Mugabe: when the past became the present

ZIMBABWE turns 36 in a few weeks.

Powerless? ... President Robert Mugabe

Powerless? … President Robert Mugabe

Landmark events offer a time for reflection. When Independence Day arrives, it will rank as an unhappy anniversary for everyone.

There are three Zimbabwe’s: the country it is, the country it was, and the country we thought it would become.

Statistics are rude and life is tough.

Deep inside the deathlike trenches that have become our nation, most of us are exhaustively impoverished. It will be no time to celebrate.

As many as 3 million are thought to have fled. A staggering figure, when you consider the last census pegs the entire resident population at just under 13 million.

The ‘jewel of Africa’ now appears a lumbering yoke around the neck of a ravaged continent. Zimbabwe has become yet another Syria. That may need rephrasing, Syria has become another Zimbabwe!

Zimbabwe’s demise has a pantomime element; Robert Mugabe was once the doomed protagonist in a tale of heroes that fought gallantly to free the nation. He turned 92 last month. He has aged before our eyes.

In a parallel and present universe, Zimbabweans have experienced a double chastening.

The most segregated oppressive system in history, the Rhodesian pariah, has been succeeded by one that has made the same sort of history.

Zimbabwe’s past has become its present.

Independence, once an ideal has been seized by gangs that long discovered that, while hiding behind noble ideas like reform, everything could be looted and blame, responsibility and consequence could be shifted west.

Before, and until independence, the people thought the guerillas would provide them a free, safe country and the land they fought for. Those that toiled in part to unshackle the country decided otherwise.

In the present universe, Zanu PF is liberator turned oppressor, the emblem turned enemy, prodigy turned protester.

The proposed $35 million land audit which only focuses on land usage instead of land ownership epitomizes the country’s shift from colonial to contemporary colonial tyranny.

When the country gained independence 46.5% of the country’s arable land was owned by around 6,000 commercial farmers. 70% of the best farming land was owned by less than 1% of the entire population. That was in 1980.

Fast forward to 2016, a report in The Independent of 22 January 26, 2016 reveals mind blowing information gathered from a research funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and from the Commercial Farmers Union.

If 6000 white farmers were accused of owning multiple farms, 6 powerful men (all alleged members of mafia faction in Zanu PF named G40) now stand shamed for owning well over 34 farms between them. These are just the ones on record, the actual number could be way above a staggering 100.

The numbers are astonishing, the turnaround is telling.

16 years have lent context to Zanu PF’s failure; the governance has been wretched but their underachievement has become more outstanding and illuminating.

Their ideas were not all misguided, but their mistakes, such as hogging the land they were meant to redistribute, and protecting the thieves that stole, are impossible to ignore.

It would be wrong to claim the roots of Zimbabwe’s demise were deliberately imagined and sowed solely by the nonagenarian Mugabe.

Indeed Mugabe did not plan to become the leader of Zanu PF, let alone Zimbabwe. A succession of fateful eventualities and the impression of his personality opportunistically landed him there. Symbolically, in 1974, when he was elected as the leader of Zanu PF, Mugabe abstained from voting.

Perhaps that explains why Mugabe appears so passive; why, as the values of liberation have been thrown to pieces, he has not made any sort of change.

There are no indications of any strategy, ethos or policy being implemented that, whatever the short-term costs, will bring benefits in the future. The whole rot around land and leadership does not offer encouragement.

Mugabe is a man who is allowed a rare level of authority, respect and fear all across the world, yet he seems so powerless.

He is utterly unable to halt the country’s slide back into minority rule. To all our misfortune, he is miserably unable to stop Zimbabweans from dying either.

At 92, after 36 years at the helm, Mugabe still confounds. He polarises opinion, between those who feel his time is up and those who refuse to recognise signs of deterioration in and during his leadership.

Joice Mujuru, fired by Mugabe, is generating the sort of excitement Mugabe once did. She is 60 and was a key figure in the 34 years of Mugabe’s misrule. But she offers a sense of endless possibilities, of glorious potential, of better times to come. She is the future, and Mugabe was the future once.

Maynard Manyowa is a political analyst and social commentator. This article appears on his blog – www.maynardmanyowa.com

 

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