As the military in Zimbabwe appears to have taken over power, putting President Robert Mugabe under house arrest, many are wondering if, indeed, this is the end of an era for the man who took on those he perceived as imperialist enemies of that country for close to 40 years. In the early days of his nationalist struggles, he had said that the Europeans must realise that unless the legitimate demands of African nationalism are recognised, then racial conflict is inevitable.
It was no surprise, then, that the former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young, once said of Mugabe in the heydays of the Zimbabwean independence struggle that when you have a man who combines Jesuit education with Marxist ideology, you have one hell of a guy to deal with.
That captures succinctly the perception of then fire eating Zimbabwean African Nationalist Union/ Patriotic Front (ZANU/PF) leader Mugabe, a view that dogged his steps until the events of yesterday. His four-decade grip on Zimbabwe may have come to an end, at the hands of the same soldiers who hoisted him to power after the war against the white-minority regime of Rhodesia. Could he have negotiated his exit as is being speculated given that the military takeover carried out early yesterday is seen by analysts as a coup in all but name — parliament is closed, soldiers are in the streets and the army says Mugabe’s safety is “guaranteed,” under house arrest.
After wining election against the more moderate Joshua Nkomo in 1980, he declared at his inauguration that ‘the wrongs of the past must now stand forgiven and forgotten. If ever we look to the past, let us do so for the lesson the past has taught us, namely that oppression and racism are inequalities that must never find scope in our political and social system. It could never be a correct justification that just because the whites oppressed us yesterday when they had power, the blacks must oppress them today because they have power. An evil remains an evil whether practised by white against black or black against white.’ This was the rhetoric, as it turned out, of a new leader struggling to buy time in an environment that was immensely controlled by forces outside his country’s borders.
But having dominated Zimbabwe’s politics for those long years, Mugabe has been a controversial figure. He was praised as a revolutionary hero of the African liberation struggle who helped to free Zimbabwe from British colonialism, imperialism, and white minority rule.
Still, he had had his own fair share of international castigation for some of his policies that were frowned at by the Western world who had hoped to have him in their control. In those years he was in office, especially after the 2000-2008 land reforms, he was derided as a dictator responsible for economic mismanagement, widespread corruption, anti-white racial discrimination, human rights abuses, suppression of political critics and crimes against humanity. When he introduced that land policy, he justified it by these famous words, ‘the courts can do whatever they want, but no judicial decision will stand in our way.
My own position is that ,we should not even be defending our position in the courts. This country is our country and this land is our land .They think because they are white they have a divine right to our resources not here.The white man is not indigenous to Africa. Africa is for Africans, Zimbabwe is for Zimbabweans. This was a different face of a man who when he came into office, initially emphasised racial reconciliation. He was keen to build a good relationship with white Zimbabweans. He hoped to avoid a white exodus and tried to allay fears that he would nationalise white-owned property.
Mugabe was regarded as one of the world’s most controversial political leaders. Depending on who one is listening to, he is either one of the world’s great tyrants or a fearless nationalist who has incurred the wrath of the West. He has been widely described as a “dictator”, a “tyrant”, and a “threat” and has been referred to as one of Africa’s “most brutal” leaders.
At the same time, he continued to be regarded as a hero in many Third World countries and received a warm reception when travelling throughout Africa. For many in Southern Africa, he remained one of the “grand old men” of the African liberation movement.