Robert Mugabe was a dynamic leader during his time as president, a charming and reportedly ruthless man who watched as Zimbabwe plunged into economic, social turmoil whilst portraying himself as a deity. His insatiable appetite for power escalated hatred of any form of opposition and despite the protests by the Movement for Democratic Change, civil society and various pressure groups against his rule. He managed to stay in power for 37 years before being ousted by his long time lieutenant, Emmerson Mnangagwa, in November 2017, through a military coup.
In his 2015 book, Mugabeism: History, Politics and Power in Zimbabwe, Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni describes the former President as an enigmatic figure whose political life attracted both admirers and critics and being the first of its kind, the book describes the self-contradiction of character and political life of the former president. Robert Mugabe was an outspoken economic nationalist, intellectual, racist and a radical Pan-Africanist, all as a veil to cover a somewhat fascistic militarism. As one of the first generation post –colonial African nationalist leader who led Africa to independence, Robert Mugabe had fought with the will to use education as a justification to inclusion in the colonial government until such inclusion did not seem enough to end the racial, social, economic and political divide between the two.
This fight for independence from colonial rule grew upon him to a point where he was obsessed with ending the Western interference in the Zimbabwean affairs, particularly that of Britain. This made Mugabe an Afro-Radical who was geared to fight any form of opposition through nativism; thus, driving him to the point where he became an antithesis of democracy and human rights. In his analysis of Mugabe, Martin Meredith pointed out that soon after independence Mugabe was glorified by the West as he promised reconciliation and peace and therefore got admired as a model for transition from colonial leadership. However as his rule progressed, Robert Mugabe sacrificed his April 1980 ideals and the potential of Zimbabwe by turning into autocrat whose rule was characterised by corruption, gross violation of human rights, violence and patronage.
The most fascinating thing about Robert Mugabe was his ability to master how to keep a long grip on power. Clueless as he seemed, Robert Mugabe knew exactly what he was doing and what the people wanted but he did not just give it to them without promised or guaranteed support. Patronage and corruption became the order of Mugabe’s rule to the extent that people were fed up and wanted him to leave and have someone take over. The Movement for Democratic Change was the people’s preference as they believed it could save the country from the economic and political despair. However, it also turned out that it cherishes Mugabeism as seen by Morgan Tsvangirai’s long hold on power and the unconstitutional take over by Nelson Chamisa.
But, I guess that is politics! It is never about the people’s needs but their votes. In Robert Mugabe’s world, anyone who did not share the same beliefs with him was opposition and violence was always a necessary evil to achieve political gain. The use of violence in Zimbabwean politics, thus, did not end with Mugabe, even former Movement for Democratic Change leader, Morgan Tsvangirai and his successor, Nelson Chamisa have at some point alluded to how violence is the only way if you are to be heard in politics when pushing a political agenda.
Robert Mugabe was smart enough to ensure that even after he was gone his reign would continue in every one of us. We would pay a bribe for a service, would always put our ‘self’ above others, would lose confidence in the country’s economic system, so much that we could never fathom the idea of nation building. Mugabeism circles around ensuring citizens hero worship a leader, a problematique that seems to have cut across political divide. Zimbabwe’s political parties resemble fiefdoms of their leaders and their political culture is informed by what Professor Ali Mazrui termed “Le es tat me syndrome (The state is me syndrome) now to read Le es party me (The party is me syndrome). Robert Mugabe will live up to his expectations, life ruler of Zimbabwe, his ghost will live on in Zimbabwe.
Tildah Magoba is a Journalist and writer on Zimbabwe’s Public Affairs