By Sankara Rawlings
So much has been written about Zimbabwean strongman and long-time straight jacket leader, Robert Gabriel Bellarmine Mugabe, so much so one can easily demarcate the duality that exists on the narrative which encapsulates his life and political career.
Such is proof of the polarizing figure that the now late Zanu-PF apparatchik was, so polarizing that his historical narrative and legacy is marked by contrasts, the enigma revolutionary heroism, the tragedy of democratic centralism and what can happen when the real underpinnings of power are twerked the wrong way.
Mugabe, after well over four decades, goes down as a towering figure that defined and underlined Zimbabwe’s mundane life, scripted the path of governance and fate of more than 15 million of the country’s citizenry.
Single handedly and with constant nudges from his political henchmen and spin-doctors well positioned close to the seat of power, Mugabe outlived his nemeses, outfoxed those that were a threat to his throne, played enemies against each other, and successfully held on.
Mugabe’s star rose so meteorically within Zanu-PF power structures so much that he became a deified infallible supremo at whose center lay the fountains of national consciousness.
A fly-gad of the legacy of revolution, he came out as a cementing force that held warring factions together from within while at the same time keeping at bay the threat of neo-liberal forces stemming from labour.
His political perspicacity is beyond comprehension, something which even his staunchest of opponents could dare not question.
He was foresighted, but that foresight hinged on a desire on how best to personalize power, create a dynasty and write history in his own choice font.
As such politics of extermination by purges perfumed the fabric of his rein.
Armed with a vision, Mugabe crafted the art of persuasion and deception, the art of grand-standing and fear-mongering and he demonstrated his clout to roll out all these into a perfect game of politics in which he had to survive at all costs.
His agrarian reform, as imperfect a process and procedure at is was, his pan-Africanist rhetoric and iconoclastic dispossession towards the menace of Western Jingoism, made Mugabe an icon of no narrow limits.
He exposed and embarrassed megalomaniacs and for that he brought the curtains up for himself to global applause from those who saw him a frank in defense of his ground, but also from kowtowers, lickspittles and sycophants.
If indeed Fidel Castro was right in asserting that history creates the man of the moment, then indeed Mugabe became a revolutionary super-star beyond geo-political boundaries by merely taking advantage of the conditions of the pre-independence times.
His flare, intelligence and disarming verbosity coupled with airs of cultural refinement punctuated by his proclivity to affect a rich accent, made him a darling of the mass, a doyen of liberation and a god-father of the legacy of country and continent.
Indeed, a modern Black Englishman, he charmed the Queen into knighting him as the British bourgeoisie stared on with envy and perplexity.
And what more?
He waltzed their iron lady, Baroness Margaret Hilda Thatcher, into endorsing his new state run by the Blackman on the principle of one-man-one-vote.
But Mugabe was a contrast, an imperfect package of historical propotions, whose excesses and scores earned him place among the famous and the iconic, the vilified and damned.
He appealed to the firebrand and was distasted by the modern-day democrat.
He was the subject of a relentless vitriolic onslaught from the opposition trenches, for his iron fist of power often came crushing down on the very same freedoms he purported to have fought for.
That was Mugabe.
The early morning soft glow that quickly escalated into a heat-wave of fury, the tempest that was at the very same time the soothing zephyr for those hungry to hear of the holy grail of sovereignty, empowerment and national self-actualization.
Mugabe ceased to be a person, for in the consciousness of Zimbabwe, he became an office, a way of thinking and doing things, good or bad.
Mugabe was ok with everything until the question of who would succeed him arrived, and perhaps his undoing was to abort the very injunction of democracy which holds succession politics supreme and sacrosanct of governance and perpetuity.
Towards the end, it became starkly clear that his was the grand-vision to die in power, to position his family and guard his material legacy, be the writer, editor and teller of his own history.
A black Napoleon in the Waterloo of his workings.
Mugabe’s land reform was marred with grave miscalculation that cost his economy, spiraled his name from the pinnacle right into the gutter.
In fact, he gave credence to political expedience more than the necessity of guarding the economy so much that this made his prolonged stay no longer welcome.
That became his Damocles sword dangling over his empire.
Every Zimbabwean is not conflicted about the solidity of the foundations he helped lay, guided by the vision of his “swords into ploughshares” speech, but the superstructure of state was dirtied by the greed for power, a thirst to dominate history and an ill-fated onslaught on global capital.
In Mugabe, Zimbabwe found a charming accomplished Black Englishman but one whose tastes were so rich that he gave into accumulation at the expense of a population scavenging a living on the fringe of the national cake.
His populist indigenization policies were glittery with the hopes and aspirations of national empowerment but got struck in the knees by self-aggrandizing arch-demons from within the power circles of the ruling party.
The country turned on its white citizenry and spooked an entire agriculture sector into flight towards exile.
The economic dystopia and mayhem that followed would set forth an exilic trek towards green pastures of the country’s best brains.
Did Mugabe care?
“The only good Whiteman is a dead one,” he declared.
One aspect of leadership is decisiveness, an inability to vacillate, an ability to be resolute and firm in the face of adversity and that alone marked Mugabe’s leadership fashion.
He courted the regional leadership which hailed his intransigence and open-air curt aspersions he never shied away from throwing on erstwhile colonizers.
A strategic genius, he used such a trait to stay in power rather than build an economy but his attempts to realize his version of a socialist state was torpedoed by a volley of sanctions which punished him to death.
Towards the end, Mugabe became more disillusioned, more paranoid and sensitive to change, that he failed to smell the very coffee brewing dangerously from the pots of his front-yard.
He downplayed the threat of his subordinates and heavily miscalculated the negative impact of the menacing presence of his wife in party politics.
And so, when a factional wrangle flared up with succession being its very lining, Mugabe became too obsessed with how best to secure a dynast and ignored the very underpinnings of power.
He became enemy number one from within as well as from without, but we shall never underestimate the regard thousands more still had in him as a liberator first and ultimately the father of the nation.
Mugabe goes a bitter man, struck from the back by the blade of the Brutus he helped rescue decades ago from possible execution and relegated to the fringe by a party he helped build from the formative years of the revolution.
But it is change that Zanu PF ever wanted, a change from within and reform that would guarantee Zanu-PF hegemony, one which lined supremos and military heavyweights to the seat of power.
Did he ever dream a coup would rattle him from the grandiose echelons of authority, did he ever think a possible impeachment would humble him to the very dust from whence he came, or did he ever stopped to imagine that an entire city, differentiated along racial, ethnical, linguistic and political affiliations would be united into a march against him, cemented by the common denominator which was hatred for his long stay in power?
Too much familiarity breeds contempt.
Mugabe is a larger than life heroic failure who lost touch of where the wind was blowing, lost touch of the grave reality of contempt his family brought on the individual and fellow heroes of the past. “Leadership is not sexually transmitted”.
In his latter days, Mugabe installed his son-law as boss of a flag-carrier, installed his daughter on the board of the state-run Empower Bank while his boys indulged in the flamboyance of ridiculous materialism.
Mugabe has power wired to his cuffs, but he was human, he was a mere victim in the game of pretense even from pro-democracy movements, he was indeed a recipient to the blows of regime change and he fought back.
His land reform was not according to his plan, extenuating circumstances drove him to the edge, pushed by the threat of a bucolic veteran power system bent on dipping their battered hands in the cookie jar.
Where they wrong?
Mugabe is a revolutionary doyen, whose sundown was marred by the mistakes of his day, but also by the insecurities that are ingrained within the deoxyribonucleic acid system of a regime under siege.
How will Zimbabweans remember him?
He was an experience that was, a hang-over that will underline and determine the destiny of many from the other side of the river, a contrast of different shades and temperament.
He lives behind the legacy of freedom in rags, of an educated mass in the wilderness, an empowered people with industrial behemoths whose cogs have long since ceased to move, a legacy of contrasts.