A ghost of national hero
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
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.