...of the good, the bad and the ugly

African Independent - - NEWS -

OBERT Mu­gabe spoke elo­quently as Zim­babwe’s Prime Min­is­ter-elect in March 1980. He of­fered a mes­sage of hope and unity to a pop­u­la­tion rav­aged by years of war.

He spoke of cre­at­ing a gov­ern­ment “ca­pa­ble of achiev­ing peace and sta­bil­ity… and progress”.

In the first years of in­de­pen­dence, some of this was re­alised. But in the en­su­ing decades peace, sta­bil­ity and progress have waned. Mu­gabe has been in power for 36 years. The coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment is un­sta­ble at best. Its econ­omy is in ruin. There is no clear suc­ces­sion plan.

Mu­gabe’s pres­i­dency has been char­ac­terised by mis­man­age­ment, cor­rup­tion and con­trol over dis­sent and de­bate. Out­siders might not un­der­stand how some­one who led his coun­try’s down­fall from bread­bas­ket to bas­ket case has re­mained in the pres­i­dency for so many years.

Grow­ing up un­der colo­nial rule made a large im­pact on a young Mu­gabe. Colo­nial­ism in what was then Rhode­sia started in 1889 when the Crown granted the Bri­tish South Africa Com­pany a Royal Char­ter that gave rights to the land which later be­came North­ern (Zam­bia) and South­ern (Zim­babwe) Rhode­sia.

The char­ter gave the Bri­tish South Africa Com­pany the power to ex­pro­pri­ate land and en­cour­age Bri­tish set­tle­ment to ex­ploit the ter­ri­tory’s re­sources. It de­clared South­ern Rhode­sia a colony in 1896, prompt­ing the First Chimurenga, which saw the Shona and Nde­bele de­feated.

The com­pany in­tro­duced com­mer­cial agri­cul­tural de­vel­op­ment af­ter dis­cov­er­ing the colony was not rich in gold. Com­mer­cial farm­ing was de­pen­dent on the ex­pro­pri­a­tion of land from the ru­ral pop­u­la­tion. So, in 1898 it en­cour­aged ex­pro­pri­a­tion for pro­duc­tion of tobacco, maize, and wheat. It also set up a re­serve sys­tem which aimed to move and con­cen­trate Shona and Nde­bele pop­u­la­tions into so-called na­tive re­serve lands.

This set the stage for Mu­gabe’s child­hood and the ide­ol­ogy be­hind the Sec­ond Chimurenga, in ad­di­tion to much of Zim­babwe’s cur­rent in­equal­ity.

Mu­gabe was born on Fe­bru­ary 21, 1924 in Ku­tama a few

Rmonths af­ter South­ern Rhode­sia be­came a self-gov­ern­ing Bri­tish Crown colony.

Un­like most of his com­pa­tri­ots who re­ceived a ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion at best, Mu­gabe was lucky enough to re­ceive a very good ed­u­ca­tion. The young boy’s in­tel­li­gence made him stand out among his peers and he was of­fered a place to study at the elite S Fran­cis Xavier Ku­tama Col­lege. Mu­gabe went on to qual­ify as a teacher at Ku­tuma Col­lege.

He re­ceived a schol­ar­ship to South Africa’s Fort Hare Univer­sity. There he met fu­ture lead­ers like Julius Ny­erere from Tan­za­nia and Ken­neth Kaunda from Zam­bia. He joined the ANC. He was also ex­posed to Marx­ism. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing in 1951 with a Bach­e­lor of Arts in his­tory and English, he taught in sev­eral schools and con­tin­ued his stud­ies in South­ern Rhode­sia and Tan­za­nia, where a na­tion­al­ist move­ment led by Ny­erere was start­ing to form.

Mu­gabe’s po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy so­lid­i­fied af­ter mov­ing to newly in­de­pen­dent Ghana to teach in 1957. Ghana was the first Bri­tish colony in Africa to gain in­de­pen­dence. Kwame Nkrumah’s so­cial­ist and anti-im­pe­rial rhetoric struck a chord with Mu­gabe, who by this time was ac­tive within Ghana’s po­lit­i­cal youth leagues.

Mu­gabe met his fu­ture wife Sally Hayfron in Ghana. They trav­elled to South­ern Rhode­sia in 1960, so she could meet his mother – and found a very changed place.

The set­tler pop­u­la­tion had in­creased and with it the dis­place­ment of peo­ple and the over­crowd­ing of the re­serves. Un­em­ploy­ment was high and most peo­ple had no op­por­tu­ni­ties for ad­vance­ment.

The gov­ern­ment of South­ern Rhode­sia cracked down heav­ily on dis­sent at this time. Af­ter sev­eral op­po­si­tion lead­ers were ar­rested un­der the 1959 Un­law­ful Or­gan­i­sa­tions Act, Mu­gabe ad­dressed a crowd at Harare Town Hall. He spoke about Ghana’s in­de­pen­dence move­ment. In re­fer­ring to Marx­ism and its tenets of equal­ity, he of­fered an al­ter­na­tive fu­ture to a crowd frus­trated by mi­nor­ity rule. Mu­gabe’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer had be­gun.

Mu­gabe was elected sec­re­tary of the Na­tional Demo­cratic Party (NDP). Ten days af­ter the gov­ern­ment banned it in 1961, sev­eral lead­ers came to­gether to form Zim­babwe African Peo­ple’s Union (Zapu), which was led by Nde­bele trade union leader Joshua Nkomo. Mu­gabe, Zapu’s in­for­ma­tion and pub­lic­ity sec­re­tary, was frus­trated with Nkomo’s ap­proach and felt his de­mands for ma­jor­ity rule favoured rhetoric over ac­tion. Other lead­ers felt the same way and they to­gether broke from Zapu to form the Zim­babwe African Na­tional Union (Zanu) in 1963.

The gov­ern­ment banned both Zanu and Zapu and sev­eral party lead­ers, in­clud­ing Mu­gabe, were im­pris­oned in 1964 – the year Ian Smith be­came prime min­is­ter.

Smith would not agree to a plan or timetable for ma­jor­ity rule in South­ern Rhode­sia. He uni­lat­er­ally de­clared in­de­pen­dence from Great Bri­tain in 1965, prompt­ing sanc­tions and iso­la­tion from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

Dur­ing his 10 years in prison Mu­gabe re­mained ac­tive in Zanu pol­i­tics. In 1974, he was elected Zanu party head in what some ar­gue was a coup against sit­ting leader Nd­a­baningi Sit­hole. Later that year, at the in­sis­tence of South African lead­ers, Smith re­leased Mu­gabe to at­tend a con­fer­ence in Zam­bia. Mu­gabe fled to Mozam­bique, where Zim­babwe African Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Army guer­rilla forces were be­ing trained for what would be an­other five years of war.

In De­cem­ber 1979, the Lan­caster House Agree­ment for­malised a cease­fire and set the path for Zim­babwe’s in­de­pen­dence. Mu­gabe was named prime min­is­ter in Fe­bru­ary 1980 elec­tions and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity recog­nised Zim­babwe’s in­de­pen­dence on April 18, 1980 amid much hope and op­ti­mism.

But dis­trust re­mained. The white mi­nor­ity was afraid Mu­gabe’s gov­ern­ment wouldn’t abide by the terms of the Lan­caster House Agree­ment. They also wor­ried about land ex­pro­pri­a­tion and that civil ser­vants would be de­nied their pen­sions. But Mu­gabe preached rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

The first decade of in­de­pen­dence saw the build­ing of that great Zim­babwe which Mu­gabe spoke about be­fore in­de­pen­dence – at least in terms of some im­por­tant eco­nomic and hu­man de­vel­op­ment gains. The coun­try gar­nered a rep­u­ta­tion as south­ern Africa’s bread­bas­ket, feed­ing it­self and other coun­tries.

Mu­gabe con­tin­ued to recog­nise the im­por­tance of ed­u­ca­tion – the gov­ern­ment’s in­vest­ments re­sulted in ed­u­ca­tion and lit­er­acy rates that were ad­mired through­out the con­ti­nent. A thriv­ing civil so­ci­ety spear­headed com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment ef­forts in the ru­ral ar­eas, where much of the pop­u­la­tion felt con­nected to the leader who promised, and seemed to de­liver, de­vel­op­ment.

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