The End of the Mugabe Era

In 1974 I was very active in the Church in Harare and was invited to a special meeting of the Christian Council to meet Sithole who had just been released from ten years of detention along with all the other nationalist leadership, including Nkomo and Mugabe. Ndaba, as he was known, had been elected the leader of Zanu at its founding ten years before. He started his address to us by telling us how he came to be released.

He said he had been very suspicious at first, refusing to believe that the Rhodesian Government would let him go. Eventually the President of Zambia sent a personal emissary, known to Ndaba, to persuade him that the decision was real and he could go and would be transported to Lusaka, Zambia for talks. On his arrival at the Airport in Harare, he found a small executive jet waiting for him and was shown on board. The air hostess showed him his seat and while he made himself comfortable, the two pilots arrived. He was shocked to see that they were both black and asked if he was safe with these young men flying the plane.

After he had concluded the talks in Lusaka he was flown back to Harare and now he was with us and ready to try and take the country forward. One of my colleagues, an elderly Methodist Minister asked him “Ndaba, what qualifications does a young man have to have to fly an aircraft?” His reply was “Baba (father), all you need is Independence.” I have never forgotten that reply for its shear brilliance. It said everything, the white led Government will never allow black people to progress, until they were free of white oppression and truly Independent, their future and the future of their children was bleak.

Unbeknown to us at the time, Sithole had been replaced as leader of Zanu by a younger man, Robert Mugabe and within days, Mugabe would flee across the border into central Mozambique and assume the leadership of the armed struggle which had started in earnest two years before. Sithole no longer played a central role and after Independence in 1980 he had little to do in the new Zimbabwe.

As was his modus operandi, Mugabe went on to gradually assume leadership of what became Zanu PF and when the international Community called for the Lancaster House talks in London he was given a leading role. In the subsequent months he eliminated his main competitor for leadership of Zanu PF in a post Independence Zimbabwe by arranging the assassination of the Commander of the Zanla army, Tongogara, a charismatic figure who was in favour of a national alliance with Nkomo in the first post Independence State.

Recognised as being perhaps the most capable of the new leaders, the international Community, led by Britain carefully orchestrated Mugabe’s ascension and in the early days, protected him from the elements in the country who would have liked to see him eliminated. This partly explains the strange relationship between this Marxist revolutionary and the aristocratic Lord sent out to act as “Governor General” in the transition. Mugabe owed his position, first as Prime Minister and then as President, to the British.

In the early days, the crude Marxist/Khmer Rouge ideologies of the Zanu PF were repressed by the constraints built into the Lancaster House Constitution that regional leaders had forced the Zimbabwean leadership to accept as the price of Independence. But as soon as he had got his feet under the desk in the old Smith offices on Samora Machel Avenue in Harare, he began to try and force the country he had taken over into the mould that he always had in his mind.

He had no choice but to accept and work within the Lancaster House Constitution, but with all the levers of hard power in his hands he immediately set about crushing all opposition in the black community. Zapu PF, the successor to the original Zapu which had been formed in the early 60’s as a united national front against white minority rule, was the first target and in 1983 Mugabe launched “Ghukurahundi” or the “storm that washes clean”.

To their shame, the international community and regional governments turned a blind eye to the campaign and its savage reality. For 4 years, these two bulls in the new Zimbabwe pen, locked horns and struggled for ascendancy – eventually, exhausted and deeply distressed by the suffering caused, Zapu PF collapsed and conceded and was immediately absorbed into Zanu PF. During this campaign more than a million people fled the country into South Africa and tens of thousands died; many without record. Today this is classified as Genocide.

This was not enough and in the following 13 years, up to 2000, Mugabe tightened his grip on power, achieving almost absolute power in the process. Opposition Parties that emerged during this period were simply destroyed or brushed aside. The remaining constraints in the Lancaster House Constitution were removed by a series of constitutional amendments and Mugabe cemented the reality that Zimbabwe was virtually a one Party State, highly militarised and tightly controlled. The rule of law was ignored when inconvenient.

Then the Movement for Democratic Change arrived on the scene and suddenly, for the first time since 1980, Zanu PF faced a real challenger for power. The result was a 16 year struggle with the pro democracy forces in the country. The campaign has been vicious and brutal but the reality is that Zanu PF and Mugabe have not been able to put out the light that was lit in 2000. Zimbabwe is no longer a one Party State and a vibrant opposition movement exists with 37 political parties and many contenders for National leadership.

Like a male lion in his pride, Mugabe has beaten off all contenders to succeed him from the outside of Zanu PF, but now he is challenged by his own. Anyone who has watched such a process in a lion pride will know how sad the outcome can be as the younger and more physically strong contenders for leader of the pride drives the old man out and takes over. It is brutal and savage and no mercy is exhibited. If Mugabe is not careful, that will be his fate.

Others in Africa have shown the way, leaders in Botswana have retired on time and with dignity and pride, when he finally appreciated that his country and his Party needed new leadership, Malimu Nyerere, the father of Tanzania stood aside and lived out his life in the capital City revered and consulted by his successors. Freed of the shackles of the liberation generation, country after country in Africa has been able to assume normal democratic life and economic growth.

Mr. Mugabe’s statement on the occasion of his 92 nd birthday that “there is no succession and I will rule until I am 100 years old” is so pathetic that you can only feel sorry for this old lion king. His startling admission in the same interview that $15 billion had been extracted from the Marange diamond fields and stolen, amply demonstrates that he is no longer in control of himself or his post as State President. He simply did not appreciate the significance of such an admission or understand his own role in this massive theft of resources under his watch.

From an African perspective the worst part of this succession struggle is that the lion that seems to be the front runner to take over the pride is a lioness and not another male lion. But whatever happens, we are in the post Mugabe era and a transition of sorts to a new generation of leadership is about to happen.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo 12th March 2016