Today we conclude our piece on Robert Mugabe’s place in history.
Economic sanctions and economic mismanagement, in addition to poor governance, heightened the social and political crisis in Zimbabwe. The struggle for democracy reached a crisis point that led to South Africa brokering a fragile peace. This led to a national unity government with Mugabe as President and Morgan Tsavingirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) as Prime Minister during 2009-2013. But it was not to last. The old fox bade his time until he could outmanoeuvre his enemies and reconsolidate absolute power.
But sanctions were not alone to blame. The syndrome of personal rule settled on the political landscape of the country like a nuclear mushroom cloud. Mugabe boxed himself into a corner and was left with no friends except the likes of Muammar Gadaffi of Libya, Mahmoud Ahmedinijad of Iran and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. It is ironical that this ascetic statesman who dazzled the world with his brilliance ended up becoming one of the most reviled tyrants in Africa. According to one insider, the DNA of his despotism had been there all along: “When you look at his moves in the 1980s to establish a one-party state and his ideas of statecraft, the only constants are power – how to attain it, how to keep it and how to monopolise it. If it was a law that stood between him and power, he changed it. If it was an institution, he subverted it. If it was an election, he rigged it. If it was an opponent who stood between him and power, he had him killed.”
His mother, Mbuya Bona, warned his friends in the sixties: “You think my son cares about your politics….You don’t know how cruel my son is Hamunyatsomuziva. You don’t know him at all.”
There is little doubt that Robert Mugabe felt overshadowed by the towering figure of Nelson Mandela, following the latter’s release from incarceration in 1990. The death of Sally in 1992 — the only voice of restraint on his excesses — rendered him bereft of wise counsel. He began an affair with his secretary, Grace Marufu, while Sally was battling terminal cancer. Some 41 years his junior, Grace, who was born in South Africa, had been married to an air force pilot, Stanley Goreraza. Sally passed away in January 1992 a while he and Grace were wedded in August 1996. They have three children together.
Popularly known as “Gucci Grace”, the former First Lady has the reputation of a gold-digger with the demonic ambition of Lady Macbeth. In 2014, the University of Zimbabwe awarded her a very dodgy PhD degree in Sociology barely two months after registering on the programme. Gucci Grace never concealed her single-minded ambition to capture the ultimate prize. She orchestrated the downfall of two former Vice-Presidents, Joice Mujuru and Emmerson Mnangagwa, to pave the way for her own ascension up the greasy pole. When rumours transpired that the old man was preparing to hand-over power to her, the army struck with speed. Mugabe was forced to resign on 9 November, 2017 or face the prospects of impeachment. Mnangagwa, who had fled to Johannesburg for dear life, was recalled to take over the mantle of leadership. A former Mugabe enforcer and personal assistant who became estranged from his principal; Mnangagwa belongs to the Old Guard, with its thuggery, parasitism and its culture of backwardness and grand larceny. The simple truth is that Zimbabwe needs a new breed of leadership if it is to join the ranks of prosperous democracies in the coming years.
After all the dust has settled, history will assure Robert Mugabe a place of undisputed honour as liberator and Founding-Father of a sovereign and independent Zimbabwe. His education and health policies were successful; as were the land reforms, imperfect as they were. Unlike Madiba, he refused to strike a Faustian bargain with the wicked and soulless Babylonians. If we listen to what new leaders such as Julius Malema of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party are saying, it is clear that, in Namibia and South Africa, the Land Question will not disappear any time soon.
From Aristotle to our day, successful political leadership is a factor of several elements: the opportunities and context available to the statesman; the nature of the political coalition that came into power; the policy space for manoeuvre; the configuration of global forces; and personal attributes such as wisdom, vision, courage, compassion and ability. It is an incontrovertible fact of life that politics is the one vocation that quickly exposes what a man is ultimately made of. When push comes to shove, the statesman can only give what he has. Ultimately, what Mugabe could give his countrymen and women was not very much. He was a leader with a high Intelligence Quotient (IQ) but was cursed with a low Emotional Quotient (EQ). He had neither the high enlightenment civic virtues of a Julius Nyerere nor the courtliness and ethical nobility of a born prince such as Nelson Mandela. His monomaniacal obsession with power turned him into a murderous tyrant who drove a country with humongous prospects into complete ruin. Zimbabwe’s contemporary travails must be laid squarely at his feet.
The philosopher Isaiah Berlin once wrote about what he termed “the crooked timber of humanity”. Mugabe had more than a fair dose of that original sin. Whatever he might have achieved as a statesman will always be overshadowed by his pernicious hubris and the self-delusional omniscience and infallibility that broke the confidence of such a gifted people.