Politics Urban Echo News 

Mugabe: Rise and Fall of the Saviour Turned Despot

by Nazir Tabassum

The 93 years old Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe resigned and until his resignation he was the world’s eldest leader. Earlier he had refused to resign nevertheless the military took over mid-November and there were large scale protests against him in the capital city.

Analysing his rise and fall requires to see his 37 years rule as the one which developed this person into a system. He was indeed a system, an idea and the way of dealing with things. We are now left with a chance to see whether his acquittal would or would not upset the system. Those who are on the forefront today to overthrow him were the creators as well as the products of the system called Mugabe. Here we will try to have a cursory look at the development of the System called Mugabe.

During his 37 years’ rule, he contested and won elections but his last 15 years fight and win was no less than a farce. His ex-finance minister Simba Mkoni says: “The Mugabe of freedom struggle and his first 15 years in power isn’t the one we have today”. Similarly, his ex-farming minister Denis Norman says: “History won’t judge him favourably. He will be remembered for all the bad events of his latter period”.

The month of November is marked by power struggle between his wife, Grace Mugabe, and the former vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa (now installed President after Mugabe’s resignation), a veteran of Zimbabwe’s 1970s liberation wars. Thus, he ousted Mnangagwa and purged all of his supporters so that the path for his wife to succeed him should be cleared. But this step led to armed forces chief’s threat to intervene.

A cursory look at his life history reveals that he was abandoned by his father as a boy. He had to go through the pangs of death of his three-year old son and his compassionate wife. Then there was a period of his contorted fascination for the Britain. The Queen awarded him honorary knighthood that was later withdrawn, something that he could neither forget nor forgive. His dress code, manners and vision were shaped by his old colonial masters.

He is the creator of the political party called Zanu-PF that ruled Zimbabwe since 1980. His rise to the power is marked by his strong determination and ruthlessness. He was raised as a Catholic and educated in missionary schools. Later, he went to South Africa where he got his first out his seven degrees and then he worked as a teacher in Ghana. During this period, he became a hard core political activist. In 1960, when he returned to his homeland then called Rhodesia, he was sent behind the bars for 10 years under the pretext of a “subversive” speech. Later he went into exile in Mozambique, where he organised militants titled Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) to launch guerrilla warfare against the colonial rule. It led to a military conflict against the government of Ian Smith which resulted into the death of 27,000 but in the end Rhodesia was liberated and renamed as Zimbabwe.

In 1979 an agreement was signed in Lancaster House London which gave independence to Zimbabwe and Mugabe, the leader of ZANU, returned home as a hero of the struggle for the independence of Zimbabwe. In the very outset, he announced a policy of reconciliation with the Whites and invited them to share the responsibility of rebuilding and reconstruction of Zimbabwe. Addressing the Whites, he declared unequivocally: “If yesterday I fought you as an enemy, today you have become a friend”. He began as a coalition partner with Joshua Nkomo, a fellow liberator of the motherland, but later they fell apart.

This was followed by a national discourse and the moot point of this discourse was: Mugabe was a good man slowly corrupted by power.

It did not take long to turn him into a ruthless annihilator, as commonly alleged by the British press. In 1982, the rebels loyal to his former partner in power, Joshua Nkomo, took to an armed revolt against him in the province of Matabeleland. He used maximum force at his command to crush it. Then there was a case of ethnic disparity. ZAPU, his rivals’ party was ethnically by and large Ndebele while his own ZANU was mostly Shona. Thus, in mid 1980s, Mugabe took to ethnic cleansing as a result of which no less than 20,000 people were killed in Matabeleland in a series of massacres termed as Genocide by the US-based Genocide Watch.

In spite of all that, no one can ignore the positive side of Mugabe too. In his times the economy grew, the agriculture flourished, schools and clinics were built, literacy rate rose sky high   and Zimbabwe was turned into one of Africa’s healthiest, best-educated and most optimistic country.

By 1997, this optimism started biting when Mugabe surrendered before the pressure exerted by war veterans who protested violently for pensions. Trade unions and political activists too started organising themselves into the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and became the first viable threat to Mugabe’s rule.

In 2000 Mugabe initiated a programme called land reforms. This turned out to be as the major sour of the eye of his former colonial masters. He called it as an attempt to correct the colonial legacy by taking away cultivable farms from the whites and giving to the landless Blacks. This was taken as a crude attempt to side track the MDC which commanded wide support in farm workers.

Simba Mkoni, one of his former finance ministers, said:” I know of two Mugabes: the early Mugabe and the late Mugabe. The first Mugabe of the liberation struggle and the first 10, 15 years of independence isn’t the Mugabe we have today. I didn’t know him to be cruel, I didn’t know him to be uncaring in the early years”.

According to Mkoni, three factors led to change Mugabe’s character: the accord with Nkomo that in effect destroyed any meaningful opposition; his switch from prime minister to president in 1987; and the death of his Ghanaian-born first wife, Sally, in 1992”.

Mugabe has now stepped down; his Vice President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who he sacked to create space for Grace, his wife, for succession, has returned to the capital. He will be inaugurated on Friday, (may be read as “is inaugurated”) as his replacement President. Britain has sent their envoy to participate in the installation ceremony of the new President.

Grace and Mugabe both are in the capital; they are safe; they won’t face the same fate as it was made the lot of Saddam Hussain, Col. Qaddafi or Ceausescu.

Zimbabweans are jubilant today, at the time this is being drafted.

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