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Robert Mugabe, the Anti-hero


Once hailed as a revolutionary leader for his role in the struggle against the Ian Smith white racist government, Robert Gabriel Mugabe is now seen as a brutal and despicable dictator. For some months now, particularly since the first round of voting three months ago, Zimbabwe and its leader, Mugabe, had been very much in the news. {{more}} Increasing violence in the run up to Friday’s elections and the decision by Morgan Tsvangirai to pull out of the contest have brought matters to a climax. A United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the violence and strong statements from leaders of neighbouring countries have shown how much the tables have turned against the Zimbabwean strong man. Even Nelson Mandela, now in his 90th year, has been forced to speak out against him, referring to the ‘tragic failure of leadership’. There is now a growing call for the postponement of Friday’s elections.

For some time now the rest of the world had been hoping that leaders of Zimbabwe’s neighbours would have stepped in to bring some closure to a situation that was seriously getting out of hand. The South African leader, Thabo Mbeki, was supposed to have been leading regional mediation efforts but appeared to have lost all credibility in his efforts to bring about what he considered a negotiated settlement. He seemed to have been pussyfooting on the issue even suggesting that there was no crisis. Recently we have had strong statements from leading figures in Southern Africa. Jacob Zuma, the African National Congress leader has recognised that the situation has gotten out of control. Bishop Desmond Tutu has openly criticised Mbeki’s role. A recent news report quoted Tutu as saying that Zimbabweans were not satisfied with his handling of the crisis, suggesting that he ‘chose to remain silent even when Zimbabwe’s crisis was at fever pitch’. Leaders of Swaziland, Tanzania and Angola have publicly stated that conditions existing in Zimbabwe were not conducive to free and fair elections and the South African Trade Union Confederation has committed itself to isolate Mugabe.

The Zimbabwean leader had used the harsh criticisms coming from the United States and Britain to play the imperialist and race card but with his black brothers and sisters from the region lending their voices and especially those of Mandela and Tutu, he will be hard pressed to follow through with that position. He had reacted strongly to calls from Washington and London by saying that “They can shout as loud as they like from Washington and London and any other quarter. Our people and only our people will decide.” What he means by our people is obviously not clear. He can only be referring to those whom he pulled under his wings by giving them the freedom to invade white farm lands. The Opposition Movement for Democratic Change won the recent parliamentary elections and Morgan Tsvangirai had won the first round of the presidential election by 48 to 43 percent, the figures of course coming after a very bizarre period in which the results were announced weeks after polling. There is therefore a significant section of the population that is opposed to the rule of Robert Mugabe. And who could blame them. The country has an inflation rate of 1.6 million percent. It is difficult to imagine what this means. Obviously the Zimbabwean currency has no value and the people are suffering bitterly. Why does Mugabe want to continue? What does he expect to do? What are the options, especially with the United Nations taking the position it has taken and most countries in the world being prepared to condemn his regime?

Of course Mugabe is able to play on the historical reality that allowed 4,500 white farmers to control about 50 percent of the farm land, leaving the other 12 million mainly black people to share the remainder. And perhaps the British Government has to take some criticism about the whole affair. Mugabe, however, has at different times used the strategy of farm invasion in an effort to mobilise rural support in the country. He has been defiant in the face of criticism coming from different quarters. Only God, he said, can remove him from power. In any event, he was clearly not prepared to accept the results of the election if they went against him. He was firm in stating, “We will never allow an event like an election to reverse our independence, our sovereignty.” Those opposed to him he attempts to paint as puppets not only of the white farmers but of those who want to stifle the sovereignty and destroy the independence of Zimbabwe. So he is determined to remain in power even if he destroys the country in the process.

I might have missed it, but with the exception of a statement coming from Jamaica, I cannot recall any reactions from CARICOM leaders and certainly not from the regional body. One expects that at their next summit after the rest of the world have stated their positions our regional leaders would have their say. I was somewhat struck by the editorial in the Jamaica Observer newspaper on Tuesday, June 24. The editor was disappointed with the decision of the Opposition not to contest the run-off election. It went on to say, “…we had hoped that Mr. Tsvangirai would have endured the state-sponsored intimidation and violence being unleashed on his supporters and himself to contest.”

This is indeed a strange position to take given the brutality that has overtaken the country. As I write this column, Tsvangirai has sought refuge in the Dutch Embassy. There are reports of over 80 deaths, some two thousand injured and over 30,000 have been forced to flee from their districts. Some of the leading members of the party are threatened and restrictions are placed on groups that were supposed to have monitored the elections. Why the Observer would want the leader of the MDC to put the lives of his supporters at risk beats me. Statements coming from election officials are to the effect that the elections to be held on Friday would go ahead as scheduled. They are insisting that Tsvangirai’s name would remain on the ballot papers, claiming that the decision not to contest came too late. So the once hero Mugabe would be declared victor in an election in which he is really the only candidate. No one outside of his circle would accept the results. What happens after is left to be seen for no country can continue to exist with the kind of inflation rate that has overtaken Zimbabwe. A man once hailed as a hero would eventually bow out as a political monster of the worst kind. What a stubborn man! Is this what power does?