JERRY MATEBESI: Former President Mugabe was 90% correct and 10% wrong
The legacy of former Zimbabwe President Robert Gabriel Mugabe remains a contested terrain and it ought to be understood within the context of colonialism and neo-colonialism. The deconstruction of the political space inhabited by the former president of Zimbabwe is also littered with empirical and non-empirical suppositions. There is also a pattern of structural racism invoked by those who attempt to give a subjective interpretation on the role played by President Robert Mugabe in the politics of Zimbabwe and the African continent in general.
Let’s start with the colonial perspective and how it seeks to give meaning to the role played by Mugabe in the liberation politics of former Rhodesia. Colonialism demonised Mugabe from the on-set by putting all measures in place to reject him as a political leader. Not only was he branded a terrorist by the colonial government of Ian Smith, but he was equally jailed for ten years and his basic human rights were denied.
Colonialism emasculated itself of any shred of humanity when it refused to release Mugabe for the burial of his only son with his first wife, Sally Hayfron. During the 1979 Lancaster House Conference, Britain as the coloniser agreed on everything else i.e. universal suffrage, recognition of majority rule and reconciliation, but could not commit on terms demanded by leaders of liberation movements on the question of land. The land debate lasted for over three weeks without any progress.
While the Lancaster House Conference was in session, the colonial administration of Smith and the racist government of South Africa attacked military bases of Zimbabwe’s African National Union (Zanu) and its rival Zimbabwe’s African People’s Union (Zapu) which were all operating from Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania. In its own calculations, colonialism wanted to exert pressure on Samora Machel, Kenneth Kaunda and Julius Nyerere who supported both Zanu and Zapu.
The colonists’ strategy worked and the latter leaders, fearing the continuous destabilisation campaign in their country’s accompanied by loss of life and damage to infrastructure, gave both Joshua Nkomo of Zapu and Mugabe of Zanu an ultimatum to agree on the question of land.
In a telephonic call to Mugabe in Britain, Nyerere is said to have appealed to him to sign the Lancaster House Agreement and resolve to use the constitution after elections to deal with the question of land.
The Lancaster House Agreement was signed with few principles i.e. that radical land reform in Zimbabwe would be halted for the next ten years after multiparty elections, that Britain would foot the bill for the land redistribution programme and that the principle of willing buyer, willing seller will be implemented. T
The agreement gave Africans in Zimbabwe political power and left economic power in the hands of white people. It simply meant that arable and productive land would remain in the hands of white people irrespective of the outcome of elections. Britain paid a pittance towards land reform in the early 1980s after Mugabe assumed power, but the Labour government under Tony Blair refused to continue to fund land reform in Zimbabwe.
Having beaten the Conservative Party (Tories) in the elections of 1997, the administration of Blair argued that it was not party to agreements which took place during the colonial period. On the other hand, the neo-colonial perspective equally rejected the persona of Mugabe as a liberator of his people in post-colonial Zimbabwe.
Like the colonial perspective, the neo-colonial school of thought also interpreted Mugabe’s political disposition out of the realm of hardcore politics which is dominated by the doctrine of realpolitik. The latter is characterised by sub-texts such as ‘power struggle’, ‘political calculation’, ‘elimination of enemies’ and ‘rewards for allies’.
It is the unfortunate mass slaughter of the Ndebele people in the early 80s (Gukurahundi) which is accentuated by forces of neo-colonialism to depict Mugabe as a savage and demean his standing as a political actor that made use of sub-texts mentioned above to achieve political ends.
Gukurahundi, which in Shona language means ‘the sweeping away of rubbish’, has become a useful device by forces sympathetic to the neo-colonial perspective. Empirical data on human development indicators obliterates the parochial anti-Mugabe narrative that seek to propagate the view that he never developed Zimbabwe.
For an example, records indicate that educational opportunities were extended to many Zimbabwean people in the early years of independence. Enrolments for high school improved from 2% at the time of independence to about 70% by 1990. In the same period, Zimbabwe’s literacy levels improved from 45% to 80%.
As a token of reconciliation, the Mugabe government extended an olive branch and persuaded close to 200,000 white people not to leave Zimbabwe at the time of independence. Over 4,500 commercial farmers were also allowed to continue to trade.
Structural racism as a third component used to complement the colonial and neo-colonial attacks on Mugabe is signaled by how authors such as Heidi Holland portray him as a weak leader with and ‘inferiority complex’. However, such analysis is spared on racists and colonists like Smith.
Mugabe is further caricatured in the book titled Dinner with Mugabe with epithets such as “The freedom fighter who became a tyrant.” Racist comments on the pigmentation of Mugabe’s ‘black’ skin are made in the same book to de-humanise him as a person.
Racist and subjective views that Mugabe was jealous of President Nelson Mandela are promoted with gusto. Holland’s book mentioned above has become a potent weapon of propaganda which continues to justify economic sanctions against Zimbabwe.
The seizure of land in Zimbabwe remains an important lesson to South Africa which is still debating modalities on how the land question can be resolved.
The two remaining forces of neo-colonialism and imperialism will definitely treat South Africa the same way Zimbabwe was treated when Mugabe attempted to implement the resolutions of the Lancaster House Agreement on the question of land.
Mugabe was a human being and my final conclusion on his legacy is that he was 90% correct and 10% wrong.
EFF North West spokesperson Jerry Matebesi is based in Mahikeng and writes in his personal capacity.