*This is an archive article penned approximately a year ago, originally published on a platform that has recently announced its decision to close. Since its initial publication the content has not been edited, and may as a consequence be out of date. There is though a timeless quality to the theme and much of the detail, without any obvious need for revisionism or retraction. *
Faced with a potential prospect of its very own Mount Paektu bloodline, Robert Mugabe’s intention to elevate wife Grace within the ranks of Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF appears to have been a step beyond what the country was willing to accept from the 93 year old, now former President.
Forty years Mugabe’s junior power by association has undoubtedly corrupted Grace Mugabe, whose humble beginnings as the president’s secretary are easily forgotten, especially during recent times when accusations of taking advantage of the nonagenarian and in effect being the power behind the throne gained significant traction. Known for her lavish spending and alleged violent outbursts, the modern-day Grace had little time or empathy for Zimbabwe’s impoverished classes – many of whom suffered due to sanctions predicated on President Mugabe’s destructive whims that included ruinous land grabs from competent white farmers.
Although African politics can often be byzantine in its complexity there appeared to be a line that was crossed by the Mugabe administration when Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa was seemingly sacked to make way for Grace Mugabe. With her husband hardly being in the first flush of youth it became clear that a definable path to power was being plotted for the 52-year-old; a prospect none within the Zanu-PF were willing to contemplate. Entertaining the blandishments of Robert Mugabe and the course he has plotted for the former Rhodesia was one thing, but elevating a parvenu as a de facto successor sounded the beginning of the end to his 37 year reign.
Perhaps minded of things to come which would only serve to highlight the widening disparity between the ruling family and everyday Zimbabweans, those within the Zanu-PF and indeed bitter opponents the Movement for Democratic Change(MDC) couldn’t fail to be sickened by recent photographic evidence emerging of two of the Mugabe children pouring expensive champagne over a £40,000+ diamond encrusted watch; not only because they could, but because their father was president. Such mindless extravagance not only pointed to a grim future for Zimbabwe but also betrayed the Marxist convictions of Mugabe the freedom fighter, the political prisoner born into Southern Rhodesian poverty.
Britain’s colonial past is shocking, and with little of which to be proud. Whilst certain advantages and technological advancements were bequeathed to conquered lands it is only to be expected that a backlash against minority white rule would materialise. Zimbabwe has though become something of a special case, where poverty has increased since sophisticated and successful white-owned farms were seized by the state, often without compensation. Without the agricultural expertise and experience of the farms’ former owners output dramatically plummeted, not only leaving large swathes of Zimbabwe’s population impoverished but also at the risk of malnutrition. Africa’s former breadbasket rapidly became a basket case.
Although it is expected that the seized farms will stay in the hands of those to whom they were granted, a new future for Zimbabwe would surely gain from the former landowners being adequately compensated for their losses. There would also be a huge benefit to the country if former farmers could be brought back into the fold as advisers on best practice, although it will take significant powers of reconciliation for both parties to bury the past and look to a brighter, more unified future for Zimbabwe.
Those that hold on to their personal fiefdom never really know when to say goodbye without being nudged or pushed. Akin to a few dollars more being enough money, the right time to say goodbye is rarely identified by those with despotic tendencies. It often takes a coup, and not always one that is bloodless, for the decision to be taken out of the hands of a leader whose welcome has long been outstayed.
It is sad that Mugabe will be remembered more for the carefully constructed cult of personality he cultivated and material excesses that ultimately separated him from his roots and idealistic beginnings. As an antidote to imperialism Mugabe was an African hero, but whose feet of clay ultimately displayed a liking for Western capitalism over the austere Marxist principles that initially underpinned his revolutionary ideology. Those of an autocratic persuasion come to believe that the state they govern is more a personal plaything, of having first refusal of its riches and natural resources. I very much doubt when fighting for independence this was Mugabe’s intention but the corrupting influences of power, money, and an initially obsequious population critically altered this charismatic but fatally flawed individual. Nevertheless, I wish him a peaceful but reflective retirement.