A new year has dawned, I think all Zimbabweans suffered over this past festive season from a hangover caused by the unscheduled departure of Robert Gabriel Mugabe from the Presidency. Who will forget the amazing and unplanned outpouring of public feeling after the Military led coup. What a street party after his resignation was received by Parliament. Some Mugabe loyalists are saying that the rural people are mourning his passing – not a bit of it, the celebrations engulfed even the most remote corners of Zimbabwe.
Now what? The harsh reality that all of us must face is that over his tenure in office, Robert Mugabe built a dynasty that controlled virtually every aspect of life in this country. In business, you could not operate anything larger than a tuck shop without his say so, all contracts were controlled, his word was final on all matters and everyone who worked with him or for him, feared his retribution and vindictive character.
When he came out of Prison in 1974 after ten years in detention, I had lunch with him at the Munomatapa Hotel in the central business district of Harare. He then struck me as a radical who was totally committed to the armed conflict as a means of achieving Independence and control over the State. His views of the way forward resembled, in an uncanny way, what we later saw in Cambodia where the Khmer revolution in 1975 caused the death of perhaps 3 million people, including many intellectuals and specialists and the depopulation of the Cities which were “centers of regressive political thought and capitalism”. 10 days after that meeting he was crossing the border in Nyanga and joining the Zanla forces in Mozambique.
His path to power in newly independent Zimbabwe in 1980 was a turbulent and sometimes, violent one. I have no doubt that anyone who stood in his way was skating on thin ice and that the death of his main competitor for control of the post war machine created in exile to fight the war of Independence – Josiah Tongogara, was not killed in a car accident, he was murdered. The same fate awaited his main military commander, Mujuru, many years later after he challenged Mugabe.
But the overall outcome of his years in near total control of the State in Zimbabwe, was the creation of a regime which resembled in many ways the one in Europe that he admired most – that of East Germany when it was part of the Soviet Empire. He sought and secured total control – all arms of the State, what was taught to children in school, even who could be treated in a State funded hospital. He secured control over all major business activity and was feted and treated as a near god by many close to the seat of power. The image of people crawling along the floor to greet him or serve him tea, will not be forgotten as they characterized what he prized most, total subservience to power.
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