Outside looking in: A letter from the diaspora

Recently I have been reading some of the many books written about Zimbabwe. The question posed by all the recent publications is: after such a brilliant start for independent Zimbabwe, where did it all go wrong?

Was it Zimbabwe’s colonial history that laid the foundation for the troubles or was it the British government’s failure to keep its promises. Perhaps it was the nature of liberation ideology and its inability to adapt to changing circumstances that caused the problems. The top/down, centrist nature of Zanu PF certainly did not encourage easy relationships with the west, or, and this is the one that most authors are unsure about, was it the personality of Robert Mugabe himself that caused things to go so wrong in Zimbabwe?

Reading Robert Mugabe’s recent speech to his Zanu PF party, one is immediately struck by the fact that in Mugabe’s mind, nothing has gone wrong in Zimbabwe. But then he is still in power and for Mugabe that is all that matters. All he has to do is demonstrate to the world that all is well in Zimbabwe and anyone who says anything to the contrary is, quite simply wrong or in his words, a liar.

“They say there is violence, where there is none, fighting where there is peace, dictatorship when we are ruling together…they are peddling lies.” says Mugabe. He is speaking about Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC but in fact it could be anyone who disagrees with him, including Amnesty International, the Human Rights Forum or the 17 NGOs who this week signed a letter of protest about the ongoing harassment of Woza.

From a very young child (according to Heidi Holland’s Dinner with Mugabe, published by Penguin Books) Robert Mugabe was led to believe that he was special. He was told as much by his fanatically religious mother: he was ‘the special one’, chosen by God for high position. Consequently, he grew up with the deeply rooted conviction that he was special and whoever opposed him was simply wrong. Holland demonstrates what a complex character Mugabe is; extremely intelligent but totally lacking in what psychologists call ‘emotional intelligence.’ He is incapable of relating to others, has few close friends and only his first wife, Sally, ever really understood him or was able to soften his rigid personality.

While the west condemns him as a heartless monster who inflicts terrible suffering on his people, Mugabe the man, cannot relate to the pain he causes others. If Heidi Holland’s analysis is correct and I believe it is, then it’s not difficult to see how Mugabe’s complex personality contributed, at least in part, to Zimbabwe’s downfall. His inability to accept criticism of any kind meant that he surrounded himself with ‘yes’ men who would never disagree with him or criticise him in any way, and if they did then he would simply get rid of them. So Zimbabwe has ended up with a cabinet of mediocre ministers, incapable of independent thought. One example is Saviour Kasukuwere. He is the man who is running the ‘Indigenisation’ programme and this week he is on record as admitting that it is Zanu PF members who will mostly benefit from indigenisation – but, he says, that’s only right because the other parties disagree with the policy! With this one observation, Kasukuwere destroyed any moral justification that indigenisation was meant to benefit all Zimbabweans.

The people who knew Mugabe when he was first in power all say how much he has changed since then. He was, they claim, genuinely interested in the welfare of the common people. Was he a racist? It seems not, he even had white men in his cabinet when he first came to power. I believe the change came about with the rise of the opposition. Mugabe simply cannot tolerate opposing views and that famous image of the white farmer handing over a cheque to Morgan Tsvangirai was the start of it all. Mugabe was threatened where he is most vulnerable: his inability to accept criticism and learn from it. It is, as Heidi Holland observes, a sign of emotional immaturity. Seven university degrees may prove to Mugabe how intellectually superior he is but they do not make up for plain common sense or the ability to feel others’ pain, qualities which are essential to true leadership.

Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH. aka Pauline Henson, author of the Dube books, detective stories with a political slant set in Zimbabwe and available on Lulu.com.

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