Submitted by George Callaghan…
Mugabe is no more. The last of the independence generation of African leaders was deposed in 2017. What will history make of Robert Gabriel Mugabe? This modern day Caligula will do down in history as one of the greatest disappointments of all time. The people of Zimbabwe were heavily oppressed by Mugabe and his kleptocratic clique for decades.
It is hard to remember now but in the 1970s Mugabe was the toast even of people of moderate opinion all across the globe. Most of African hailed him as a liberator. Socialists and communists in every land praised his very name.
In 1924 Mugabe was born in a small town in what was then Southern Rhodesia. His father was a carpenter who soon left the family. The family spoke Shona which was and is the majority language of the land. He was closely related to a chief. Indeed in 1985 he was due to inherit the chiefship but chose not to do so because of his political office. Robert attended a Catholic mission school. He was brought up a Christian of the Catholic denomination. Forever, prissy and pedantic he was also a sedulous scholar. The schoolboy was a voracious reader and an academic superstar. He was very close to an Irish priest who regaled the schoolboy with stirring tales of Irishmen battling for sovereignty.
Curiously, the young Mugabe was a raging anglophile and so he remained till his dying day. In his raiment, his diction, his mannerisms and his passion for cricket he was more English than the English.
Garfield Todd was a New Zealander who moved to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) as a missionary in the 1930s. Todd was a Protestant but had no hesitation in hiring one R G Mugabe as a teacher. By all accounts Mr Mugabe was an able and dedicated pedagogue.
Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia) was a British colony at the time. This country had one of the highest percentages of whites in British Africa. The white immigrant minority held almost untrammeled power. The black community comprised about 95% of the populace at the time of Mugabe’s birth. The black people were considered by the colonial authorities to be either Shona, Matabele or other depending on their mother tongue. The Shona speaking and the Matabele speaking communities were subdivided into clans. There were chiefs for each clan. The whites voted for a legislative council which made laws. Black people were supposedly represented through councils of the chiefs. Racist legislation discriminated against the indigenous people.
In the 1940s Mugabe went on to Fort Hare University in South Africa. This was the only university to accept black undergraduates amongst the British colonies in that region of Africa. There the young Mugabe became acquainted with other men who were to become the doyens of independence movements in other African nations such as Kenneth Kaunda and several South African ANC head honchoes. At this point R G Mugabe was introduced to Marxism in a serious way. Marxist-Leninism was at the height of its popularity. The Second World War just ended. Even the British press was packed with uplifting tales of the valour of the Red Army and the splendid might and majesty of the Soviet Union. Mugabe formed a very favourable view of communist states. Communist governments professed themselves to be deeply committed to the independence of African nations. He was assured that communist countries were humane and provided well for their citizens.
After a few years Mugabe returned to his homeland. He was filled with Marxist-Leninist ideology. The African National Congress (ANC) formed a branch in Zimbabwe. Its objectives were the abolition of racial discrimination and the independence of the country. However, the people of Zimbabwe had not yet awoken politically. He carried on teaching diligently. He watched the international scene with intense interest. In the 1950s the independence movement in Ghana (then called the Gold Coast) was making it bothersome for the United Kingdom to maintain control. In 1957 the nation was granted independence. Mugabe decided that he wished to see the first British colony in Africa to become independent. He secured a teaching position in Ghana and set sail.
In 1958 Mugabe arrived in Ghana. Before long he fell in love and married a local. At 34 he was worryingly old to be unwed. He was deeply impressed with the President of Ghana – Kwame Nkrumah. Nkrumah was also a Marxist. Being a Marxist was almost de rigeur for African nationalists. In a few years he returned to Zimbabwe. They decided that they disliked the name Rhodesia. They did not want the country to be named in honour of a white imperialist. There were some ruins of an ancient African civilisation with multi storey houses. It was known as Zimbabwe. They decided to call the country Zimbabwe.
In the 1960s the nationalist parties in Zimbabwe started stirring. Their aims were limited and their methods were peaceable. They protested against bus far increases. Many black labourers were living on the breadline. A small increase in bus fares hit them very hard. The authorities retaliated severely. The ANC was outlawed and its leaders were flung in gaol.
The white community was abuzz with political debate. Various prime ministers had reformed. The right to vote had been extended to wealthy and educated black people. There were black representatives in the Legislative Council. Those who proposed going further were firmly slapped down. Most whites did not want to share much power with the majority.
Black nationalists formed new political parties. One was the Zimbabwean African National Union (ZANU). This was for Shona speakers. The other was the Zimbabwean African People’s Union (ZAPU). Mugabe was in ZANU.
In 1964 Mugabe found himself cooling his heels in prison. He began on the second of his six degrees. His wife later moved to London. His son fell gravely ill. Mugabe requested parole to visit his child. It was refused and his only child died.
In 1965 the Rhodesian Government issued its Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI). London and the rest of the world refused to recognize this. The illegal regime would not countenance allowing black people much of a say in the running of their nation.
In the late 1960s a conflict erupted. ZANU and ZAPU both formed armed wings. For ZANU it was ZANLA. For ZAPU it was ZIPRA. The Bush War hotted up. ZANU called it the Second Chimurenga – ‘the Uprising’. Internationally its supporters called it the Liberation War. There was a fissure in the nationalist movement. Back in the 19th century the Matabele (also called Ndebele) has invaded and subjugated the Shona. Mugabe despised ZANU and ZIPRA. Moreover, he had a personality clash with ZANU’s leader Joshua Nkomo.
The conflicted intensified. The Rhodesian Security Forces were often brutal. They would kill anyone they suspected of abetting their foes. ZANLA and ZIPRA did not blanche at killing black people who worked on white farms.
In 1974 apropos of nothing Mugabe was released. Rather than risk himself in the conflict he traveled to Switzerland. By the late 70s he moved to Mozambique. The newly independent country was Marxist. Its president was Samora Machel. ZANU sensed that they were winning. ZANU and ZIPRA guerrillas were gaining ground daily. Their armies swelled. The Rhodesian Security Forces were being driven back on all fronts. Whites saw the writing on the wall and began to scuttle.
In 1979 Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Thatcher was determined to end the conflict. Strictly speaking Zimbabwe was still a British colony even though the UK had had no control over it since 1965. Thatcher decided to summon the parties to London to negotiate a peace settlement. The Lancaster House Conference was called. Mugabe was loathe to attend. He knew that time was on his side. Within months his cohorts would be marching into Salisbury (Harare). However, Machel demanded that Mugabe go to London. Mugabe was his guests and ZANLA was heavily reliant on Mozambique’s largesse and logistical support. Against his better judgement Mugabe boarded the plane to London. He feared he would be duped. He might be offered a mutilated victory.
After four months hard negotiating a deal had been hammered out. Every man and woman would have the right to vote. The white 5% would have 20% of the representation. But that was only for 10 years. After that the whites were not guaranteed representation. ZANLA, ZIPRA and the Rhodesian Army would be integrated. There could be land reform on the principle of willing seller. The UK Government would pick up the tab for compensating white farmers.
Mugabe returned to Zimbabwe. The elections went ahead as planned. Tensions were running very high. His supporters were accused of intimidating people into voting for ZANU. It was believed that whilst ZANU would win a plurality it would not command a majority. However, when the results were in ZANU had chalked up an unambiguous victory.
In April 1980 the eyes of the world were on Harare. The Prince of Wales flew in to see the Union Flag lowered for the last time over an African nation. He handed over constitutional documents with the greatest possible goodwill for Zimbabwe’s bright and happy future. Mugabe was sworn in as prime minister by a white judge who had been an ardent advocate of UDI. It was Mugabe’s hour of triumph. The crowds were in a delirium of ecstasy. The wind was in his sails. The international community desperately wanted him to succeed. They bent over backwards to assist him.
The nice Mugabe was short lived. Within two years he had North Koreans training his army. His new cadres were let loose on Matabeleland. Mugabe suspected that the Matabele planned a revolt. The most unspeakable tortures were visited upon men who had fought valiantly for racial equality only two years before. These former allies of Mugabe learnt what he meant by ‘democracy’. Thousands of civilians were slaughtered by Mugabe’s goons. The world turned Nelson’s eye to this. People did not wish to confront the fact that the poster boy for African nationalism was an ogre.
The economy improved remarkably in the 1980s. Of course it would! The conflict was over. Sanctions were lifted for the first time in 15 years. Mugabe preached reconciliation towards whites whilst he bludgeoned the Matabele insensible. Hero of the Chimurenga Nkomo fled to the UK.
ZAPU was then absorbed into ZANU. ZANU then called ‘Patriotic Front’ to its name. It was known as ZANU-PF.
Ever the schoolmaster, Mugabe laid a strong emphasis on education. When he assumed office barely half the populace was literate. By the end of his time almost everyone was literate. Fluency in English became widespread. Some had even mastered Chinese. Much though I abominate Mugabe and all his evil works I must give him this: he improved education.
In the late 1980s the economy began to tank. Mugabe and his cronies practised graft on a shocking scale. Lassitude and larceny by his inner circle depleted the treasury. Mugabe was preoccupied with his career and not serving the public. In 1987 he decided being PM was not grand enough for him. He had himself elected president.
In the 1990s the economy sank lower. The Zimbabwean Dollar went into freefall. The nation hit the skids. Hyperinflation rose to a dizzying speed.
The chronic mismanagement of the country was a tale the world did not want to hear. Zimbabwe hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. At CHOGM the Harare Principles were proclaimed. It was the supreme irony that in Zimbabwe of all places the Commonwealth dedicated itself to the unstinting promotion of democracy and human rights. Tell that to people tortured in Mugabe’s dungeons. HIV began to spread like wildfire. Mugabe twiddled his thumbs.
Just as Mugabe ran his country into the ground relations with the United Kingdom were at their peak. Mugabe was invited to the United Kingdom on a state visit. The Prime Minister was John Major. Major shamed his nation by having the Queen award Mugabe an honorary knighthood. It would be hard to imagine someone more unchivalrous than Mugabe.
People left ZANU PF and formed the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The MDC were harassed by the police, arrested and beaten up. By the late 1990s the government’s plunder, incompetence and dishonesty had enraged most people. ZANU PF thugs began to murder MDC members. Hundreds of unarmed MDC people were beaten to death. National Youth Training commenced. This was more of less military. It was also indoctrination into ZANU talking points. Rape was not uncommon at National Youth Training camps.
The only people paid on time were the army and the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO). The CIO is the state’s internal and external security agency. It does not provide security in the proper sense. It is about persecuting legal and peaceful opponents of the dictator. Under the Zimbabwean Constitution there is freedom of expression, the right to vote, fair trials … you name it. In reality this is a dead letter. Make no mistake – it was rule by fear.
Zimbabweans black and white began emigrating in their droves in the 1990s. The country was being mismanaged on a criminal scale. So much for socialism! As unemployment soared to 80% the elite were driving around in luxury cars.
Mugabe professed himself to be a sincere Christian. He was prissy, punctilious, judgmental and moralistic. He was also an adulterer. As his wife was dying of cancer he started an affair with someone else’s spouse. His child was born with his mistress Grace. Once his wife Sally died he married Grace. Grace was no slouch at shopping by jumbo jet. She spent millions on designer labels. Gucci Grace was widely reviled even in ZANU PF. Grace should be called ‘disgrace’.
Homophobia was one of Mugabe’s besetting sins. He constantly railed about his detestation of same sex relationships. It never fails to signal inadequacy when a man is reduced to anti-gay diatribe. There is something particularly vindictive and pathetic about someone who feels compelled to indulge in such childish bullying.
Raging vanity was one of Mugabe’s numerous vices. He had all sorts of things named in his honour. He accepted encomia as no more than his due.
Misrule by Mugabe and his circle played into the hands of white supremacists. They say – look at how Mugabe wrecked his homeland.
In 2000 Mugabe played his last card. He authorized the illegal seizure of white owned farms. It could have been done through a legal process. It was not. Gangs calling themselves war veterans grabbed the land. Some of the so called veterans had not been born in 1979. Only six whites were murdered in this episode. Many black farm workers were also murdered. He had once been magnanimous. He became malicious and spiteful. He blamed all the countries ills on the tiny white minority most of whom were elderly.
In the 2000s Mugabe lowered himself to starting his own contemptible cult of the personality. Clothes were sold with his face on it. His claque chanted his name. He was styled Leader of the Nation.
Because of the large-scale violence visited on the people of Zimbabwe the UK and US introduced smart sanctions. These only targeted Mugabe and his top kleptocrats. Mugabe pretended that these wrecked the economy and not his stupidity and avarice. Odium was so widespread that the government had to cheat very flagrantly to win elections.
By 2008 the shelves were bare. There was widespread malnutrition. The Zim Dollar was one hundred trillion to the US Dollar. How many zeroes is that? It was the worst hyperinflation in the world. The worst – bar none!
Hyperinflation eroded salaries to be almost worthless. A prison officer’s monthly salary in 2004 would buy a bottle of cooking oil. Only the army and the CIO were adequately fed. The wily Mugabe rightly perceived that these were the only organisations that could oust him. Therefore, he took pains to keep them on side.
As people went hungry President Mugabe claimed that there was no paucity of food in his country. He refused to accept comestibles offered by various aid organisations. He lived in opulence and treated himself to banquets.
Misrule by Mugabe was so execrable that only heavy violence could keep him in office. The security forces were weapons to be used against the people. As Mugabe bragged ‘I am Hitler tenfold’.
In 2005 the former white prime minister Ian Smith made a challenge. He asked Mugabe to accompany him without security into a shanty town. Smith confidently boasted that only one of them would come out alive. Mugabe’s rapacity and cruelty was unexampled in the country’s history. Smith’s racist and unfair system at least provided a few basics for the long-suffering people.
Mugabe’s senile and pernicious rule continued until 2017. Thousand of people had been murdered at his behest. He had wrecked a once prosperous country. He planned to stay in office until he dropped his clogs. He was planning for his wife to be shoehorned into office. But this was too much even for his own hand picked supporters. He promoted people on the basis of unstinting loyalty. This applied to ZANU PF magnates as well as the military top brass. When even they moved against him it was redolent of the Grand Council of Fascism voting out Mussolini in 1943.
In November 2017 the army decided that it was time to act. There was a military coup. President Mugabe was held under house arrest. After a few days he was bamboozled into resigning the presidency. His former crony Emerson Mnangawa became president. Some fondly imagined that the long nightmare of oppression was finally over. Was a new era of liberty dawning? Such optimism was pitifully misplaced.
Mnangawa is cut from the same cloth as Mugabe. He is known as the Crocodile and is notorious for his viciousness. He is up to his neck in Mugabe’s crimes. Mnangagwa was often an instrument of this insupportable oppression. The reign of terror has been turned down only two notches. He never spoke out when Mugabe perpetrated blatant crimes against the people.
Mugabe will go down as one of the worst African tyrants of the past 30 years. Even in the 1970s in the midst of a savage civil war Zimbabwe exported crops. Under Mugabe despite peace, massive loans and investment many people were on the edge of starvation.