The Sunday Mail
Before hearing of the news of the death of Zimbabwe’s founding leader, Cde Robert Gabriel Mugabe, I had intended to write about afrophobia that gripped South Africa in the past weeks.
My intention was to connect the dots leading to the flaring up of violence. I had intended to show that far from being spontaneous, the violence had all the hallmarks of being contrived.
Maybe, the afrophobia story will still be given its deserving full account on another day. Sad to note that afrophobia goes against everything Mugabe ever fought for, and what he stood for throughout his life and political career. The struggle for a united Africa.
So, I think it is befitting that the focus be on the founding president of Zimbabwe — Cde Mugabe, the man who personified “Writing Back” in words and deeds.
It is always difficult to compartmentalise the life of a man, whose long stratum of life straddled and bestrode the country’s political arena like a colossus.
But, as an avowed pan-Africanist, Mugabe was a proponent of “Writing Back” as a noble initiative worth appropriating as a lifelong dictum against Western imperial machinations.
Here was a man who at a very early age sought to debunk the myth of white racial superiority by fighting for the freedom and liberation of his people.
Cde Mugabe’s lifelong struggle was premised on ensuring the dignity of the African and unwrite the falsehoods about black people that for long was fed imperial Europe and justified enslavement and colonial conquest.
If ever there is something that Cde Mugabe bestowed on Zimbabwe and the African people — it is self-pride, black consciousness and an obstinate resolve to fight domination by former imperial forces.
While Cde Mugabe’s adversaries begrudge his steadfastness in standing up to the West, a majority of Zimbabweans and Africans in general regard him as an intractable liberation icon, who personified their long struggle against political and economic stranglehold by former colonisers.
And to most Africans, the man is an enduring symbol of Africa’s determination to assert its dignity. He never relented in calling for the reformation of a skewed international system, that treats black people as second-class citizens. In post-colonial period characterised by all sorts of chicanery, Cde Mugabe became the sole voice of African conscience.
Attempts by Western detractors to create an image of a monstrous Mugabe has thus far failed to stick as most Africans still regard him as a principled leader groomed and grounded by his upbringing of simple village life raised by his mother, Mbuya Bona Mugabe, and mentored by the Jesuits at Kutama Mission in Zvimba District, north-west of the then Salisbury.
There cannot be any doubt that despite his illustrious political career as an African statesman and a liberation icon, President Mugabe, just like the late founding Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, must have died with a lingering concern about the failure to achieve a United States of Africa as envisaged by the continent’s founding fathers.
The quest for concrete unity of all African nations will remain Mugabe’s unfinished project.
Cde Mugabe at one time expressed his exasperation with some African leaders stalling continental unity.
Addressing journalists at State House after a two-hour meeting with the then outgoing AU chairperson Benin President Thomas Boni Yayi in May 2016, Cde Mugabe said the setting up of a United States of Africa would have been the panacea in ending most of the continent’s divisions.
“Africa is not a united continent. We are not at the stage our founding fathers wanted us to be when the organ was formed.”
Cde Mugabe told journalists that the continent still needed to deal with the vestiges of colonialism, which left Africans divided into Anglophones and Francophones, a situation which continue to make certain countries vulnerable as they are still depended financially on the former colonisers.
While the project for continental unity has faced hurdles, Cde Mugabe has on the domestic scene achieved major milestones as a leader especially his ability to craft a wholly internal solution to halt early internal disturbances in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces caused by former disgruntled PF-ZAPU cadres, who had turned dissidents.
Having worked with Cde Mugabe as editor of the Zanu-PF’s mouthpiece, The People’s Voice, I got the immediate impression that he was God’s gift to Zimbabwe, as he exhibited traits of a selfless visionary, who, in my view, was largely misunderstood by his detractors.
Cde Mugabe was a man who never prevaricated on issues he held dearly. He was a man of big issue ideas — land reform, indigenisation, educational reforms and minerals beneficiation. We may debate about the execution of his post-independence big issue reforms, but that he was a man who would not hesitate to take big steps in anything he believed is not questionable.
Granted, like all mortals, Cde Mugabe made some regrettable errors, some that bordered on the preservation of power at all cost, but on the whole, particularly during the early years of Zimbabwe’s independence, the man was just what the doctor had ordered for a landlocked resource-rich nation.
As small as Zimbabwe is, it was Mugabe who made Zimbabwe a recognisable nation with his candid “tell-it-as it is” deliveries at international forums. It was those speeches that interred him in the hearts of many Africans, who regarded him as an African hero, the last bastion of post-independence African struggles.
As editor of The People’s Voice, I had the privilege of easy access to the then first secretary and president of Zanu-PF. My immediate boss, the late Dr Nathan Shamuyarira — was a close confidante of Cde Mugabe. Dr Shamuyarira was at that time, the Zanu-PF secretary for information and publicity.
Whenever I felt the need for Mugabe’s voice in the paper on any pertinent national issue, Dr Shamuyarira was always at hand to facilitate access.
During my tenure as editor, I had five interviews with Cde Mugabe and at all times, I was so much enthralled by his lucid expression, graphic memory and general understanding of issues even from a minute level.
I have no doubt at all that those four occasions, we struck a chord. He was equally fascinated by the idea that I was a “child of war” and knew my parents.
It was a marvel that given his advanced age, Mugabe could remember some intricate detail about his war-time cadres. The man’s love for and empathy for his war-time comrades was apparent.
His face always changed into a sullen stupor each time he recounted the massacres at Tembwe, Nyadzonya and Chimoio. He kept shaking his head as his mind went back to those horrendous years of war.
I had no doubt that despite his human frailties, Cde Mugabe was a servant leader missioned to deliver his people to the Promised Land.
It was also clear at the time that Mugabe respected his war-time colleagues, the likes of Cdes Joshua Nkomo, Didymus Mutasa, Shamuyarira, John Nkomo and Mnangagwa. These and others were his confidantes, people he could turn to for wise counsel.
As we await the arrival of his body, we are consoled by the fact that Cde Mugabe had become not only a Zimbabwean son of the soil, but an African treasure, who dedicated his life to the cause of black people. He was pugnacious, audacious and steadfast. He remains our shining black Prince.