Daily Nation Newspaper - - FEATURES - By BRIAN RAFTOPOU­LOS *The au­thor is a Re­search Fel­low, In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies Group, Univer­sity of the Free State.

ROBERT Mu­gabe’s name is syn­ony­mous with both Zim­babwe’s lib­er­a­tion strug­gle and its post-colo­nial pol­i­tics. His role and that of his Zanu-PF party have been cen­tral to the coun­try’s dy­nam­ics since the early 1960s – and could well set the tone for the fore­see­able fu­ture.

For much of his po­lit­i­cal life Mu­gabe has of­ten been viewed, in the words of one of his bi­og­ra­phers Martin Mered­ith, as “se­cre­tive and soli­tary,” an “aloof and aus­tere fig­ure.”

How­ever he is de­scribed, there’s no doubt that Mu­gabe’s po­lit­i­cal legacy is highly con­tested. To un­der­stand how this hap­pened, it’s nec­es­sary to ex­am­ine his per­sonal his­tory; his po­lit­i­cal demise in 2017; and Zim­babwe’s deep­en­ing po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic cri­sis more than a year af­ter Mu­gabe’s ouster. For the fac­tion that has suc­ceeded Mu­gabe, led by Pres­i­dent Em­mer­son Mnan­ga­gawa, mov­ing be­yond the highly prob­lem­atic legacy that they helped to cre­ate re­mains a daunt­ing task.


Robert Mu­gabe was born 94 years ago at Ku­tama Mis­sion in Zvimba District, west of what was then called Sal­is­bury, the cap­i­tal of then South­ern Rhode­sia (to­day’s Zim­babwe). He re­ceived a Je­suit ed­u­ca­tion and was by many ac­counts an ex­cep­tional stu­dent.

In 1945 Mu­gabe left Ku­tama Mis­sion with a teach­ing diploma. He won a schol­ar­ship to South Africa’s Fort Hare Univer­sity in 1949. There he met other emerg­ing na­tion­al­ists and was in­tro­duced to Marx­ist ideas.

Armed with a BA de­gree in his­tory and English Lit­er­a­ture, Mu­gabe re­turned to South­ern Rhode­sia in 1952. He soon moved to North­ern Rhode­sia (to­day’s Zam­bia) in 1955 to take up a teach­ing post. In 1958 he moved again, to a teacher train­ing col­lege in Ghana. There, a year af­ter Ghana’s in­de­pen­dence in 1957, he ex­pe­ri­enced the thrill and sense of pos­si­bil­ity of a newly in­de­pen­dent African state. It was a sem­i­nal po­lit­i­cal mo­ment for him.


Mu­gabe re­turned home in 1960 on ex­tended leave to in­tro­duce his new wife Sally Hayfron to his fam­ily. In­stead of re­turn­ing to Ghana, he be­came en­tan­gled in na­tion­al­ist pol­i­tics.

This in­cluded the tur­moil that the two ma­jor na­tion­al­ist par­ties, Zim­babwe African Peo­ple’s Union (ZAPU) and Zim­bab­wean African Na­tional Union (ZANU) split.

In 1963 he was ar­rested, along with many other na­tion­al­ists. He was re­leased af­ter 11 years.

Mu­gabe and his col­league Edgar Tekere es­caped to Mozam­bique in 1974 to join the lib­er­a­tion war against the regime of Prime Min­is­ter Ian Smith, con­ducted from bases in that coun­try. There have been dif­fer­ent ac­counts of Mu­gabe’s rise to the top of the lead­er­ship in Mozam­bique.

As lib­er­a­tion war vet­eran Wil­fred Mhanda tells it, their sup­port for Mu­gabe was premised on his com­mit­ment to build­ing unity be­tween the ri­val na­tion­al­ist move­ments.

But he re­neged on this, in­stead pur­su­ing the supremacy of his own party Zanu. Fol­low­ing the Lan­caster House set­tle­ment and the 1980 elec­tions, Mu­gabe’s Zanu emerged as the dom­i­nant party. He set out his pol­icy of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with the white pop­u­la­tion. This al­lowed the ex­ist­ing prop­erty and eco­nomic re­la­tions from the Rhode­sian pe­riod to con­tinue, while the pol­i­tics of state con­trol was trans­ferred to Zanu.

This pe­riod wit­nessed the con­sol­i­da­tion of Mu­gabe’s con­trol of both his party and the state. The mas­sive vi­o­lence com­mit­ted against the com­pet­ing party of lib­er­a­tion, Zapu, through the Guku­rahundi mas­sacres, sig­nalled Zanu’s vi­o­lent in­tol­er­ance of op­po­si­tion. How­ever, the 1980s were also ev­i­dence of Mu­gabe’s com­mit­ment to so­cial poli­cies such as health and ed­u­ca­tion. Mu­gabe’s gov­ern­ment greatly ex­panded the state ex­pen­di­ture in these ar­eas in the rirst decade of in­de­pen­dence.

The hos­til­i­ties be­tween Zapu, led by Joshua Nkomo, and Mu­gabe’s Zanu of­fi­cially ended with the sign­ing of a Unity Ac­cord by the two lead­ers on De­cem­ber 22, 1987. Zapu was ef­fec­tively swal­lowed by Zanu PF. The rul­ing party had used the acro­nym since the end of the brief Pa­tri­otic Front coali­tion (1976- 79) be­tween the two lib­er­a­tion par­ties, on the eve of the 1980 elec­tions.


Dur­ing the 1990s, op­po­si­tion to Mu­gabe grew in size and in­flu­ence. Faced with the real pos­si­bil­ity of po­lit­i­cal de­feat – and dis­sent from the war vet­er­ans – Mu­gabe drew on ong­stand­ing land griev­ances to re­con­fig­ure the pol­i­tics of the state and Zanu-PF.

His Fast Track Res­setle­ment pro­gramme radically re­con­structed the land re­la­tions from the set­tler colo­nial pe­riod. There is a con­tin­u­ing de­bate about the ef­fects of the land re­dis­tri­bu­tion ex­er­cise. It re­sulted in the vi­o­lent al­lo­ca­tion of land to a com­bi­na­tion of large num­bers of small farm­ers and the rul­ing party elite, and its long term im­pact on the coun­try’s econ­omy re­mains prob­lem­atic.

The process also cre­ated a mas­sive rup­ture be­tween hu­man and re­dis­tribu­tive rights. By le­git­imis­ing the Fast Track pro­gramme, Zanu-PF em­pha­sised eco­nomic re­dis­tri­bu­tion and set­tling the colo­nial legacy around the land ques­tion. But in do­ing so, the rul­ing party op­por­tunis­ti­cally la­belled the fight for hu­man and demo­cratic po­lit­i­cal rights – which had long been cen­tral to the anti-colo­nial strug­gle – as a for­eign “regime change agenda” pushed by the op­po­si­tion Move­ment for Demo­cratic Change (MDC) and civic move­ments.

The pol­i­tics of the land re­form process un­leashed many ques­tions around cit­i­zen­ship, be­long­ing, and as­ser­tions of iden­tity. Mu­gabe’s of­ten valid cri­tique of im­pe­ri­al­ist du­plic­ity was ac­com­pa­nied by an un­ac­cept­able au­thor­i­tar­ian in­tol­er­ance of dis­sent within Zim­babwe.

The armed forces were cen­tral to his stay in power. The push in his fi­nal years to have his wife Grace suc­ceed him her­alded a longer term reign for a Mu­gabe dy­nasty. To fur­ther his wife’s am­bi­tions, Mu­gabe first moved against Vice Pres­i­dent Joyce Mu­juru, the favoured con­tender to suc­ceed him, in 2014. Next, the Mu­gabes, with the sup­port of a fac­tion of Zanu-PF known as the G40 group, took on an­other po­ten­tial suc­ces­sor, Vice Pres­i­dent Mnan­gagwa. He was dis­missed from his state and party po­si­tions in early Novem­ber 2017.

This set off a dra­matic se­ries of events. In mid- Novem­ber 2017, fol­low­ing mil­i­tary chief Con­stan­tine Chi­wenga’s warn­ing of “counter-rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies” in the rul­ing party, the armed forces ef­fec­tively took power away from the ex­ec­u­tive.

This was fol­lowed by the ini­ti­a­tion of an im­peach­ment process against Mu­gabe. But, on the day the process be­gan, in Novem­ber 2017, he re­signed.


For many Zim­bab­weans Mu­gabe re­mains a con­tested fig­ure. For those who lived through the hu­mil­i­a­tions of set­tler colo­nial­ism, his stri­dent cri­tique of its lega­cies still ring true. But oth­ers will find it im­pos­si­ble to ac­cept his ex­clu­sivist as­ser­tions of na­tional be­long­ing and au­thor­i­tar­ian in­tol­er­ance of dis­sent.

When com­bined with the deep eco­nomic cri­sis over which he presided, it is lit­tle sur­prise that the end of Mu­gabe’s rule was greeted with such mo­men­tous na­tional cel­e­bra­tion. - NEWS24.

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