It’s impossible not to be fascinated by a man such as former President Mugabe of Zimbabwe who, at 93, was determined to cling to power. New entrants into politics and journalism may ponder the origin of such a mind. A search for answers may lead to more questions. For example, to understand the man who became president of Zimbabwe – a country that did not exist by that name prior to April 1980 – we need to ask pertinent questions. Why did he refuse to give up power and proceed quietly into retirement long before the age of 93? Does Mugabe think that he descended from a long line of patriarchs and kings to whom God had bequeathed Southern Rhodesia? Remember that country? In the 1950s and 60s when apartheid reigned supreme in South Africa, a Caucasian (born in Rhodesia) named Ian Smith became Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia. He soon announced a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from Britain and swore to rule that country for whites only – like South Africa at the time.
A fifteen-year arms struggle by African Rhodesians ensued. Not a finger was raised in anger by Europe or any other white-ruled country against Ian Smith. Not a bullet was fired against the white Ian Smith regime after it grabbed independence and declared its racists intentions until Robert Mugabe and other self-respecting black Africans began the arms struggle for the liberation of their country. It was the triumph of Mugabe and ZANU-PF that led to political independence of Southern Rhodesia, renamed Zimbabwe at independence in April 1980. Mugabe soon became the darling of the developed countries as they, with little choice, turned the charm on him.
The people of Zimbabwe, including the army, have not forgotten that no white man ever raised a hand to help bring Ian Smith to his senses and Zimbabwe to independence.
Perhaps Mugabe’s only crime was repossessing Zimbabwean lands from white farmers and returning it to the blacks. The western media turned against Mugabe from that time onwards. Recent reports on his long-awaited resignation from the presidency have made grudging reference to one of his main achievements, which is the education of his people. The reports make no reference to the fact that his government seized fertile agriculture lands which had been previously stolen by whites. Did anyone ever ask how the best and most fertile farms fall into the hands of the minority white race? As far as we are aware only Fidel Castro of Cuba had the gonads to do the same in his country.
The events in Zimbabwe may sound strange to the ears of those not familiar with the history of colonialism in sub-Saharan Africa. Those who understand the uses of history remain convinced that no one should aspire to political leadership without a firm grasp of history, including the abuses of slavery, colonialism and
Those with a more cynical bent may choose to neglect the history of Zimbabwe and ponder instead Mugabe’s tribe and whether he belonged to those that were led into captivity by invaders from another land because his people had sinned against God. If so, one would also wish to know what sustained him in exile and how he became leader of his country at independence. Where did the will to pick up arms and fight for independence come from? What changes did he work in the interest of his people since independence?
Could this 93-year-old have opted for a monarchical form of government installing himself as King forever? The thought may well have crossed Mugabe’s mind. In the search for democratic and constitutional correctness many would dismiss Mugabe without questioning whether he thinks himself the progeny of a long line of kings and queens. Who knows the geography and government of Mugabe’s country before European invaders and others plundered and divided it? Why was Mugabe so embraced by the media during his early days as leader of Zimbabwe? It is generally accepted that a regime that came to power by arms struggle would brook no interference from those that had kept it in darkness. Mugabe’s involvement in the arms struggle for independence should help explain why the Zimbabwean army had no appetite to force him out of office.
There is more to the history of Mugabe than we will ever know. Our conversation at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference in Melbourne, Australia (1981) was too brief for me to have gleaned a more incisive history of the man.
Of course, no sensible examination of the situation in Zimbabwe would be complete without an examination of our own situation in Saint Lucia and the Caribbean. We have had leaders in the region who deliberately manipulated the political system and passed the succession baton to their offspring and handpicked friends. There are Caribbean leaders today who are actively promoting their kids – in the mode of royalty – to accede to power whenever the parent determines.
Annoyingly, no one in the western media seemed interested in critiquing such men who cannot let go of political power once they have grasped it. Surely, there is something deeper than politics at work here. It’s an inward hunger that aims to bend politics to satisfy them. Sadly, such hunger cannot be solved by power or money. The chaos that it produces has its genesis in the lack of love, empathy and other divine graces.
On closer examination it does not seem to matter whether those grasping and avaricious politicians attained political office through the sweat and toil of others or were merely convenient stop-gap placements. What continues to baffle many in the Caribbean is that, at political independence, leaders who were most opposed to colonial rule did not develop a modern constitution that broke away from the colonial masters. For example, the Caribbean peoples have suggested a fixed term of office for the leader of the country, plus a fixed election date and the election of an executive president by the entire national electorate. Why are these seemingly simple demands so difficult for Caribbean politicians to accept? For answers we may have to more closely examine the mind of former President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, perchance to discover the reason he held onto office until he became an embarrassment to his army, his ZANU-PF and his many admirers at home and abroad.