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Mugabe remains a hero despite political errors

DEPOSED: Robert Mugabe was once hailed due to his independence efforts in Zimbabwe

ROBERT GABRIEL Mugabe was my hero and that of many other black people internationally when he championed the liberation struggle in Zimbabwe that led to the country’s independence in 1980. He became the first president. A volume of his speeches, “Our War of Liberation”, takes pride of place on my bookshelf. In it he said: “The first object of our armed struggle is the attainment of total and unfettered independence so we can rule ourselves as we see fit and develop our country in the general interest of the masses.”

As activists, we admired Mugabe’s feisty African liberation rhetoric, which challenged powerful white leaders. Once, after Gordon Brown had condemned Mugabe’s “criminal regime”, the Zimbabwean president dismissed the then British Labour prime minister as a “tiny dot on the planet” and railed against the “demons in Downing Street”.

Let’s remember that for years, after Marxist “Comrade Bob” signed the draconian Lancaster House Agreement that sealed Zimbabwe’s independence, he was actually popular among Western leaders. In 1994 the Queen gave him an honorary knighthood. That’s because he stuck to the letter of a deal that included controversially ensuring Zimbabwe’s white minority retained many of its economic and political privileges, for example a guaranteed 20 parliamentary seats. On the crucial issue of land, most of which was in the hands of white farmers, Mugabe agreed they could keep their ill-gotten property provided the UK and US governments gave financial help that would allow the Zimbabwean government to buy much of it for redistribution among the black population.

LEADERSHIP

The UK and US pretty much went back on this, forcing Mugabe’s government from 2000 onwards to back a movement, spearheaded by black war veterans, that redistributed the land themselves – an action that was greeted with harsh economic sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by the West. It is these sanctions, coupled with economic mismanagement, that turned natural resources and agriculturally-rich Zimbabwe from the breadbasket of Africa to one of its poorest nations. Have these facts been put into the public debate in the West now raging about Mugabe? No.
Has the fact his country has one of the highest literary rates and most skilled workforce in Africa? No. News coverage of Mugabe’s fall from power has been completely one-sided.

A Sky News presenter gloated: “They used to call him The Lion of Africa.”

More commonly used big media adjectives lately have been “autocrat”, “tyrant” and “dictator”. Whatever happened to journalistic impartiality? #Mugabe has got fairer coverage on social media where ordinary people speak to each other. In the past, Mugabe mocked British critics by saying he was elected, unlike their head of state, who had been in office even longer than him.
Coverage of the Zimbabwe coup that the country’s military said was not a coup has been two-faced.

The African Union (AU) was clear it was an illegal takeover by the army. Had the same happened in the West there would have been widespread uproar from the international community and sanctions. AU president Alpha Conde expressed regret at the way Mugabe's 37-year rule was abruptly and humiliatingly ended. It’s astounding the way the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front Mugabe co-founded turned so swiftly against him. Conde said: "It is a shame that he is leaving through the back door and that he [has been] forsaken by the parliament." The tipping point was when Mugabe lost the confidence of the war veterans whom he had led.

Hatred in the West for Mugabe is deep among white leaders and their news media cheer leaders because he dared to assert the right of Africans to get back their land and natural resources and run their own affairs unfettered by neo-colonialism.
I have witnessed normally rational and sane white politicians, including ex-chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party Clive Solely, with whom I was chatting, go into a rage at the very mention of Mugabe’s name.

VILIFIED

Mugabe has been turned into a black bogeyman, an affront to the West’s sense of entitlement to continue to control the destinies of their former colonies.

For many African observers, Mugabe exposed the double standards of Western countries. Western leaders turned a blind eye to the 1983-84 massacring of up to 20,000 black opposition-supporting Ndebele civilians in Zimbabwe but strongly censured Mugabe’s government when a small number of white farmers were killed during the land seizures.

Surely the Ndebele massacres should have resulted in Mugabe, his ex-security chief and vice-president Emerson Mnangagwa - who has been installed as his replacement president – and other government ministers being tried for crimes against humanity.
I believe, as someone who has visited Zimbabwe, the radical African nationalist Mugabe of 1980, morphed into a very old leader hooked on power, red carpet and motorcade grandeur and increasingly cut off from reality. He was latterly unable or unwilling to tackle the corruption of his ministers and cronies who grabbed land for their own enrichment and looted the economy with contempt for the masses of people.

Mugabe’s own acceptance of a British knighthood, a colonial honour, revealed one of several contradictions. I remember questioning him in London, just before he became president, about his keenness for Zimbabwe to be in the Commonwealth, which was headed up by the unelected white Queen. (Eventually, Zimbabwe was kicked out anyway.)
He was a suit-wearing Anglophile fan of right-wing, apartheid South Africa apologist Margaret Thatcher without whom, he said, there would have been no independent Zimbabwe.


SCANDAL: Grace Mugabe

He also eagerly did business with wealthy white mine owners and others exploitative capitalists, including those who ran Zimbabwe’s tourism trade. In turn, they helped fund some of his political campaigns.
The big transformation of Comrade Bob came after the death in 1992 of his “Founding Mother of the Nation” Ghanaian wife Sally Hafron, whom he had met at teacher training college.

His affair with Grace Marufu, a secretary in the president’s office, whom he married in 1996, dramatically changed him. The affair began five years before the death of his first wife, during which time Grace had two children for Mugabe. A married woman 41 years his junior, it seems the president went out of his way to woo, win over and keep Grace. He schooled her in politics but could not reign in her lavish lifestyle, which, instead, he indulged, leading her to become known as “Gucci Grace”. In a country suffering from severe economic hardship, her expensive shopping trips abroad, property portfolio, and millions in the bank, made her deeply unpopular. She became Delilah to Comrade Bob’s Samson. Thus, when Mugabe in November sacked his vice-president in an apparent attempt to shoehorn Grace into the presidency this set off a dramatic chain of events that led to his downfall. But no one can remove Robert Mugabe from his vaunted position of founding father of Zimbabwe.

Marc Wadsworth is the editor of the citizen journalism website the-latest.com

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