Pope Alexander IV once said: “A ruler never hears the truth and ends by not wanting to hear it.”
That is exactly how Robert Mugabe ended up. He avoided hearing the truth through impeachment hearings by tendering his letter of resignation as President to the Speaker of Zimbabwe’s National Assembly.
In Africa few women emerged from the battle fronts of the wars of national and social liberation. Among them were Winnie Mandela, ex-wife of Nelson Mandela, Graca Machel wife of Samora Machel former President of Mozambique and Ruth First, wife of Joe Slovo political leader of Umkhonto We Sizwe, the military wing of the ANC of South Africa. None of these women was as ruthless and manipulative as Grace Mugabe.
Grace Mugabe did not belong to this gallery of legendary women. And her husband, though a legendary figure in Zimbabwe and Africa, could not save her from the fall from grace which befell him as well.
There are some important lessons to be learnt from this rather unique Zimbabwean experience.
First, is the question of presidential longevity, the exercise of power and governance.
Robert Mugabe along with Joshua Nkomo fought the good fight for his country’s freedom and independence. It was one of the greatest manifestations of tribal and national unity that Africa had ever seen with Mugabe representing the Shona tribe and Nkomo representing the Ndebele tribe.
But there were ideological differences. Mugabe’s armed forces in the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) were supported by the Chinese while Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) military forces were supported by the Russians. Throughout its entire history, ZANU has been extremely close to the Chinese, small wonder why days before Zimbabwe’s military made its move against Mugabe General Chiwenga found himself in Beijing.
The ZANU and ZAPU armies fought together and many died together but in the end Ian Smith’s Universal Declaration of Independence (UDI) from Britain collapsed and victory achieved.
But the spoils of victory to be shared with Nkomo were short lived. Mugabe accused Nkomo his second Vice President, of plotting a coup and unleashed a vicious and bloody campaign against Nkomo tribesmen in Matabeleland resulting in the Nkomo fleeing his country, claiming to be in self-imposed exile in the UK.
The accusation of treachery by Mugabe against Mnangagwa his Vice President which caused the latter to flee to South Africa for his safety was in a sense, history repeating itself.
Mugabe’s anti-Ndebele campaign eventually saw the subjugation of Nkomo’s tribesmen and women to Shona majority rule. As a result of pressures from his supporters inside the country and friends abroad as well as conditions imposed by Mugabe for Nkomo’s return to Zimbabwe and an end to the massacring of his people, Nkomo made the foolish mistake of agreeing to the absorption of his ZAPU into Mugabe’s ZANU, resulting in the creation of a single ruling party called the ZANU Patriotic Front. By way of this ultimatum and pressure Mugabe had scored a big political advantage over his one time comrade-in- arms.
Throughout this entire episode Emmerson Mnangagwa was in the thick of things as a faithful lieutenant and executioner of Mugabe’s wishes and commands. Eventually promoted to the position of Vice President, the wily Mnangagwa set about positioning himself to be perceived as the logical successor to Mugabe. As Vice President Mnangagwa did not waste time. He cultivated close relations with the military high command giving them all that he could through his office. Similar relations were cultivated with the national police and the local intelligence community. Mnangagwa maintained close comradely relations with ZANU veterans who fought the liberation war as well with party stalwarts at all party branches. He travelled extensively throughout the country, a responsibility that Mugabe was physically unable to fulfil.
He had good relations with the trade unions, faith-based organizations and the business community always giving them the impression that life would be better with change.
While all of this was going on Mugabe was becoming more and more isolated, his administration was on auto pilot, effectively run by a corrupt bureaucracy and a small cabal of sycophants led principally by Grace Mugabe.
Faced with ailing health and lack of energy to lead, a decision had to be made. Was it to be Grace or Emmerson who would succeed Mugabe? The die was cast in favour of Grace but as events showed that decision became a politically fatal one for Mugabe and his corrupt, ramshackle administration. Linked to that decision was the urgency to get rid of Mnangagwa, thus the accusation of treachery engineered by Grace. It was a repeat of the very narrative that played out years before to get rid of Nkomo and others who had opposed Mugabe’s rule. But as destiny would have it, it was Mugabe who would pay a heavy price.
By the time he realized the extent to which his role had diminished and scented the swamp it was too late, dissent had become widespread throughout the ruling party and country. His age and experience notwithstanding, Mugabe became incapable of reflection about his style of governance and the extent to which it had withered away after three decades in power.
The Mugabe administration became mindless. Internal developments were proceeding to absurd lengths to the extent that few Zimbabweans could offer a rational explanation of how their country arrived where it was by 2015. Failing to recognize that the heroic defiance he once exhibited against White minority rule was no longer an attraction to a tired populace yearning for change, Mugabe flipped his administration from the frying pan into the fire. His lust for power, as Tacitus once said, became the most flagrant of all passions.
Afflicted with wilful blindness and choosing not to see what was before him, Mugabe fell.
Mnangagwa emerged from the shadows without any recognizable taint from methods he had engineered to effect change. As the dust settled, it became clear that a plan had been hatched and was well executed. Its executioners took all constitutional, political and external factors into consideration. It showed that Zimbabweans are a smart and calculating people not to be underestimated.
Mugabe’s surrender of power and the smooth transition from him to his erstwhile comrade in arms was a marvel for political scientists and specialists in African politics to witness. And just like John Reed’s Ten Days that Shook the World, Zimbabwe’s second revolution was another example of how change can be effected without loss of life during those ten days that shook Africa.
Mugabe, like so many other leaders in Africa and other countries of the world failed to recognize long before that there comes a time to step down or aside to give way for others to take over, and as a result, their personal mistake becomes a national mistake. And though such men are usually highly educated, yet somehow they never recognize the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson’s caution:
“Whenever a man casts a long eye on office a rottenness begins in his conduct.”
Clement J Rohee