When I met Mugabe behind a wall of fear

When I met Mugabe behind a wall of fear
Published: 14 December 2017 (904 Views)
On each occasion that I happened to come across him a sense of fear consumed me. One day, in 1989, he visited our school. He looked so presidential and awfully detached behind his bodyguards. Then I saw him in 1995 at a dinner held in Windhoek and actually shook his hand.

Crucially, I recall how a former University of Zimbabwe SRC President heaped praise on Robert Mugabe after the latter delivered a rousing speech that day. However, Bob's renowned status had faded significantly, so my friends and I usually discussed his failures in hushed tones since a lot of people had a tendency to get violent on his behalf whenever someone slated his policies.

And the last time I saw Mugabe I was headed towards PaMereki in Warren Park 1 on a Saturday afternoon when I had to park by the roadside and give way to a gigantic motorcade. That mechanical experience took a full three minutes to pass and subdued all in sight of his executive privilege - but his self-indulgent rule stretched on and on.

So a flurry of reports stating that Mugabe cried in his palatial Blue Roof residence when he resigned in November exposes remarkable selfishness and sweeping insensitivity. I struggled to appreciate why he cried for Zimbabwe at the end of his rule when had 37 years to feel and bear the collective pains of all Zimbabweans.

So, I had questions for him. Yes, I had questions shaped from the excruciating deaths of an uncle and aunt and constant societal sorrow.

Did Bob swell up with anger and helplessness when thousands of people succumbed to illnesses in dilapidated and ill-staffed hospitals? Did he lose a small, but hard-earned, pension to inflation?

Did he cry for the homeless after Operation Murambatsvina disrupted lives and livelihoods? Did he seek exile in a foreign nation? Did he lose family in the Presidential elections of 2008?

Did he cry when Itai Dzamara was abducted? And did he do everything for the money, power and wild applause at international discussions?

I established these questions thoughtlessly because Mugabe constructed a career on delivering the best one-liners and speeches in the world since American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. spoke during the march on Washington for African-American emancipation on August 28, 1963.

Whenever the nation, African Union or United Nations needed an eloquent synopsis of African aspirations and struggles mashed with smug racial rhetoric, hollow threats and powerful reminders of the colonial past - the bespectacled man from Zvimba never failed his passionate followers on the continent.

His greatest speech as president could well have been an address to the Earth Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa on Monday, September 2, 2001, when Mugabe famously chastised Tony Blair for alleged interference in the political affairs of Zimbabwe.

In an ostentatious performance worthy of the Academy Award for Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a political thriller, action fantasy or military drama, if that category exists, Bob reminded everyone why he was the quintessential African hero who had slain the colonial dragon all by himself in Mozambique.

And he reminded everyone that he owned Zimbabwe, when he said: "So Blair, keep your England and let me keep my Zimbabwe". Bob could well be the most inexhaustible political force that Africa produced in the 20th century.

Nonetheless, he lacked leadership skills and disguised this substantial weakness through magniloquent speeches and efficient state repression. This is why Zimbabwe should not focus on what freshly inaugurated President Emmerson Mnangagwa says, but on what he does - and importantly, on what he does not do.

Amid calls for Mnangagwa to announce fresh economic reforms let us remember that Zimbabwe has never lacked economic schemes to follow: from the Economic Adjustment Programme (ESAP) in 1990, to the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic (Zim-Asset), right through to a 'Look East' policy that has failed rather dismally, an abundance of economic solutions have been sunk by Zanu-PF corruption and schisms, socialist-style populism and electoral gimmicks planned by Mugabe and a host of hawkish ministers.

Zimbabwe has never lacked world-class economists and technocrats such as former finance ministers Bernard Chidzero and Chris Kuruneri. Zimbabwe has never had a dearth of financial reformers like Dr Simba Makoni and Nkosana Moyo and critics like Geoff Nyarota and Trevor Ncube.

Zimbabwe has never lacked fearless politicians like Sydney Malunga and Edgar Tekere and opposition figures such as Joshua Nkomo and Morgan Tsvangirai.

However, when selfless leadership was required over the past 37 years: Mugabe hid behind a wall of fear in Chancellor Avenue.

- Tafi Mhaka

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