No place for monster Mugabe
By Raffique Shah
March 25, 2007
There are times in the lives of perennial political activists like me when we have to admit we were wrong in our evaluations of political situations, and more so of personalities in whom we once had implicit faith. When that happens there is a sense of having been betrayed, of being "conned" by leaders, in this instance one who portrayed himself as the consummate revolutionary. I refer to Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. I have never before commented on alleged atrocities against his people mainly because I have learnt over the years to be circumspect about western media reports about leaders like Mugabe.
But recent brutal physical attacks on opposition politicians, some of whom have had to seek medical attention in South Africa, have exposed Mugabe for what he is-a tyrant who is drunk with power. From rigged elections in 2002 (which still gave him a bare six per cent win over the opposition) to training the one-time guns of freedom on those who dare disagree with him, Mugabe has proved himself no different to the architects of apartheid, to murderous dictators who have stained their countries with the blood of their own people. He has so angered those who once held him in high esteem that South Africa's Bishop Desmond Tutu recently referred to him as "Africa's shame".
Those who have little knowledge of what colonialism did to Africa, what imperialism continues to inflict on the wretched of the earth, will hardly understand why so many of us were gypped by Mugabe. When Cecil Rhodes marched into that part of Africa in 1888, he literally seized several countries that would later bear his name, Rhodesia. The Ndebele and Shona people who formed the main ethnic groups were dispossessed, reduced to slaves in their own homelands.
This iniquity would reach new depths in 1966 when Ian Smith unilaterally declared Southern Rhodesia independent, and was not even rapped on the knuckles by the West for stealing a whole country. In contrast, sometime in 1968 when tiny Anguilla seceded from St Kitts, Britain sent in troops to confront and subdue Mr Webster and his cutlass-wielding "rebels".
It was against that background that Joshua Nkomo, and later Mugabe, launched guerrilla armies to topple Smith, which they finally came close to achieving in the late 1970s. The Brits, sensing Smith's imminent defeat, hastily summoned all parties to London where a formula for elections was agreed upon. A peculiar caveat in the electoral process allowed the Whites to retain 20 seats in the Parliament and all the prime farm-lands they occupied. Indeed, one per cent of Zimbabwe's population controlled 70 per cent of its arable lands. By then Mugabe had overtaken Nkomo as Zimbabwe's liberator, and it is in that context his elevation to revolutionary status must be seen. In 1980 his ZANU-PF combination convincingly won the election.
But unlike Fidel Castro and Nelson Mandela who remained faithful to their people and committed to their countries, Mugabe soon descended into becoming a despicable dictator. I recall back in 1983, at the Commonwealth Heads of Governments conference in New Delhi, where I came face-to-face with this hero of mine, I instinctively thought: this man looks more like an arrogant monarch than a revolutionary. But looks could be deceptive, so I gave him the benefit of my doubts.
Even when he started appropriating farm-land from the Whites I did not condemn him. I understood the historical context in which he had to act. What I, and many like me, did not know was that choice properties were distributed to Mugabe's relatives and close allies, not to the poor people of Zimbabwe.
By then Mugabe had fallen victim to the highest form of addictive corruption-the overwhelming thirst for absolute power (to borrow a term from fiction writer Clive Cussler). With his popularity at an all-time low, and having alienated (some swear massacred) the Ndebele people (he's Shona), he is living a wretched life knowing that his end is near. Really, how can anyone justify spending millions of dollars on a birthday bash, as he did a few weeks ago, while the majority of his people are starving?
Clearly, Mugabe has "morphed" into a monster. Maybe he was always a vicious dictator clothed in revolutionary garb. But I have no doubt that his end is nigh. I don't know if the battered Opposition Leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, is any better. In fact, in situations like this, where one feels compelled to "take a side", I am reluctant to if only because I have felt betrayed so many times by so many "men of the people". I prefer to wait and see. History has taught me, though, that such monsters meet their demise when they least expect it.
Now that Bishop Tutu, the conscience of Africa, has spoken out, I expect other African leaders to ostracise Mugabe. They cannot close their eyes to his atrocities the way Caricom did in the cases of Forbes Burnham and Eric Gairy. A modern, humane Africa has no place for monsters like Mugabe.