Template for a tyrant
There has been neither peace nor serenity during Robert Mugabe’s 37 years in power. He has been at war in Zimbabwe since its birth.
The infrastructure he inherited, better than anywhere else in Africa, is derelict. Every state company is bankrupt and most of Zimbabwe’s best educated citizens left the country.
Slumped in his seat at the World Economic Forum in South Africa recently, Mugabe denied that Zimbabwe was a failed state. He said the country was the second most developed in Africa and that it had resources. But the statistics tell another story.
Educators say even the much-vaunted literacy rate Mugabe claims is an illusion as it was never tested but probably hovers around 60 percent, and falling.
Everyone is scared of Mugabe, scared of his world of spies and his violent and partisan security services which keep him in power.
Former liberal prime minister of the then Southern Rhodesia, Garfield Todd, said shortly before he died in 2002: “What I cannot forgive is how many people he has corrupted.”
Robert Mugabe is 93 and will fight elections next year.
At a state funeral at the end of April he walked carefully and slowly on the red carpet to the national shrine where “heroes” from the colonial era are buried.
He delivered a long speech about the man from the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) lying in the flag-draped coffin, a “hero” hardly known outside his own secret world.
Mugabe had been in second city Bulawayo the previous day with Namibian president Hein Geingob who opened the annual International Trade Fair which looked more like a flea market than an industrial showcase.
Geingob also went to the shrine, known as “Heroes’ Acre” during his visit.
He paid respects at the grave of Mugabe’s first wife, Sally, the first woman buried there in 1992 who died disappointed that two years earlier her husband had a child with his young mistress and now second wife, Grace, from the State House typists’ pool.
Sally’s three-year old boy died of malaria in 1966 while her husband was in detention in Rhodesia for 11 years.
Geingob was also taken to former vice president Joshua Nkomo’s grave.
He was the first leader to emerge in the revolt against white-ruled Southern Rhodesia in the 1950’s and was from the minority Ndebele tribe.
Nkomo was shocked when his Zimbabwe African People’s Union, ZAPU, did not win even a third of the vote in the first democratic elections in 1980.
Mugabe’s Shona tribe was nearly three quarters of the population and his war-time forces regularly used violence during the election campaign.
Just weeks after the British flag was lowered in Harare by Prince Charles, Mugabe told British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in London that some of
Nkomo’s former fighters were doing “very silly acts” which he said had caused some deaths.
Cold War jargon littered the national conversation, and of course Rhodesians who did control much of the economy hardly remembered or never knew that it was largely white farmers who chose Ian Smith’s white-rule-for-ever over Garfield Todd’s reformist legislative agenda.
Thousands of Nkomo’s supporters were killed on Mugabe’s orders in the two Matabeleland provinces from 1983. Many fled to South Africa and Nkomo fled to London.
In mitigation, as the lawyers would say, some former Rhodesian soldiers operating out of South Africa – and with its protection – hit targets in their old homeland including destruction of much of the national airforce.
More white farmers were killed in this part of the country at this time than during the long bush war.
To end violence against his supporters Nkomo signed up to a “unity” deal with Mugabe in 1987.
But the already fragile economy was tight, foreign currency was short, and Mugabe detonated his treasury with an unbudgeted gratuity to 30 000 restless liberation war veterans.
You can find the rest of this article by downloading Issue 42 of our journal Africa in Fact here.