ODE TO MUGABE; A WITTY OLD CHARMER
I received the news of former president Robert Mugabe’s death with indifference. I had no idea on how to feel about a man who had ruled over Zimbabwe with an iron fist leaving behind a trail of blood, tears and economic destruction.
This is a rather strange feeling because he was an icon of the liberation struggle and was the first prime minister and president of Zimbabwe who affected my life in many ways. My reaction is similar to many of my countrymen. People don't know whether to mourn or to celebrate his demise.
The reaction is evidently mixed as there are those that belong to and celebrate the liberation struggle will mourn and forgive him for all the evil he committed and there are those who were victims of his brutality, political opponents who will not miss him.
Then, of course, there are the ‘born free’ youths who were born after independence who have no attachment emotional or otherwise to the liberation struggle. All this generation know are economic hardships. They have never had a job in their lives yet they are university graduates. Mugabe means and will mean nothing in their lives except of course’ the guy who presided over the death of the rule of law, economic and the collapse of social services’ in the country. Then there are those who were part of his gravy train, particularly the G40 elements, they will miss him the most. In fact, it would be fair to say that even during his sickness, Mugabe remained an influential pillar and had comfort presence for the G40(a faction led by his wife Grace). Now they will feel orphaned and may disintegrate.
There are also some elements in the opposition who will celebrate Mugabe not because they love him but just because they do not like the current president Emmerson Mnangagwa or ED as he is mostly referred to. They will celebrate Mugabe to chide ED, after all, Mugabe voted for the opposition after he declared that ‘he would not vote for his tormentors.’ This move was very uncharacteristic for his background and principles as a revolutionary. I believe they will celebrate him, at great risk to themselves of course.
However, Mugabe also brought about many positive things to the country with one of the key things being that of education. To date, Zimbabwe has one of the highest literacy rates in the continent. But, uncle Bob’s legacy will not be heroic because he totally lost the plot in the end.
Mugabe was power centred so much that things only made sense if they did not threaten his power base. He brooked no dissent. He had no permanent friends, only interests and this can be proven by how he treated his comrades like the late Joshua Nkomo, Edgar Tekere and current Zimbabwean president, ED to name but a few.
With Mugabe, it was either his way or the high way, and this is probably why Zimbabwe is a pariah state today. He leaves behind a legacy of bloodshed, gross human rights abuses and of course the economy which is in the Intensive Care Unit.
It is not therefore surprising that I and many journalists of my generation build our careers on the story of Mugabe, his poor policies, human rights abuses, draconian laws which sought to criminalise the practice of journalism, bad governance and the economy which remains an albatross on Zanu PF’s neck and may also see to the downfall of his predecessor ED. I can’t remember writing a story that did not involve what he was doing or not doing.
In the end, I found myself writing frequently about his failing health and how he had gone to Singapore to receive treatment for either eye cataracts or prostate cancer. I’ll be the first to admit that after 2011, I got a bit weary of writing about his health especially after our encounter at the Harare International Airport which has since been renamed after the late dictator on June 29.
Then aged 87, Mugabe was on his way to Equatorial Guinea to attend to an African Union Summit and upon hearing that I was a journalist from The Daily News who had been writing about his health, he reacted by throwing mock punches at me and naturally, my first instinct was to flee.
He pulled me back to him and asked me what I was afraid of to which I naively responded; ‘the degrees in violence’ Mugabe's reaction was totally surprising. Instead of lashing out, he burst out laughing. I guess he couldn't believe that anyone could have the guts to say something like that in his face.
I must admit this was the scariest moment of my life because I had just called the most powerful man in the country to his face but how he reacted showed me that he was indeed human after all and that he could turn on the charm if need be. But this was not all there was to the Zanu PF strong man revered by those around him who twiddled their thumbs and bowed and curtsied in his presence. He had a magnetic force that pulled one to him in a magical way.
Normally, I would have taken this moment to field serious questions about his health or governance but I guess I was not immune to his charms.
I vividly recall how firm his grip was for a man his age and thought to myself, this was indeed his way of proving that he was in good health in spite of all the stories about his failing health and the fact that at 87, he was a spent force prone to other health issues like dementia which could, in turn, affect his governance decisions.
Reading reactions pouring in from Zimbabweans over Mugabe’s death, one can see the indifference and that is not surprising that some are even wishing he be tortured by the souls of those he murdered in his the quest to retain power.
This reaction reminds me of a novel written by Chielo Zona Eze titled; ‘The trial of Mugabe’ In this brilliant piece of fiction, the writer portrays a scene where Mugabe is dead and is facing trial before God and all the people he has murdered bring their stories before God’s court of Justice.
This gripping account of Mugabe’s terrible atrocities also challenges post-independence leadership which uses brutality to retain power. I don’t know if Mugabe will ever have peace even in death after all is said and done. In Zimbabwe, we say ‘Wafa Wanaka’ which means that when one dies we remember only the good a person has done and the eulogy will be about how good the person was. I can’t wait to see whether this will happen for Mugabe, a Pan Africanist to the core, well respected by his contemporaries outside Zimbabwe but at home where it mattered he was despised. He will be remembered as the darling African leader who stood up to the West jealously guarding the sovereignty of Zimbabwe and other African States.