GUEST Column by DR. BISI OLAWUNMI
Former President of Zimbabwe, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, was on Saturday, 28 September, 2019 laid to rest in his native village of Zvimba amid controversies. Mugabe, a warrior in his life time, was also a fighter in death as he shunned a government organized but public relations-induced high profile burial at the Heroes Acre in the capital, Harare, by those who deposed him. From September 6, 2019, when he died in a Singapore hospital, the Mugabe family had been in a public spat, a tug-of-war as it were, with the Zimbabwean government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, his former deputy and the one who orchestrated his ouster. The Zimbabwe Independent newspaper, had in a September 13, 2019 story captured the intrigue in its front page headline: “ Betrayed Mugabe fight Mnangagwa from coffin’’. Mugabe was a strongman in life and in death, his spirit awed the family. According to Zimbabwe’s Daily News, Mugabe family members feared being tormented by the late president’s spirit if they ignored his final wishes about his grave site. Mugabe’s wish for final rest in his homestead also had the endorsement of tribal chiefs who had to perform some traditional rites. The state memorial service at the national stadium in Harare on September 14, 2019, was therefore an apparent concession, particularly for other African leaders who would like to pay their last respects to a gallant African liberation hero.
Many have chosen to harp on Mugabe’s imperfections while playing down his heroic struggle against the brutal, racist colonial regime of Ian Smith and later the West. Nigerian columnists and other so-called analysts are among the media lynch mob against Mugabe. Nigerians whose nation is the poverty capital of the world, wracked by insecurity as well as the worst in literacy level compared to 86 percent literacy rate in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Well, that will be a topic for another day.
Till the end, ex-President Mugabe died unbowed to the intimidations of Western countries and stood tall in defence of African freedom and the continent’s right to chart its own future. In an apparent measure of atonement, President Mnangagwa had led the cabinet to receive Mugabe’s body at the airport, declaring in a tribute that ‘’Comrade Mugabe was an icon of liberation, a pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people’’ adding, ‘’His contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten’’. President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa at the memorial service described Mugabe as ‘champion of Africa’s cause against colonialism’’ adding that ‘’Under Mugabe’s leadership, Zimbabwe’s sustained and valiant struggle inspired our own struggle against apartheid and built in us the hope that one day South Africa too would be free’’. He kept hope alive for other liberation fighters.
Mugabe’s troubles started in year 2000 when after 20 years of independence, and in fulfillment of the cardinal land ownership issue of the liberation struggle, he embarked on land redistribution to Black Zimbabwean natives. White settlers had, during colonial rule, appropriated about 80 percent of the arable land. Under the Lancaster House Agreement for Zimbabwe independence, Britain had agreed to pay compensation to the White farmers, mostly settlers from Britain, for the land to be redistributed to the Blacks. But Tony Blair, then British Prime Minister, refused to honour the agreement on compensation to the white farmers, apparently implying they should continue to hold on to the land, a development that compelled Mugabe to seize the lands and redistribute them to the Blacks. It was this action in year 2000 that led to a gang-up of Britain and the United States against Mugabe, with their media in tow, to demonise him. And, sadly, many African journalists bought into the narrative of the western journalists about Mugabe.
That Mugabe survived 17 years of relentless onslaught of Western powers is testimony of his resilience and grassroots acceptance. Understandably, therefore, the crucify Mugabe media lynch mob went into a feeding frenzy when succession intrigue within the ruling ZANU-PF party , triggered by removal of Mnangagwa as vice president, forced Mugabe to resign the presidency on November 21, 2017
For a starter, Robert Mugabe, forged a nation in Zimbabwe, which was no mean feat in a multi-ethnic emerging democracy. Another major plus for Mugabe was that he was the most educated elected political leader in the world – with seven degrees – including two law degrees ( LLB and LLM ) which he earned as an external candidate of University of London while he was in prison between 1964 and 1974 ! ! Any wonder he was able to apply intellectual fire-power to contain western powers ? He had his first degree (B.A. History/English) in 1951 from Fort Hare University in South Africa. This academic feat makes Mugabe a global icon. and we in Africa must learn to celebrate our own.
On his politics, Mugabe’s sit-tight tag was mischievous since there is no limitation of terms in Zimbabwe’s constitution. When the opposition united under the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by late Morgan Tvsangirai, it gave Mugabe a stiff challenge, forcing a constitutional amendment allowing power sharing arrangement under which Tvsangirai became Prime Minister.
Former President Mugabe earned recognitions at home and abroad, in spite of vilifications in some quarters, with 14 universities considering him worthy of their honorary doctorate degrees, including Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria; Morehouse College, Atlanta, USA, University of Edinburg, UK, and his alma mater, Fort Hare University, South Africa. Not many African leaders have been so recognized.
At the integrity level, it is significant that Mugabe’s net worth was put at just about $10 million as at June 2017, after 37 years in office !! Diezani, just an ordinary Nigerian minister accumulated Jewelry worth over $20 million that was forfeited to the state by court order. At the personal level, President Mugabe was a practical man. With his first wife, Sally, a Ghanaian, suffering terminal illness, the man, described as a non womanizer, simply looked inwards and promoted his secretary, the graceful Grace, to wife status ! !
Let me end this Mugabe tribute on a light hearted note about the witty side of Mugabe, the warrior, with these his quotes : Pastors never perform miracles in hospitals because hospitals have real sick people, not actors. 2. You cannot give a woman everything she needs. God himself gave them eyebrows, they shave it and draw their own, God gave them hair, they cut it and fix their own, God gave them breasts, they repackage it to what they want. If God can’t satisfy them, then who are you to think that you can please them ? My brother, don’t kill yourself. 3. Some of the girls today can’t even jog for 5 minutes but expect a guy to last in bed for 2 hours. 4. I started fearing smoking weed when I saw my neighbhour’s son dancing to the sound of my generator… when I switched it off, he asked me who sang the song. I answered, ‘’Yamaha featuring Petrol’’. On this hilarious note, I bid former Zimbabwe President, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, a great son of Africa, an intellectual giant and icon of African courage and pride bon voyage to eternity.
Dr. Bisi Olawunmi, Senior Lecturer, Department of Mass Communication, Adeleke University, Ede. Osun state, and former Washington Correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria is a Fellow, Nigerian Guild of Editors. Email :[email protected] Phone : 0803 364 7571.