A ghost of na­tional hero

African Independent - - OPINION - MHAKA

T hap­pened in slow mo­tion. The na­tion watched an elo­quent and much-re­fined Robert Mu­gabe be­come the na­tional hero who some­how de­fied all man­ner of com­mon ap­praisal af­ter In­de­pen­dence Day. While peo­ple claimed morsels of the Zim­bab­wean dream – a low-paid shoe fac­tory job in Gweru, a state-sub­sidised ed­u­ca­tion in Chishawasha, a small-scale ba­nana plan­ta­tion in Chi­man­i­mani – Mu­gabe claimed the very soul of the na­tion for him­self.

No sooner had in­de­pen­dence cel­e­bra­tions qui­etened down than a fleet of min­is­te­rial Mercedes Ben­zes ar­rived on the scene.

In stark con­trast to the so­cial­ist phi­los­o­phy Zanu-PF spewed and peo­ple swal­lowed un­sus­pect­ingly, Mu­gabe and his cabi­net min­is­ters lived like wealthy Amer­i­can and Bri­tish elites. None­the­less, in the warm and hal­lu­cino­genic af­ter­glow of in­de­pen­dence, nobody ques­tioned why the com­rades could not live among the peo­ple in Budiriro One and Mzi­likazi. The em­bry­onic na­tion had made Mu­gabe an African demigod.

Al­though Mu­gabe had made an ur­gent and emo­tional re­quest for na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, he man­u­fac­tured en­e­mies of the state with de­ter­mined en­thu­si­asm and ruth­less ef­fi­cacy and skil­ful reg­u­lar­ity. Mu­gabe be­gan his quest for supreme au­thor­ity through a crush­ing cru­sade against the peo­ple of Mata­bele­land. Yet nobody rang the alarm and de­manded ac­count­abil­ity for un­just mil­i­tary ac­tions in the south­ern and western ar­eas of the na­tion. The Shona peo­ple said and did noth­ing about Guku­rahundi and Mu­gabe won a fresh and im­proved man­date through par­lia­men­tary elec­tions held in 1985.

So while Du­miso Dabengwa and Gen­eral

ILook­out Ma­suku were con­fined in prison un­fairly, un­der emer­gency laws, and Guku­rahundi raged on, Shona dom­i­nated prov­inces had backed Mu­gabe em­phat­i­cally. An agree­ment reached be­tween Zanu-PF and Zapu-PF hardly doused the flames of heated dis­may with Guku­rahundi; and an iconic pho­to­graph of Mu­gabe and Joshua Nkomo locked in a fren­zied em­brace could not con­ceal the mer­ci­less spirit be­hind the mas­sacres in Mata­bele­land.

But with cor­rup­tion and in­fla­tion on the rise, and the dol­lar in free-fall, the na­tional eco­nomic project had be­gun to un­ravel at an un­prece­dented and nerve-wrack­ing pace. Even the ever-loyal war veter­ans marched against their much-ad­mired hero in 1997.

So, as usual, Mu­gabe found a new en­emy to fo­cus his wrath on and lay un­war­ranted blame: com­mer­cial farm­ers. Like Tekere, Bishop Mu­zorewa and Rev­erend Sithole had found out be­fore them, the white com­mu­nity dis­cov­ered that Mu­gabe re­mained the con­science of Zim­babwe, and once he sug­gested the in­tro­duc­tion of ex­pe­dited land re­form, the re­dis­tri­bu­tion pro­gramme sounded like an hon­ourable and fair-minded want and need for his sup­port­ers.

But who wanted the freak­ish cor­rup­tion and wan­ton vi­o­lence and so­cial and eco­nomic in­sta­bil­ity that ac­com­pa­nied the so-called fast track land re­form? So Mor­gan Ts­van­gi­rai quickly be­came the lat­est en­emy of the state be­cause he had mo­bilised mil­lions of vot­ers against a new con­sti­tu­tion and a hap­haz­ard land re­form ex­er­cise. Chal­leng­ing the vet­eran politi­cian is of­ten con­sid­ered blas­phe­mous and trea­sonous; chal­leng­ing his re­stricted nar­ra­tive is deemed as be­ing anti-heroic con­duct.

But look at the ac­com­plish­ments of an un­likely, white na­tional hero­ine. Look at Kirsty Coven­try. Look at the hero ex­iled from Zanu-PF for an hon­ourable cause. Look at Dr Simba Makoni. Look at the hero who was charged with trea­son and de­nied na­tional hero sta­tus. Look at the Rev­erend Nd­a­baningi Sithole. Look at the na­tional hero who fled Zim­babwe and went into ex­ile. Look at the great Joshua Nkomo. Look around you: whom do you see who wants to be­come a real na­tional hero? Be­fore the na­tion is sac­ri­ficed at the al­tar of wild fa­nati­cism, for the umpteenth time, think about how low Zim­babwe has sunk un­der Mu­gabe. Think about the anti-hero he be­came the day af­ter April 18, 1980.

• Tafi Mhaka works in the com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­dus­try in Jo­han­nes­burg. He has a BA Hon­ours de­gree from the Univer­sity of Cape Town

PIC­TURE: AP

FALLEN FROM GRACE: Zim­babwe Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe and his wife Grace greet sup­port­ers at a rally in Lu­pane about 170km north of Bu­l­awayo last month.

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