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Obituary by Lloyd Msipa: Robert Mugabe, infallible and fallible in equal measure

By Lloyd Msipa

The great liberator Robert Mugabe is no more. The first leader of a post-colonial Zimbabwe has died at the age ninety-five.

President Robert Mugabe has been in power for 36 uninterrupted years
The late former President Robert Mugabe

A teacher by profession, Robert Mugabe was introduced to nationalistic politics by Cephas George Msipa, his maternal uncle whom he visited in the 1960s from Ghana where he was teaching.

Armed with Kwame Nkrumah doctrine he was invited to join ZAPU (Zimbabwe African Peoples Union) formed in 1961 by unionist Joshua Nkomo and James Chikerema.

He was to later break away and form ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union) after ZAPU was banned by Ian Smith. The rest is history.

The narrative we use to look at this great man is important. Robert Mugabe was infallible as much as he was fallible. In other words, he was a great leader and human at the same time. He made his mistakes, and he had his many successes.

Reconciliation and Rainbow Nation

When Robert Mugabe became Prime Minister in 1980 following the Lancaster house negotiations and elections, he espoused the principle of reconciliation amongst black and white Zimbabweans who were at war with each other before 1980.

His government in 1980 was reflective of this reconciliation stance and saw the appointment of former Rhodesian ministers like David Smith who was appointed Minister of Industry and Commerce and Dennis Norman as Minister of Agriculture.

Gukurahundi in the 1980s

Following disagreements between ZAPU and ZANU post 1980, the key revolutionary parties, civil war broke out between government and disgruntled members of the military wing of ZAPU, ZIPRA (Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army).

Robert Mugabe sent a North Korean trained 5th brigade army unit into the Midlands and Matebeleland to deal with the civil law. This resulted in the death of many civilians. Robert Mugabe was accused of heavy handedness and to make it worse he refused to apologize choosing to call it ‘a moment of madness’.

Robert Mugabe most educated president in the world

Perhaps, his greatest positive legacy was his education policy. Being a teacher by profession he championed free compulsory primary and secondary for all Zimbabweans. The right to education was made into law in the national constitution that recognised education as a basic human right.

Payment of tuition was abolished after independence as to bring to reality this education miracle which today has seen Zimbabweans being considered the most educated in Africa. Zimbabweans are spread all over the world and doing quite well as a result of this policy. This is one of the many legacies that defined his leadership.

‘Keep your England and let me keep my Zimbabwe” – Robert Mugabe

One of the key areas agreed on at Lancaster was the issue of the land, how it was to be distributed and who was to pay for it ‘on a willing buyer, willing seller basis’. It is on record that the labour government of Tony Blair renegaded on this agreement leading to Zimbabweans taking it upon themselves to grab land from the white commercial farmers without paying any compensation.

If I may add that the issue of land was key to the war of liberation. Yes, the war veterans who largely led the land grabs used excessive force resulting in the deaths of many white commercial farmers.

This resulted in America and the European union imposing economic sanctions on Zimbabwe citing gross human rights violations. The language used by the then president did not help foster relations internationally. These sanctions were to lead to deep economic troubles that still trouble the southern African nation today.

Overstayed his welcome

Like most African leaders, Robert Mugabe overstayed his welcome. He failed to adhere to the old age African adage ‘hushe madzoro’ (leaders must change). Even those close to him told him time and time again to step down as the economy worsened. After Robert Mugabe lost his first wife Sally Mugabe, many would argue that he became a changed man. His marriage to Grace Mugabe sees his leadership style change as he became less and less tolerant.

As he aged his wife Grace Mugabe became more and more influential. He had become a conduit of his wife’s desires to manifest. Close individuals including the late Cephas George Msipa, his maternal uncle advised him to step down and write his memoirs. This never happened until he had to be stampeded out of power by the military on November 2017.

Rest in peace Gushungo

Whatever we do. The narrative we use to describe Robert Mugabe must consider the fact, like you and me, he was human. He had his successes and his failures. But for me, his successes stand out more than his failures.

He remains the big revolutionary icon that liberated Zimbabwe and Africa in general. My biggest regret however is he died without writing his memoirs. Zimbabwean history would have been richer if he had written his thoughts, for now the grave remains the richest place on earth. Rest in peace Gushungo, wafa wanaka.