Were President Robert Mugabe ever to agree to a session of psychoanalysis; I would love to be a fly on the wall. And from my vantage position, I would love to discover the inner workings and complexities of his mind. It would be, I think, a revealing and rewarding experience to discover the bases for his motivation(s), ambitions, fears, and possible neuroses. It would also be an opportunity to discover what, if any, delusions exist within his psychological make up. But most of all, it would be an opportunity to discover his true origins; for after all, Voltaire, the French philosopher, did say that planet earth was an asylum, to which, other planets, consigned their odd balls.
But in the absence of observing Mugabe on a psychiatrist’s couch; one’s assessment of him will have to be based on his public persona; a persona which points to his being a complex and enigmatic personality. At eighty-four years of age, he belies his advanced years by reason of his sprightliness. Pugnacious and supremely self-confident; he is never afraid of confrontational situations, and relishes every opportunity to engage in political battles. And just as during the days of the struggle for independence, so too in recent times, his opponent of choice is the British government; with whom he crosses swords regularly.
Blessed with a robust intellect; as evidenced by his attainment of seven university degrees; most of which were acquired during his confinement as a political internee. His acquisition of so many academic laurels, in such circumstances, is a testimony to his resilience and capacity to thrive on adversity. Complementing his robust intellect is his lucid tongue which he often uses to traduce his opponents.
While there is much to be admired about Mugabe, there is unfortunately, much also about him that is to be despised. Like many other leaders of the ‘sit-tight’ variety, he has an extraordinary propensity for ruthlessness. This malady often precludes him from tolerating any dissension to his rule. And on different occasions, this character defect has manifested itself in the callous treatment of his opponents, regardless of their standing and contributions to Zimbabwe; people such as – the late Joshua Nkomo; the Reverend Canaan Banana; and Morgan Tsvangirai; to mention just a few of his more notable victims.
One of the most worrying manifestations of this ruthless streak was to be seen in 1987; when about 20,000 people in Matabeleland were massacred, in what was widely seen as a government sponsored pogrom. It was a dreadful episode, and it epitomised the worst of Mugabe’s excesses. It is one episode that will remain an indelible stain on whatever legacy he leaves behind. It is difficult to reconcile in one’s mind, how a man, who was once himself, the victim of State orchestrated brutality, could in his turn, inflict such barbarity on others.
Once again Mugabe and Zimbabwe dominate the international news headlines; but for all the wrong reasons. Elections were held almost a month ago and the results have only just been released; and only after a recount of votes on, Mugabe’s orders, in respect of results which were never originally published officially. This is a curious development. And one which rouses the suspicion, that Mugabe did not fare as well, as has had hoped to, in the elections.
Given the fact that Mugabe has been Zimbabwe’s only post independence leader; I find it intriguing that he bothers with elections at all. Perhaps within him, lies a democratic flame, engendered during the days of the struggle, which he has not been able to extinguish. But then his abiding faith in the democratic process appears to be based on the calculation, that conducting elections are fine, in so far as he emerges as the winner.
But as unedifying as the current spectacle in Zimbabwe is; it would be simplistic to ascribe the totality of the blame to Mugabe. There are other forces at play, within and without, Zimbabwe dedicated to undermining Mugabe’s and Zimbabwe’s position. These are the neo-colonial forces beholden to the memory and vision of Cecil Rhodes who refuse to see Zimbabwe as anything other than ‘Rhodesia’; and would like to see it administered, even if only by proxy, along colonial lines.
These forces are particularly displeased with Mugabe over three key issues: 1) his land redistribution policy; which is unfavourable to the white minority population 2) his stance on homosexuality; he is opposed to it 3) his closeness to the Chinese; which threaten Britain’s economic interests in Zimbabwe.
All of these issues have put him firmly in the ‘cross-hairs’ of these neo-colonial forces; who are behind a concerted international campaign intent on demonising him. But what this campaign has succeeded in doing is revive bitter memories in the minds of Mugabe and others, about their nation’s colonial past. And given Britain’s less than transparent and stellar dealings with Zimbabwe in the past; their present antipathy towards Mugabe has only served to strengthen his hand and attract the sympathy of those who recall Britain’s duplicitous and ‘forked tongue’ approach towards that nation.
Fifty years ago, almost; British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, stood before South Africa’s parliament, to declare that the ‘wind of change’ was blowing through Africa. It was a welcome, but surprising speech, coming from a man of Macmillan’s political leanings and aristocratic standing in British high society; a social class which saw Empire as the crown of their entitlement. It is unlikely that Macmillan’s declaration was inspired by a spirit of benevolence. More likely, it seems that it was made out of the cold realisation; that the swing of the ‘colonial pendulum’, that had for so long swung in favour of British territorial advancement, was finally in its reverse swing; thus, heralding the end of Empire in Africa.
It is ironic, that Macmillan, back then, would choose, as the location and venue for his declaration – a nation and political assembly – that had shown nothing but contempt for the principle of representative government on a majority rule basis. Indeed, true to form, it was to be thirty-four years from that ‘wind of change’ proclamation, before the government of South Africa was to cede control to its majority population. Zimbabwe was to fare only marginally better; in its case, it was to be twenty years before majority rule was attained.
As part of the handover of power to the majority population of Zimbabwe; Britain agreed to underwrite the crucial land redistribution programme; designed to redress the disproportionate land holding of the white minority population. Soon after his assumption of office, Mugabe, it is understood, sought to pursue its implementation; but was discouraged from doing so by certain powerful interests; on the grounds that it would have negative repercussions in respect of the release of notable political prisoners in South Africa and the eventual emancipation of that nation. So Mugabe abandoned his plans and bided his time.
Soon after the South African situation was resolved; Mugabe once again decided to revisit the issue. But his timing coincided with the coming into office of Tony Blair’s labour government in Britain. Mugabe’s decision was to provoke the ire of the Blair government which behind the scenes took exception to his plans to introduce parity into the land holding situation in Zimbabwe. Britain’s overriding concern being to retain the status quo in favour of their ‘kith and kin’ in Zimbabwe.
This was much in keeping with the approach of another labour British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, who refused to take action against Ian Smith after his Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI); on the grounds that he could not be expected to raise arms against his ‘kith and kin’. The inference could not be mistaken; had the indigenous people issued a UDI; he would have shown no compunction whatsoever in raising arms against them.
So often in its dealings with Africa, Britain has displayed a ‘short memory’ in relation to its colonial past. Africans, in contrast, retain a ‘long memory’ to their past experiences; and Mugabe more than most. But unfortunately Mugabe’s hatred or dislike for the British is not balanced by a love for his people. But this notwithstanding, much of his motivation and actions are driven by this anti-colonial mindset.
For this reason, Mugabe has, in his many feuds with Britain, come to see himself as the defender and champion of Zimbabwe’s sovereignty. One opposed to any back door attempts to re-impose colonialism in his nation. And in this role, he has won the support of many across and beyond Africa; who despise Britain’s paternalistic, condescending, and duplicitous approach towards Zimbabwe, and much of Africa. This, to a very large extent, explains President Thabo Mbeki’s ‘passive aggressive’ stance towards Britain and his refusal to toe their hard-line approach towards Mugabe.
In 2002, during the ‘Earth Summit’ in South Africa, Mugabe took the opportunity to rebuke Britain and Tony Blair openly on an international platform for their interference in his nation’s affairs; doing so in the following terms:
We do not mind having and bearing sanctions banning us from Europe.
We are not English, we are not Europeans.
We have not asked for any square inch of that territory.”
“Let no one interfere in the internal affairs of our nation.
So, Blair, keep your England and let me keep my Zimbabwe.”
It is difficult to fault Mugabe’s logic. Britain ought to be properly concerned with matters affecting its own territory and no one else’s. It should not be seen to be attempting to take back with the ‘left hand that which it gave with its right.’ Put simply; Britain should mind its own business.
But what is also interesting about Mugabe’s above rebuke for Britain; is that he sees Zimbabwe as belonging to him. And this is also a problem. For as long as he sees Zimbabwe as belonging to him; he is less likely to want to cede control to someone else. Someone needs to point out the difference to him. He is a servant of Zimbabwe, not its owner. He needs to get busy with some credible succession planning.
Ordinarily, one would have little sympathy for Mugabe; given the fact that he has long overstayed his time in power; never mind his multiple electoral victories. These victories simply expose a material defect in Zimbabwe’s Constitution. The lack of presidential term limits. It is an area which requires addressing urgently. In monopolising power as he has, Mugabe has denied his nation the opportunity of experiencing new ideas and charting a different, if not, an altogether new course. However, in standing up to the neo-colonialists, he has the sympathy and support of all well meaning Africans.
But if the truth be told; Zimbabwe at this point in its history, deserves much better than Mugabe. He represents their past and not their future. I also believe that Zimbabwe deserves much better than Morgan Tsvangirai too. I am not quite sure what he represents. But he does not fill me with confidence. He has that self-satisfied mean look about him; a look to be seen in many an oppressive African leader. But worse still, he appears to be too beholden to Britain, to be capable of independent mindedness and action.
Zimbabwe needs to look within, and not without, for a solution to its problems. Were Mugabe to refuse to relinquish power on a voluntary basis anytime soon; Zimbabwe should rest assured, that Mother Nature will take her course and render him surplus to requirements. But going forward; the youth of Zimbabwe must take hold of their nation’s destiny and effect meaningful change. But in doing so, they must resist the temptation of looking to their former colonial occupiers for help in this regard; they must beware of ‘Greeks bearing false gifts’. Things may not be so good under Mugabe; and God knows they have endured a torrid time under him; but they must never forget the wisdom of Thomas Fuller – who once counselled that:
‘A lean liberty is better than a fat slavery’
Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika – God bless Africa