Mugabe faces unprecedented ridicule


BY GIFT PHIRI
HARARE - President Robert Mugabe, in power since independence in 1980, is now the subject of

embarrassing insults from angry members of the public reeling from a biting economic crunch, which many blame on the 82-year-old leader’s rule which they charge has outgrown its usefulness.
In the early years of independence, Mugabe was viewed with such reverence that it was taboo for anyone to criticise him publicly. Instant justice was meted out to anyone who dared.
But now, with a deepening economic crisis characterized by hyperinflation, mass poverty, daily price rises and a serious commodity shortage, the President is facing a dramatic change in fortunes through a massive slide in popularity ratings.
And it is not only at home where his 27-year rule is being roundly condemned, he has also earned himself a reputation as an international tyrant.
In Scotland, the Edinburgh University is thinking of stripping the veteran ruler of an honorary degree it conferred on Mugabe in 1984. The university said last week “the episode of awarding a degree to Mugabe has been embarrassing for the university which gave the award in good faith and which, rightly celebrates its connection with Africa.”
Back at home, it is now commonplace to hear Mugabe being subjected to all kinds of ridicule, especially over plans to illegally extend his mandate by another two years. The public expression of anger is widespread, in kombis, in hotels, in nightclubs, through SMS, at soccer matches, in the homes and at workplaces.
The few who still regard Mugabe highly are careful to air their opinions behind closed doors, for fear of being branded boot lickers or ignorant persons.
In fact, it can be argued those who still admire Mugabe do so in the hope of being thrown a scrap from his overflowing table, or because they have already been rewarded handsomely for their loyalty. Such is the politics of patronage pervading Zimbabwe today.
While Mugabe is arguably the most unpopular man in Zimbabwe today – a few individuals have gone out of their way to publicly demonstrate their negative feelings towards him.
Obviously, such dramatic acts have not been taken lightly by the State, which has been quick to prosecute, using the vast array of draconian and often flimsy laws at its disposal. The most notorious of these is the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act and the Public Order and Security, which many believe should be relegated to the dustbin of history on account of its violations of fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression and
association.
In August last year, Tichaona Muchabaiwa, a Comoil fuel dealer was arrested at a cash search and seize roadblock in Mazowe on allegations of shouting insults undermining the authority of President Mugabe.
Since then more than 30 people have been arrested for slandering Mugabe. In Harare last month, Gerald Murota, perhaps spurred on by the drinks he had consumed, allegedly walked up to a uniformed police officer and said: “Why don’t you go and arrest Mugabe?” He was arrested and charged.
The reasons for the various arrests have been varied, including Hitler jibes targeted at Mugabe. Earlier this month a man was arrested in Chitungwiza after shouting in a kombi that he wished the US government could bring Baghdad-style carnage to Harare and help in toppling Mugabe. He was charged under the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act for making subversive statements.
In Masvingo two weeks ago a man was arrested after pointing at a picture of Mugabe during a TV news bulletin in a bar and shouting if the president died, Zimbabwe crisis would end. Selestin Jengeta, a teacher, spent three days in in police custody over the remarks last month.
Gibson Murinye and Collen Mwachikopa were hauled before Masvingo provincial Magistrate, Timeon Makunde, accused of undermining or insulting the President as defined by a chapter of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act. They were singing a song alolegeing that the president was impotent.
They were allegedly singing: “Bob hauna mwana, tora vana vaPamire udzorere kudzinza ravo, Mugabe chibva hatikendenge chero wakabata pfuti.”(Bob, you have no child; take Pamire’s children and return them to their roots. Mugabe, leave office now; we don’t care if you are armed with a gun.)
Still fresh in many people’s minds in the capital is the recent Oliver Mtukudzi show at the Andy Miller Hall where revelLers gave the middle finger to a portrait of Mugabe hanging on the walls of the show’s venue while Tuku belted out his massively popular hit track, Bvuma, which ridicules old men who refuse to accept that age has caught up with them. As has become the norm at most shows, people waved open palms – the campaign symbols of the opposition MDC.
Four people were whisked away by police and subsequently accused of inciting people to insult the person of the president. The state has, however, dropped the charges and has said it will proceed by way of summons, if need be.
A senior police officer told The Zimbabwean this week: “Mudhara ava liability manje (President Mugabe is now a liability.) I sincerely think it is time for him to make a dignified exit. People have suffered enough.”

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