When Zimbabwean leaders are so fearful of their own citizens, it’s not the nation’s fault, but the leaders themselves

One thing that most of us in Zimbabwe grew up being bewildered with, was always watching on the daily main news bulletin, the president moving around completely surrounded by bodyguards - actually, he would be immersed within the multitude of armed men, that it would be so difficult to spot him (more like those "Where's Wally" games we used to play as kids) - in addition to the occasional encounter, on the highway, with the never-ending motorcade (with its noisy and irritating wailing), swarmed by the same ever-angry protection bouncers.

Tendai Ruben Mbofana


No one ever gets used to those disturbing images.

In fact, I remember, as primary school boys in the 1980s, my late best friend Brian Murau and I, were standing atop one of the tallest building complexes in our home town of Redcliff (an eight-storey highrise block of flats known as Palm Court), whilst watching the then president, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, arrive at the nearby Hotel Redcliff – obviously, in the midst of a sea of bodyguards.

We could clearly see the whole scenery from above, and I recall asking each other why a leader of a country would feel the need for such heavy protection against ‘his own people’ (who, as a matter of fact, ostensibly chose him) and, wondered just how safe he was anyway, considering that we (at the top of that tall building) had such easy shot of him.

What baffled us then (as mere little primary school boys, who found pleasure hanging out on top of the high rise black of flats, whilst watching the ‘little’ people below), and still confuses me today, as a 47 year old half-grey-haired man, is why a leader – who claims to have been freely, fairly, most credibly, and peacefully elected by the people – ends up being so overwhelmed with fear of the same people.

I always say to my wife, Tinta, that if ever there was a person in a bigger prison than even the most dangerous criminal incarcerated at Zimbabwe’s high security prison, then that would be the president – as he can not even take a walk to the nearest shopping centre to buy a newspaper, or stroll in the park with his darling spouse, or even have a good night’s sleep due to crippling fear of being assassinated, or being plotted against.

Yet, we have witnessed numerous presidents of other nations freely moving around their own citizens (and, meeting and mingling with them), as well as jogging every morning in the neighborhood, and even riding to work on a bicycle – all this, without much protection, save for one or two aides.

The joke I used to love telling was that, the last time a person like Mugabe ever saw the real Zimbabwe (which he claimed to rule over) was on 17 April 1980, a day before the country attained its independence from Britain, and sworn in as prime minister – since, from then onwards, his life was always sheltered from the rest of the ‘real’ country, such that even when traveling in his ‘ZIM 1’ car, both sides would be shielded by outriders.

I then wonder – why do these people even want to become president – what more, prepared to fight and kill for the position? What joy is truly there, when one is always gripped by unparalleled fear, and can not even be free in, and freely enjoy, the country he alleges to lead?

The bigger question is, “Whose fault is it anyway”?

Our state-controlled media is always fond of referring to the president and his wife as, “the father and mother of the nation”.

I absolutely do not agree with such an assertion, since that is an antiquated concept derived for medieval monarchical ages – whereby, kings and queens were revered as some form of deity, whose family lineage had been anointed by God to rule over the nation – yet, in a constitutional democracy, where the president is elected by the people themselves (such as in Zimbabwe) he is answerable to them, and as such, can never be their father.

Since when have children elected who their father (and mother) should be?

However, for the sake of this discourse, I will humour those who still believe that the president and his wife are our elected ‘fathers and mothers’, and dare ask, “Why in the world would a parent fear his or her own children?”

In the case of our own Zimbabwe, it needs no rocket scientist to figure it out. Simply put, our leaders are abusive, brutal, inconsiderate, unloving, and oppressive. They take all the family resources – that should benefit every member equitably – and, prodigally and frivolously spend then all on themselves, whilst the rest wallow in poverty, hunger, and misery.

Furthermore, the ‘father’ has absolutely no qualms brutalizing any of his ‘children’ who dare cry out of hunger, or ask for schools fees, or clothes to wear.

When a ‘father’ behaves so irresponsibly and cruelly, of course, he has every reason to fear the burning anger and wrath of this ‘children’ – who, one day, will say, “enough is enough you old man”, and possibly take unexpected action.

As much as the ‘father’ may attempt to buy time by instilling fear in his ‘children’ – by brazen brutality – but the one who is incapacitated by immeasurable fear will be the ‘father’ himself, for he knows fully well that, once the ‘children’ have had enough of the bullying, their fear will disappear.

No wonder the ‘father’ is always haunted by nightmares of being plotted against, and images of his ‘children’ planning to ‘illegally remove him’ – as those are the signs and symptoms of a man whose mind has become unsettled, due to pure fear of his own actions against his own ‘children’ – and, will, indeed, forever live in unbridled fear, surrounded by a prison walls of cold comfort protection.

© Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, author, and political commentator. Please feel free to contact him on WhatsApp/Call: +263715667700, or Calls Only: +263782283975 / +263733399640, or email: [email protected]

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