09-09-19 by Spotlight Zimbabwe

Robert Mugabe is, will always be, a hero

MACHEL WAIKENDA

Not the cold and bad leader that the West paints him

 

In Summary

• Criticism against Mugabe by the West also mirrors that which was thrown at the late Libyan leader Muhammad Gadaffi.

• It has overshadowed his good and heroic deeds that led to the independence of Zimbabwe.

An old saying goes that there are three sides to a coin—this one, the other one and the truth. So what is the truth about one of Africa’s longest-serving president, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe?

The truth is that opinions on Mugabe differ like the Sun and the Moon depending on who you talk to, even among his own countrymen. Another truth is that Mugabe was a great African leader who has been vilified by the West.

Mugabe was a schoolteacher, freedom fighter and political prisoner who has been misunderstood by the world. Mugabe is probably one of Africa’s greatest presidents who should be compared side by side with the late Nelson Mandela.

The criticism against Mugabe by the West also mirrors that which was thrown at the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Gaddafi was toppled by the West and one of the richest countries in the continent was left in ruins.

The criticism has overshadowed his good and heroic deeds that led to the independence of Zimbabwe. Mugabe was a political prisoner in Rhodesia for more than 10 years between 1964 and 1974 for leading the resistance against the British.

When he was released, Mugabe went back and rejoined the fight during the Rhodesian Bush War from bases in Mozambique and at the end of the war, he emerged as a hero in the minds of many Africans.

His win in the 1980 general election was attributed to his calling for reconciliation between the former belligerents, including white Zimbabweans, and rival political parties. Mugabe, like any other African leader, was a captive of his supporters even as he sought to incorporate the opposition into his government and the army.

Mugabe was thus torn between meeting this reconciliation objective and ensuring that his supporters saw the social change that they were looking forward to. By 1990, Zimbabwe had a lower infant mortality rate, higher adult literacy and higher school enrolment rate than average for developing countries.

In his first years in power, Mugabe’s socialist policies led the Zimbabwean economy to strong growth, with a GDP of between 10.6 and 12.5 per cent. This would later decline due to the sanctions by the West.

By 1994, which marked the end of Mugabe’s five-year recovery plan, the Zimbabwean economy had seen some growth in the farming, mining and manufacturing industries. Mugabe additionally managed to build clinics and schools for the black population which had been discriminated against under the colonial minority rule.

On regional matters, the Mugabe administration supported the Southern African Development Community’s intervention in the Second Congo War in 1998 by sending Zimbabwean troops to assist the government of Laurent-Désiré Kabila.

But what seemed to have angered the West was his government’s move to fast-track the land reform programme in 2000. This involved forcibly correcting the inequitable land distribution created by colonial rule which meant that many white settlers were losing their land.

This has led the West in branding Mugabe a racist. In 2002, the West introduced economic sanctions due to these land policies and this led to the deterioration of the Zimbabwean dollar and the country’s economy.

The irony of all this is that while Mugabe’s policies were condemned domestically and internationally, they have also been praised by other African countries where land was hoarded by the European minority, such as South Africa, Namibia and Kenya.

Mugabe had his faults just like many African leaders and made mistakes as he sought to right historical wrongs. However, Mugabe was not the cold and bad leader that the West paints him.

Even the late Mandela recognised that Mugabe was not all bad when he said “He was the star, and then the sun came out.” The two were liberation heroes whose future paths took different turns.

Rest in Peace Comrade Mugabe.

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