The contradictory legacy Robert Mugabe's left behind

Opinion /  / 

A mourner holds a poster of Robert Mugabe during the viewing of his body as it lies in state at the Rufaro stadium, in Mbare. Photo: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko.

The streets of Harare remain the same: dirty, decrepit while people are looking for fuel and power, and hardly seem concerned that the man most of them knew as their leader all their lives has died. 

Quietly, far away, in Singapore, with his difficult wife as his only comfort. 

Even hours after his death was announced, the flags had not been put to half mast and life in Zimbabwe continued.

The man who was in power for nearly 40 years and who dismantled the economy was gone. Some of his main loyalists remain in exile since the coup d’etat of 2017.

Robert Mugabe’s legacy has deteriorated, almost every asset of independence is gone or has deteriorated, Air Zimbabwe has no planes, very little of the railways operate at even half the capacity, and food aid is going out at present as Zimbabwe has not been able to feed itself since the land grabs began in 2000. 

There is only eight hours of electricity a day, as the main power station at Hwange is not working properly.

The only university and the many tertiary education institutions, including the medical school, cannot produce graduates whose qualifications are recognised outside of Zimbabwe. And Zimbabwe was once the most literate country in Africa. 

But when some speak openly about Mugabe, most seem to regret that he was ousted from power, as their financial situation is so grave; few realise that the economic slide was inevitable from Mugabe’s policies when he was returned to power in 2013. 

He and his colleagues, including President Emmerson Mnanagwa spent more than the country earned, particularly from 2000 when the economy was turned upside down by the confiscation of 90% of productive farms, taken from whites. 

The grave financial crisis the country finds itself is not only of Mugabe's making, but all in Zanu-PF. And the opposition MDC Alliance’s recent policy document, Reboot, has few ideas of how to fix the economy either.

Canadian historian David Moore, a senior academic in South Africa and long-standing Zimbabwe analyst, has said: “Mugabe’s way of keeping power was to do two things: to create factional disputes and conflict, and they were exacerbated as he grew older, and now they are exacerbated even within his own party, not to mention the disputes with other opposition figures from the past. 

“One would be very hard pressed to say that Mugabe's legacy was good.

“It is interesting that people are now much more critical than one would expect, they tend to say he was a great liberation war hero but they criticise him for the land reform programme and his capitulation to the veterans of the liberation war.”

Moore said that during the bush war, and while he was in detention in Rhodesia, Mugabe created a coup within his own party to take over the leadership, and he also fought with his war time allies which led to post independence massacres of opposition supporters in southern Zimbabwe.  

"So one can’t even say he was a great liberation hero. What he was, was someone who could manage and manipulate the many divisions in Zimbabwe society, and he did that by exacerbating them - that is the contradictory legacy that he has left behind. 

“I am not sure that anyone else would be able to  perpetuate those sorts of divisive politics for as long as he was able to do it, until it finally destroyed him and probably destroyed his (Zanu-PF) party.”

Many in Zimbabwe say that Mugabe’s governance deteriorated after he married Grace, 41 years his junior, with whom he had two children. 

His eldest child, Bona, was born before his wife Sally died. Sally’s son with Mugabe died of malaria in Ghana, while he served ten years in detention, and she miscarried after she was arrested in Rhodesia.

By the time he was released from detention, Sally was too old to bear any more children.

Grace was poorly educated, and became wildly extravagant, and it was via her, and her gross overspending on their mansion in 2001, that Mugabe was found, for the first time, to have spent more than he earned.

And she never stopped spending. Everywhere she went, through malls in Dubai, Malaysia, Singapore, and Paris, before the two were banned from travelling to Europe.

One of his former colleagues, the late Edison Zvobgo - a sharp and witty man - was in detention with Mugabe and said he struggled with his education. 

He recalled, often with a laugh, that he used to have to help him with his essays.

Mugabe had no friends as a child, as his relative James Chikerema revealed, and he had no known close friends as an adult. 

But he was close to his three children, two of whom have had troubled lives and were expelled from the UAE where they were studying.

But on the streets, Pamela Lewiston, a tour guide said, “Whilst we don’t speak ill about deceased people, I really don’t feel sorry for Mugabe. He is responsible for all the bad things that happened to Zimbabwe and all the difficulty that people are going though because of his bad policies. He presided over Gukuruhundi (post independence massacres of opposition supporters), violent land reform, rigged elections.”

A hotel clerk in Bulawayo who did not want to be named, said: “We will forever miss this old man and I am sorry that I am one of those people who celebrated when he was deposed but now know that he was right. Bread was a dollar, now it is ten dollars. Fuel queues came after he was out of office. Now we have no fuel. Now we have no electricity, nor water, and our lives are more difficult than under Mugabe. So I am sorry he is gone.” 

Zimbabwe had a hard birth: from a horrifying civil war, with atrocities committed by both sides, Rhodesian and South African saboteurs creating havoc by blowing up the airforce and Zanu-PF headquarters, several political assassinations to small invasions into the south of the country. 

But despite that, Mugabe had massive support even from the ever diminishing white population and particularly white farmers, many of whom prospered and expanded after independence.

The difficult land reform programme, based on the concept of willing buyer willing seller was abandoned five years after it began. 

But within a few years of independence, black farmers grew more maize than the whites who largely abandoned it, because there were few profits.

For a while, after the massacres in Matabeleland, Zimbabwe seemed to prosper, although most of its factories had closed as they could not compete in the world when sanctions against Rhodesia were lifted.

And now, many say, Zimbabwe has neither the raw materials nor markets which could rescue its savaged economy, which also deteriorated, many say, via huge corruption of state resources by the ruling Zanu-PF.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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