By Tafi Mhaka
The 21st February movement started by former DJ and former Mashonaland West Provincial Minister Webster Shamu in 1986 slowly degenerated from a misplaced 1980s Zanu-PF fascination with former President Robert Mugabe to a full-blown public mania declared Robert Gabriel Mugabe National Youth Day.
Mugabe didn’t object to Zanu-PF Youth League members canvassing for this problematic proclamation to come to fruition. ‘Gushungo’s’ quest to slight the immeasurable sacrifices of liberation war comrades has persistently fed the destructive soul that has raised Zanu-PF into a disruptive beast.
To be sure, an unhealthy obsession with Mugabe’s liberation war efforts might have concluded with the naming of Karigamombe Building in 1985. But Mugabe’s insatiable appetite for basking in inglorious admiration from sycophantic subordinates like Tony Gara and hopelessly blind supporters such as the Zanu-PF Women’s League simply never subsided in 37 ghastly years.
On November 9 2017, 12 days before unexpectedly resigning from office, a smiling Mugabe unashamedly unveiled a plaque bearing his name at Zimbabwe’s largest international airport. Yet a better man might have suggested that such an honour be bestowed on Josiah Tongogara or Herbert Chitepo instead. A better human being and former wartime comrade might have displayed superfluous magnanimity and suggested Harare’s international airport be named after a Zapu liberation war stalwart.
Better yet, a strong leader might have ordered his obsequious politburo comrades and cabinet ministers to stop naming things after him and to focus their idle minds and unproductive energies on resuscitating an underperforming and decimated economy. But such benevolent vision didn’t materialise before November 21 2017 because Mugabe loathed sharing the spotlight with 1970s liberation war comrades and failed to display strong leadership on economic matters.
What is Mugabe about?
Quite what it is that Zimbabwe must endlessly celebrate about Mugabe’s ambiguous values on February 21 every passing year that surpasses our selfless commemorations of Independence Day and Heroes Day remains a Blue Roof mansion mystery. And quite what it is that an immensely wealthy land baron like Mugabe truly stands for about 39 years after Zimbabwe’s independence is as slippery and make-believe as Zanu-PF’s manifesto for the divisive July 30 2018 elections.
As such, Robert Gabriel Mugabe National Youth Day can only serve as existential proof of Mugabe’s pathological vanity. It can only validate the monstrous redundancy of a 37-year old cult of personality that destroyed our humble dreams and subsequently birthed a dystopian abundance of murderous ‘Ed Pfee’ madness on August 1 2018 and January 15 2019.
Truth be told, the February 21 holiday is a belated attempt to embellish Mugabe’s fallacious post-1980 impact and rehabilitate a dilapidated legacy. Mugabe competently misled millions of Zimbabweans to the abyss of social and economic disaster but has never expressed remorse for countless human rights abuses and extrajudicial murders committed under his watch. Yet pictures of the Mugabe family celebrating this year’s February 21 holiday demonstrate how fabulously flush with bliss and US dollars they are.
Amid an outpouring of widespread nostalgia for our ‘good old days’ and amid increasing reconsideration of Mugabe’s nightmarish rule – Zimbabweans must embrace serious self-examination and avoid whitewashing our unsavoury past with fanciful amendments.
The truth shall set us free
It might have turned out differently for Zimbabwe had Mugabe ruled as a founding father should have. But the former teacher chose to implement Gukurahundi in the early 1980s and chose to fight us in 2000, 2001 and 2008 with assistance from ‘Border Gezi’ youths trained to emulate “Mugabe’s revolutionary ideas, charismatic leadership and selfless policies”.
Mugabe might have vigorously pursued development and made Zimbabwe a beacon of scientific innovation and economic success. But he wilfully destroyed a thriving farming community and commercial industry for vapid party-political glory and individual acclaim. Yet today some Zimbabweans sympathise with Mugabe?
We might believe in ourselves and have fond memories of the mountains of unrestrained hope we shouldered in 1980. We might have success stories from luminaries such as Dorothy Masuka, Oliver Mtukudzi, Peter Ndlovu, Kirsty Coventry and Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira to comfort and inspire us. We might believe Zimbabwe has better leaders than Shamu, Mugabe and Emmerson Mnangagwa.
But our vast joblessness and severe destitution define us. Our shabby hospitals and clinics and 54 avoidable deaths from a cholera outbreak last September reflect our best efforts to establish a world-class health system and a world-class African country after 39 years.
Unless we start to think differently and classify Mugabe’s detrimental impact on Zimbabwe’s stunted growth as nothing to celebrate or sometimes grow teary-eyed about, we run the risk of dabbling in fantastic digressions about our mysterious potential and repeatedly accomplishing Mugabe-esque ‘successes’.
The future is grim
There is little to suggest Zanu-PF will change its illiberal ways before 2023 or 2028 and become a progressive party. The old guard is stubbornly undemocratic by nature and Zanu-PF’s rising youthful stars remain as “revolutionary” as the 21st February movement envisaged in 1986.
During January’s fuel hike protests, Zanu PF’s Youth League chairman for Harare Godwin Gomwe – a ‘leader’ with a documented history of violence towards MDC activists and officials – reportedly led an armed convoy around Harare on a mission to harm MDC Alliance supporters. After police arrested him for suspected involvement in a case of a double murder, our very own President Constantino Chiwenga reportedly ordered them to release the Zanu-PF youth leader.
This meddlesome inhumanity and murderous triple injustice is a sad but powerful microcosm of Mugabe’s real and undying legacy: murder, economic chaos and disrespect for the rule of law. Unless we set ourselves free from identifying with Mugabe’s ‘greatness’, Zimbabwe is doomed.