Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Robert Gabriel Mugabe: The Pan-Africanist

Inundated with preconception, the task of defending Robert Mugabe is no easy one. Faced by a genuine disbelief and deep bemusement meshed with a swelling eagerness to find out just how I can shield a man who has become a legend in my eyes, but a monster and gorgon in those whose worlds he has toppled. I will explain how this larger-than life personality comes down to an incredibly astute statesman.

An honest and comprehensive response goes some significant way in constructing some small face to this multifaceted, most round, very rich character that has been at the helm of Zimbabwe since 1980, at the helm of Zimbabwean politics since 1960. But also a figure commanding curiosity, a figure whose real pith remains elusive to many writers of whatever motive.

Mugabe gazing has become the single largest preoccupation in opposition politics and diplomacy. So too is Mugabe-bashing, all of it founded on ill-clad malice so brazen, so obvious to pass for bona fide mischaracterization by those searching for a difficult truth.

Robert Gabriel Mugabe was in prison when he was elected to head the Zimbabwe African National Union; ZANU. He lost 11 precious years of his life in the jail of a colonialist whose freedom and well-being he assured from the first day of Zimbabwe’s Independence.

The people of Zimbabwe were angry and at the very end of their patience with a leadership class ready to compromise and out-sell the struggle to any bidder and cut a deal. But with him free now, the war was prosecuted with renewed vigour and greater effectiveness. He went on to steer the independence negotiations, dominating the Lancaster House talks that saw Rhodesia become Zimbabwe.

If hyperinflation was yesterday ravaging Zimbabwe and it is finally economically prostrate, importing rather than exporting maize, this is no more indicative of Mugabe’s poor economic management than it is of the resolve of the international financial system to cut down an irritating, independent-minded non-conformist; and teach him and all potential imitators a painful lesson.

Imperialism always deals creative challengers a crushing shut-out of its system with devastating effectiveness. And when, as in the case of Zimbabwe, this is compounded by a long and devastating drought and several years of unremitting Western sanctions, sanctions that are unilateral and not consistent with international norms and values, the world ought to know who to properly blame.

The current Zimbabwean backdrop has its origin in the unequal ownership of land. At the time of independence in 1980, the Europeans, 1 percent of the population, owned 87 percent of the land, and the Africans, 99 percent of the population, lived on 13 percent of the land. If this divergence would not change after Lancaster House, the entire liberation struggle would have been moot, and now that a new nation had been born, the rules must change-and they did. Mugabe sought to correct the socio-economic injustices that had relegated Africans to second class citizens.

In an effort to reassure the Europeans and the world 20 parliamentary seats were reserved for whites and a ten-year moratorium on constitutional amendment and land redistribution was imposed. A fast track land reform, “willing buyers, willing sellers” programme intended to correct inequitable land distribution and which Britain agreed to fund, was put in place. And then Britain reneged. Mugabe struggled to make Britain fulfil its obligation, but it adamantly refused. In 2000 the Parliament of Zimbabwe pushed through the amendment that allowed the occupation of European farms without compensation. And few days later and with this legal backing in place, independence war veterans, led the people in a symbolic invasion of European farms. Still, Britain wouldn’t budge.

The West condemned what they called violent land seizures, missing the irony involved; Mugabe had not been left with a viable alternative. Even though this excess could be legally justified, it could never be morally defended. Mugabe should not be blamed as the cause of the problem, but as an unfortunate leader who found himself in a situation to settle the problem he did not create.

While other political parties have tried to rubbish the land issue as an election agenda, the fact is lots of people have benefited from a deliberate decision by the party to improve the wellbeing of Zimbabweans who for long have been marginalised by successive repressive laws of the colonial system. Yes, the programme might have some pitfalls, but in terms of broad based empowerment agenda, the policy cuts across all social and economic facets of the country. It has indeed addressed one of the main reasons for waging the bitter liberation struggle and ensures that Zimbabweans have a hold on the means of production.

Mugabe has been in power for three decades. But if he has aged, it is not on account of worry about the support of the Zimbabwean people which he still enjoys; nor on account of anxiety for failure to deliver on the promises of ZANU-PF, which he already has.

Those who accuse Mugabe of overstaying forget that the question of term limit has neither meaning nor application in parliamentary democracy. The first British prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole was on the seat for 21 years, and his successor, Lord North was there for 12 years, while his own successor, William Pitt, the Younger, was there for 19 years. Lee Kuan Yew, who is today being hailed by the West, perhaps deservedly, as one of the world’s greatest statesmen, ruled Singapore as prime minister consecutively for 31 years. So, why can’t Mugabe?

To criticise Mugabe is to neglect the tripod of principles that his policy rested upon, education, rural infrastructure and the economy. And he has delivered. On coming to power, Mugabe wasted no time declaring Education for All by 2000, building schools, universities and launching adult education schemes such that within less than a generation he had produced Africa’s most literate society.
Trained by Jesuits, tutored by Marxists, moulded by the fire of liberation struggle and permanently defined by the tenor of Zimbabwe’s anti-settler-colonialist revolution, the reality is that Mugabe is the forward looking visionary captain of a country that will rise again.

President Mugabe belongs to a generation of leaders who were favoured by the gods of the land to defend the heritage of Africa. The message that the President is putting across is that “the people must own the means of production in their own land”, hence the land acquisition and the indigenisation programmes. He is instilling in his people a culture that promotes total independence and self-reliance. 

This brave bush warrior epitomizes in every sense of the word, the full flowering of that authentic, unconquered and unconquerable spirit of African manliness, an icon who is, to imperial arrogance, utterly defiant.


Cde Itai M P Choto.(Secretary for Information and Publicity; ZANU PF UK). He writes in his own personal capacity.