ROBERT Gabriel Mugabe (1924-2019), the Zimbabwean revolutionary passed away last week in Singapore. He stirred mixed reactions reminding us of the saying: it is not so much where we started, rather where we end that counts, when it comes to nation-building. This is especially relevant for those who are in a hurry to arrive, come what may.
It all began in the 1980s when Mugabe made his presence felt following the end of the racist government of Rhodesia (named after Cecil Rhodes, founder of the British South Africa Company) referring to a region generally comprising the areas that are today Zambia and Zimbabwe. In 1923, the UK annexed Southern Rhodesia from the former British South Africa Company.
According to President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took power after Mugabe, he was “an icon of liberation, a pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people”. He inspired many putting him in the same league as Che Guevara. Even the influential African National Congress of South Africa, reportedly regarded him as a “friend, statesman and revolutionary comrade” and as “an ardent and vocal advocate of African unity and self-reliance” whose struggle had been an inspiration. Mugabe was quoted as saying: “I went (to Ghana) as an adventurist. I wanted to see what it would be like in an independent African state” – Ghana, under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah, was the first African state to gain independence from colonial powers.
He benefited from the Kwame Nkrumah Ideological Institute, and said that it was then that he finally embraced Marxist ideology making him who he was politically.
He was imprisoned in Rhodesia from 1963-1975, during which his son died of encephalitis at the age of three. His request for leave to visit his son and wife in Ghana was refused, leaving him grief-stricken. At about the same time, the Rhodesian Front government led by Ian Smith, the country’s last white supremacist leader, banned opposition parties and arrested all remaining leaders of the country’s African nationalist movement. Later, Smith proclaimed Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence from the United Kingdom, renaming Southern Rhodesia as Republic of Rhodesia. This led to United Nations sanctions, and sparked the African nationalist guerilla war in 1972 against white-minority colonial rule.
By the time Mugabe was released in November 1974, in part due to the influence of the apartheid South African government then pressuring Rhodesia, out of fear that the guerilla war would spread to the rest of the continent, the situation was ready for the next phase. The rest is history. From Dec 12, 1979, to April 17, 1980, Rhodesia reverted to the British colony of Southern Rhodesia, and on April 18 it became the independent Republic of Zimbabwe. Mugabe served as prime minister from 1980 to 1987, then as president (1987-2017) where he remained as the Zimbabwe’s only leader/ruler from independence until his “forced” resignation in November 2017.
His image gradually declined as he was deemed by many as “a deeply divisive figure”. Tendai Biti, a prominent opposition politician, said “He did not know how to make the transformation from liberation leader to national leader”.
His policies described as “Mugabeism” allegedly caused the country to experience “financial collapse, violent intimidation and vicious power struggle”. Post 2000, saw an exodus of white farmers leading to the crippling of the economy. The Zimbabwean currency became a joke when the central bank allowed its citizens to exchange the country’s currency for US dollars. Its 100-trillion-dollar note was worth merely 40 cents. Mugabe was ousted by the military in November 2017.
Though still granted the status as nationalist and a respected pan-African hero who dedicated the early part of his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people, and history of the continent, Mugabe towards the end made a sad transition from a legacy of liberation fighter to that of a despot; a clear example of it is not where we start, but where we end that matters. A lesson worthy of reflection.
May his soul rest in peace.
With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that “another world is possible”. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org