimes you had to fight for what you believed was yours.
How this once great man who was the poster boy for African Nationalism became a reactionary dictator clinging onto power whilst overseeing the systemic breakdown of his country is a question that befuddles many, myself included.
Some of my friends (mostly European) find it difficult to understand why Mugabe is still held in such high esteem on the African continent,especially by the current crop African leaders; who lets be honest are not the brightest bunch, speak to most Africans about Mugabe and you will notice there’s still some affection for the old man.
Many in the West and some in Zimbabwe pray fervently that the current revolutionary fervour in North Africa will travel South and remove the “Monster” once and for all, something I’m convinced will never happen, not in Zimbabwe or any other Sub-Saharan African country (more in my next post). In Sub-Saharan Africa we do Military coups and Civil Wars,we don’t do popular uprisings.
I’m not going to be able to summarise the history of Zimbabwe and the man himself in this short post however if you are interested in finding out more about the Mugabe outside the media caricature portrayed by the Western media Heidi Holland has a fantastic book based on her interviews with Mugabe.
One cannot ignore the fact that many Zimbabweans have suffered and died under Mugabes regime whilst him and his confidantes have continued to enjoy the trappings of wealth and power.Military units(whether under Mugabe’s command or not) have participated in the brutal torture and murder of members of the opposition whether it was after the recent elections or around the time of the battle for independence.
These all happened under his rule and he will have to answer for them in a court of law(not very likely) or when he meets his maker.
The real victims of Mugabe’s failure are not the white farmers that the Western media is obsessed about, because lets be honest most of them are living comfortable lives whether its in Zimbabwe or the UK, but the indigenous population who were promised so much during the struggle for independence and yet have found themselves with so little.
Mugabe’s story is one of strife and determination, an awkward and bookish child he lost his older brother and his dad abandoned the family leaving him as the oldest and having to look after his brothers. He was influenced by his new father figure a British church minister, this may explain his love for quintessentially English Saville Row suits and immaculately cut shirts.
I have recently been reading letters Mugabe wrote to the British Government whilst in prison, and was amazed by the beauty of his writing. His eloquence and mastery of the Queens English clearly betrays someone who is fond of the English, especially Royal family, its the tawdry politicians he has struggled to get along with.
It all went pear shaped when the badly mismanaged Land Reform programme went from bad to shambolic, Zimbabwe which was once the bread basket of Southern Africa was left to rely on the International community for food. I’m one of those who is absolutely convinced of the need for Land Reform, it cant be right that white Zimbabweans should own over 50% of arable land whilst black Zimbabweans live in poverty, however Mugabe’s failure to execute the policy resulted in War veterans and Mugabe’s cronies taking land away from the white farmers some of who had been on the land for decades.
Unfortunately the new land owners knew very little about large scale agriculture and the rest of the story is history.
His clear disdain for Tony Blair and Gordon Brown stems from Labour going back on the British commitment during the Lancaster negotiation to fund land redistribution in Zimbabwe. The Conservatives who negotiated the Lancaster Agreement pledged to fund and support the land re-distribution process, something which Mugabe fought very hard for, however Blair’s decision not to fund it meant the only choice was for Zimbabweans to resolve it themselves, something they failed to do.
Whatever happens in Zimbabwe one thing is for sure, Mugabe can expect a warm farewell when he finally steps down whether he is forced to by nature or by the Military, because for all his foibles and imperfections he was the one who put his neck on the line in the fight for independence.
In Africa the freedom fighter who made the final push for independence will receive more loyalty and love than those who come after him irrespective of his achievements….