Happy birthday, Robert Mugabe

Zimbabwe's president celebrated his 83rd birthday on 21 February. Wilf Mbanga, former friend-turned exiled editor of The Zimbabwean, wrote this letter to him:
To the man I once loved,
Do you remember when we first met, in 1974? I was 27, you were nearing 50. The elder brother. Mukoma. We click

ed immediately. Something about my youth and eagerness touched you. I hero-worshipped you. As you articulated your vision for freedom from colonial oppression I honestly believed you were the right person to lead our country out of bondage.
You were eloquent and intelligent, a clear thinker. As a journalist, I admired these qualities. You were prepared to fight for what you believed in, a man of principle. As a man I revered that. You believed in non-racism – skin colour was irrelevant. You believed in justice, dignity, equality. So did I.
You told me – I remember it clearly – that we were not fighting the whites, but the system. An unjust system of privilege.
Do you remember when you visited me in my humble home at Beatrice Cottages? We listened to Jim Reeves and Elvis and Pat Boone and sang along and laughed together.
You revealed your soul to me, your dreams, your hopes – and I wrote your first biography, introducing you to the world through the syndication of the Argus Group. I introduced you to the ITN reporter Mike Nicholson who first captured you on film for the international media. I was so proud of you. I wanted the whole world to know about you, hear you speak.
Later, you became their darling. I was so proud.
Then, when you left to go to Mozambique, my heart went with you, my hopes for the future, for freedom, for justice, for dignity.
I was so relieved when I heard you had arrived safely. I knew then that our chimurenga – the liberation struggle – was in the right hands.
Do you remember when we met again at Geneva airport, when you arrived for the Rhodesian settlement talks? How we hugged each other and talked about home.
Once again, I was your biggest fan, and a mouthpiece for your cause. You gave me several exclusive interviews. Again they were circulated internationally.
Do you remember when I interviewed you on the eve of the announcement of the independence election results in March 1980? You told me you intended to form a government of national unity – to include everyone. Once again, we made world headlines. Your vision, my story.
And then on the day of the announcement itself. How we laughed together for joy, and you told me your heart had gone ‘boom, boom’ when the registrar-general had announced your landslide victory. How we rejoiced. Independence at last! The birth of Zimbabwe.
Do you remember when we met in your private lounge at State House a few years later? The late Justin Nyoka was there, then director of information. So too was Emmerson Mnangagwa, then minister for state security.
I was by then editor of our national news agency, Ziana. I had received disturbing reports of killings in Matabeleland. You told me these were South African-inspired and sponsored by terrorists, sent by the apartheid-regime Boers to destabilise our precious new nation and destroy our independence. Because I trusted you completely, I believed you. It made sense. I accepted it. I had utter faith in your judgment.
We travelled together much over the next decade. We were all so proud of you. I have a photograph of you holding my hand with the late Tanzanian president, Julius Nyerere, at a hotel in New Delhi. How we laughed. What good years they were.
Do you remember when I sat in the front row of the press conference you held in 2000 to launch your election campaign? By then you had come to regard me as your enemy because of my role in launching the Daily News, which was critical of your administration. You would not look at me. I remember the feelings of betrayal, disappointment and sadness that almost choked me.
We did not see each other again after that.
Today, 21 February 2007, is your birthday, Mukoma. When we met 34 years ago, I wished you long life, health and happiness. It should not have turned out like this. Zimbabwe was and is worthy of so much more.
It is not too late, Mukoma. You can still do the right thing. The people for whom you were once prepared to suffer so much are still there. They still need freedom. You once loved them enough to give your life to set them free. Can you not find it in your heart one more time to set them free?
Give up your power, Mukoma. Set our people free. Let them decide who should govern them. Stop starving and beating them, to force them to love you. The only thing that will make us love you again is for you to go, now.
Wilf Mbanga
21 February 2007

Post published in: Opinions

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