The good, bad and ugly legacy of Robert Mugabe

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By Marshall Bwanya

FORMER President Robert Mugabe’s legacy is a complex, contested terrain with divergent views and opinions.

In his legacy lies the good, bad and ugly.

He was a multi-faceted individual that cannot be dissected at face value.

No individual can disqualify his contribution to the liberation of Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole.

Equally no one can nullify his tyranny during his tenure as Zimbabwean leader.

Mugabe was such a polarising figure depending on one’s generation, ethnicity, social class, race, colour, creed, political affiliation and religion.

What Mugabe meant to a Zimbabwean in Mbare (Harare), Makokoba (Bulawayo), Bindura, Borrowdale (Harare), Hilbrow (Johannesburg, South Africa), diaspora, or you are a farmer, vendor or hustlers, was totally different among these groups.

Some remember Mugabe as an outspoken demagogue and orator who defied western imperialism.

Charming, fluent, eloquent in all his speeches, a trait and quality he possessed, which most African leaders did not.

His speeches and responses were fascinating and always gaining traction in the global world.

At one point, during an interview, he was asked by a journalist, “Sir, don’t you think at 89 years would be a great time to retire as President?”

Calm and collected, he responded, “Have you ever asked the Queen that question, or is it just for African leaders?”

Since 1960, the inception of his political career when he was voted as National Democratic Party (NDP) secretary general, Mugabe became a revolutionary icon who played a critical role in the independence of Zimbabwe.

When Mugabe left ZAPU in 1963 to join ZANU PF, the late father Joshua Nkomo bemoaned the loss of a young vibrant pan africanist that showed much promise and potential.

In 1964, Mugabe with other leaders were incarcerated by Ian Smith’s colonial Rhodesian Front government, a sentence he served up to 1975.

Upon his release, Mugabe rejoined Zanu PF and was pivotal figure in brokering the 1979 Lancaster House Agreement that paved way for the birth of Zimbabwe and black majority rule.

He was the only African leader with the guts to tell then British Prime Minister Tony Blair in his face, “Blair keep your England, and let me keep my Zimbabwe” when all other African leaders were whipped into line, passive and docile.

Arguably his greatest exploit from a black African perspective was the Land Reform Programme although it was violent, chaotic and brutal.

Currently, Zimbabwe is arguably the only African country where indigenous blacks do not have an inferiority complex because of the complexion of their colour, thanks to Mugabe.

That is how black farmers, and pan africanist would perhaps through the courtesy of voluntary amnesia remember Robert Mugabe.

However, the 1983-1987 Gukurahundi massacres, the unpopular 2005 operation Murambatsvina, the 2008 political violence, and the brutal clampdown on political activists and human rights defenders taint the image of Mugabe as a liberator.

Twenty thousand majority Ndebeles were killed in the Gukurahundi massacres by the lethal infamous 5th brigade unleashed in Matelebeland and Midlands provinces in the period.

1984 marked the climax of internal disturbances.

Mugabe emerges as a leader obsessed by the survival of his party rather national interests.

Dealing with his adversaries and further calling on for a one party state.

An idea he would later drop after signing the Unity Accord.

The ZAPU problem from a Mugabe perspective was a regionalised conundrum with a Ndebele ethnic outlook that needed to be uprooted by force.

Yet he himself had been in ZAPU up to 1963.

Though Mugabe and the late Father Zimbabwe Joshua Nkomo later on signed the Unity Accord in 1987 the country has still not undergone a genuine national healing process.

Most Ndebele speaking people are still bitter, traumatised, and harbour a grudge over the Gukurahundi massacres.

The following generation inherited this bitterness and animosity.

It is because of Mugabe that the nation is still divided along tribal lines.

Operation Murambatsvina displaced many families which lost their property.

In 2008, thousands were killed and maimed in a bloody political presidential run-off that later saw then MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai pulling out citing violence and gross human violations.

Some political analysts would like to think the death of Mugabe signals the “end or an Era”.

In my humble opinion, I disagree, the death of Mugabe is not the end of Mugabeism.

A corrupt, nepotistic form of governance still entrenched in our system.

It is because of Mugabe that we are in this political and economic mess that following generations are going to experience its ripple effects.

Mugabe’s allies, henchmen in ZANU PF who benefited from his infamous indigenisation programme, looting businesses and procuring 51 percent stake of companies, will remember him as an empowering figure who lined their pockets and elevated their livelihoods.

Opposition politicians, activists, remember Mugabe as a vile murderer, rapist, and brutal tyrant who abused, tormented and violated their democratic and human rights.

A man who accumulated power for his own selfish interests and aggrandisement.

A leader who, for 38 years, held the nation to ransom, treating it like it was his own backyard.

Mugabe overthrew Smith’s oppressive system only to maintain it with himself at the helm.

Removing the head of an evil system only to retain its power is clearly not revolutionary at all.

Mugabe left a structured authority, a cook book for anyone to be dictator no matter who they were.

How to undermine the judiciary and civil rights.

Above all, how to deny being the perpetrator of the crime.

That in all the evils he did he pass away without accounting to anyone.

Some lost kin and kith, while others lost their lives, body parts and freedoms.

While others were abducted, tortured and bore the scars and consequences of defying Robert Mugabe.

A man who left a vicious trail of blood, animosity and divisions on his fellow countrymen.

Not all celebrate his legacy, not all mourn his demise in the country.

That is the legacy of the Robert Mugabe we know.