By JOHN CHIMUNHU
Now Daily Analysis
The spin doctors are hard at work to present a picture of normalcy in dictator Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. On the country’s only television channel, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, which Mugabe has hijacked for personal and Zanu PF party propaganda, they are recycling old videos of a more youthful and energetic president. They are trying unsuccessfully to cover up the obvious truth that Mugabe is now way too old and too sickly to keep up with the rigours of high office.
“Mugabe is insane,” says former cabinet minister and close aide of the president Dzikamai Mavhaire, who was expelled from Zanu PF after stating the obvious, that the president is now too senile to continue working. Mavhaire’s assessment is hard to dispute, given that Mugabe sometimes reads the same speech twice without realising it, forgets things easily and addresses dead people at funerals as if they are alive. He often appears confused, disoriented and absent-minded, harping on issues that are considered unimportant for the leader of a country in such deep crisis.
Mugabe now goes for months at a time without appearing in public. When he does show up – usually hours late for official functions – he is so heavily sedated on drugs that he can hardly speak coherently. An airport rally to welcome him back home from two months of holiday and specialist medical treatment in the Far East was cancelled at the last minute recently after the military generals who control his itinerary decided he was too weak and too gaunt to be seen in public.
When he gave his traditional ‘birthday interview’ to the state-run broadcaster Monday, he mumbled through it, was hardly audible, often did not make sense and showed how out of touch he was with the reality that Zimbabweans want him to go. He was enraged when the interviewer reminded him that former admirer and radical South African politician Julius Malema had said he was old and should retire.
“Who is Malema,” Mugabe said. “The call to step down must come from my party. They want me to stand for elections and it’s the voice I heed. Of course if I feel I can’t do it anymore I’ll say so to my party so that they relieve me, but for now I can’t say so.”
That is hardly the truth. All party members who have suggested that he should step down, including war veterans’ leader Christopher Mutsvangwa, have been expelled or even killed.
The president’s health is considered a state secret and discussing his age amounts to treason, punishable by death. Journalist Itai Dzamara, who handed Mugabe’s officials a petition calling on the president to resign for failing to perform his duties was abducted by state agents and has not been seen for two years amid credible reports that he was murdered.
A Zimbabwean court recently dismissed an application by civic activists calling on the judges to declare Mugabe, 93 years old on February 21 2017, unfit to hold public office. The decision to throw out Promise Mkwananzi’s application to declare Mugabe ineligible to stay in office on age and health grounds was expected, however. The judiciary is compromised after Mugabe stuffed the bench with judges who support him. In fact, abuse of the judiciary and the court system is one reason the man described as a ‘tyrant’ by former US president George W. Bush has stayed in power for 37 years.
The head of the judiciary, chief justice Godfrey Chidyausiku has admitted that he is biased in favour of Mugabe and it is inconceivable that any judge would rule against the dictator. Chidyausiku, whose term expires at the end of February 2017, was described by lawyer and former education minister David Coltart as “Mugabe’s trump card when he became Chief Justice, providing him with a legal fig leaf in the face of gross violations of Zimbabwe’s Constitution”.
Previous attempts to impeach Mugabe through parliament have failed after divisions emerged within the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change – Tsvangirai (MDC-T) party which was leading the charge. MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai betrayed his colleagues and joined Mugabe in a coalition government that collapsed after five years, enough time for the dictator to reorganize his militias, who had abandoned him after he failed to pay them in 2008.
However, the fact remains that at 93 Mugabe is way too old to perform any regular state duties. Images of Mugabe sleeping during important meetings are no longer news. He now sleeps while walking and sometimes falls, a fact that is getting much harder to hide due to the prevalence of phone cameras and rebellion within the ranks of his security teams. The question for Zimbabweans is how to get rid of a monstrous political dinosaur who has vowed not to shed power to anyone while he is alive and to ensure that it goes to his wife, child or close relative if he dies.
There are many theories on why Mugabe does not want to relinquish power. The most obvious is that he has committed so many political murders and corruption scandals that ordinary people would hang him in the public square the moment he steps down. What is less known is the secret encouragement, practical support and money he gets from global powers, some of which publicly denounce him for gross human rights abuses, routine election rigging and grand theft from the state treasury.
“Mugabe likes to boast that the British put him in power and it is only they who can remove him. So far the British are not inclined to remove him because their multinationals are still busy pillaging the country’s resources,” political analyst Chris Mitchell told Now Daily.
Instead of calling on the dictator to give up power and “baby-sit his grandson”, as one opposition politician put it, members of the Zanu PF youth league and the women’s league led by his wife Grace Mugabe are demanding that he be declared life president. To what end, nobody is saying.
Mugabe is something of an enigma. Just how he has managed to stay in power for nearly 40 years, terrorizing the local population and sniggering at the Western powers that imposed sanctions on him in 2001 in a failed attempt to dethrone him, is a mystery. It defies logic that a leader who is universally despised at home and abroad can have that amount of longevity in a country where the majority of the population are literate and well-informed about his murderous misrule.
Many are crediting his wife Grace Mugabe, who is forty years his junior, with encouraging him to stay on while she consolidates her own political position with the hope of taking over from him as president. Hated by many within the ruling establishment, Grace Mugabe has wormed her way to the top of the party hierarchy. Party slogans now extoll her ‘virtues’ and her smiling face is emblazoned on state buses.
Former Zanu PF chairman in Mugabe’s Mashonaland West home province Temba Mliswa said Grace Mugabe was now so powerful that she was making cabinet appointments, demotions and expulsions on behalf of her ageing husband.
Mugabe met his wife at the office where she was a telephone switchboard operator. He was impressed by her dancing skills at the lavish weekly office parties held at the Sheraton hotel and started having sex with her while she was married to an Air Force officer, Stanley Goreraza and his own wife Sally Hayfron Mugabe was still alive. Today, Grace Mugabe is the most powerful and most feared woman in Zimbabwe despite being caught committing adultery several times. She controls the dictator’s every move, punches and rails at him in front of his aides if he meanders and often embarrasses him in public by ordering him to “shut up” when he wants to give his trademark long rumbling speeches.
Mugabe likes to boast about his education, which he obtained from the British colonialists who ruled the country for over a century. Due to his ‘undisciplined behaviour’, he was sent to prison for 10 years, a time in which he acquired six degrees and was taught to be ruthless by the colonial guards who abused him, including by crushing his testicles.
As a teacher at Dadaya school, he had witnessed the excesses of white colonial rule. Under the liberal headmaster Garfield Todd, who later became Southern Rhodesian prime minister, Mugabe had learnt peaceful resistance before prison transformed him into a merciless guerrilla commander, leading his rag tag army in a campaign of murder and mayhem which brought him to power in 1980.
Prince Charles, the British queen Elizabeth II’s son, was on standby to see the Union Jack lowered and the new Zimbabwean flag go up at a football stadium filled with ecstatic people happy to see the end of colonial rule. Diplomats from all over the world were there to witness history being made while Jamaican crooner Bob Marley sang songs of freedom.
Mugabe talked about total emancipation and power. However, it soon emerged that his guerrilla army was not prepared to take over the reins of state power. Six years later, Mugabe was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. This was despite the Gukurahundi massacres in which the North Korean-trained 5th Brigade of the Zimbabwean army and the Central Intelligence Organization, Mugabe’s elite private army, murdered up to 50 000 civilians. Some of the victims were buried alive, dumped in mine shafts or burned to death while their relatives and neighbours were forced to watch, away from the glare of the international media, which was banned from ‘operational areas’.
Despite the mass murders of perceived supporters and fellow tribesmen of Mugabe’s main political rival Joshua Nkomo, the despot was feted by Western powers. He had revealed allegiance to Western powers, notably Britain and the United States, whose multinationals like Union Carbide, Rio Tinto and Lonrho were at the forefront of extracting Zimbabwe’s resources. He was preferred over Nkomo, who had declared his intention to put the land and white-owned businesses in black hands at independence.
Mugabe travelled the world. His wife Sally was photographed receiving bouquets from Western leaders. He was invited to Buckingham palace where he and his entourage drank the English queen’s best wines. Mugabe turned his back on the Russians and Chinese who had bankrolled his decade-long guerrilla campaign and supplied him with weapons. He abandoned communism and adopted a milder version which he called ‘Marxism-Leninism’.
Foreign ideologies were to dominate Mugabe’s reign. After purging Nkomo’s Zapu, he declared a one party state. He had re-baptized the country Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe dollar was adopted. The statue of Cecil Rhodes, the British imperialist businessman from which the country owed its name Rhodesia was brought down and relegated to an obscure spot at the National Archives. The country’s leading musician, Thomas Mapfumo was contracted to compose praise songs for the dictator. At the airport, which the despot frequented on his numerous foreign trips, half naked women were forced to do the ‘kongonya’, a raunchy routine where the dancers twerk like robots, much to the pleasure of Mugabe and foreign dignitaries.
There was concentration of power and glory in one man. The media was taken over. Mugabe’s portrait went up in every school and public office. He was likened to God. Religion was restrained. Worshippers were dragged out of churches on Sundays and indoctrinated in the confusing Zanu ideology at political rallies.
But the population soon grew tired of dancing the ‘kongonya’ all day on empty stomachs. At universities and colleges, Mugabe was publicly defied. Students were shot and their leaders, such as Arthur Mutambara, were tried. Universities were closed. The students were inducted into the CIO where they were taught to submit and say nothing about the horrific abuses the government was perpetrating on the people, including murder, disappearances, rape and destruction of businesses.
Mugabe ranted against the British, accusing them of fomenting tension within the army and sponsoring generals to rise against him. The opposition leader Ndabaningi Sithole, former leader of Mugabe’s Zanu, was put on trial for treason. The secret service was put to work. There were numerous secret executions at the notorious CIO black site in Goromonzi, near Harare and torture chambers which had gone up everywhere. Mugabe had decided to follow Machiavelli’s mantra that it is better to be feared than loved.
The secret murders and open attacks on protesters and perceived rebels led professionals to flee the country. Many went to South Africa, taking vital skills with them. Without their expertise, the Zimbabwean economy began to slide.
Mugabe had no children with his wife Sally. But unbeknown to most Zimbabweans, the dictator was building a secret family. He had children with Grace Marufu, the wife of one of his officers whom he later married after his wife died in mysterious circumstances. Insiders who spoke to Now Daily said Sally Mugabe was ‘terminated’ to pave way for Mugabe’s ill-fated marriage to Grace. Mugabe was rumoured to bed many of his subordinates’ wives, to get information and control over them.
In 1990, Mugabe had adopted ESAP, the economic and structural adjustment programme bankrolled by loans from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. The programme led to job losses as expected but funds set aside to cushion the newly jobless were looted by state officials. Instead of prosecuting the thieves, Mugabe responded by saying it was the Americans who had ‘taught’ Zimbabweans corruption.
The new troubles led to the rise of the trade union movement. Its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai became a celebrity among the workers, organising a series of strikes. He became a target and there were attempts on his life.
As the economy sank to disastrous levels, Mugabe could no longer take care of members of his large extended family and the Zezuru ethnic group from which his mother hailed, who had been given top state and military jobs.
Mugabe’s mixed legacy could have survived had the economy not taken a severe knock due to corruption and mismanagement. Under Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s economy has become a Pandora’s box for investors and the public. It can mean instant disaster or improbable riches for those who dare.
In 2008, the Zimdollar collapsed, wiping out pensions and savings of millions. The fall of the local currency was the culmination of 10 years of failed economic policies that started in earnest when Mugabe decided in 1998 to dish out unbudgeted millions of dollars to former members of his guerrilla army. After Mugabe lost a constitutional referendum in 2000, he ordered his militias to invade white-owned commercial farms, blaming the farmers for his loss. Elections were rigged, violence escalated and the country descended into chaos. A year later, the United States and other Western countries imposed sanctions on Mugabe and froze vital aid to the country.
Disgruntled workers, students, church and civic groups as well as farmers had formed the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in 1999 as the first formidable opposition to Mugabe since independence. Still feeling insecure after expelling from the country most of the white farmers, Mugabe’s forces went on the rampage in 2005, destroying the homes and businesses of 1.3 million perceived opposition supporters. The operation, dubbed Murambatsvina, was declared a crime against humanity by the United Nations but virtually no action was taken against the despot and his troops. Feeling encouraged by the UN’s inaction, Mugabe went on to order the murder of more than 2 000 opposition members after he lost elections to Tsvangirai and the MDC in 2008. Again, Mugabe survived imminent devastating sanctions from the United Nations Security Council after China and Russia vetoed a potent resolution to punish him.
To the shock and surprise of many, Tsvangirai decided to join Mugabe in 2009 in a governing coalition that was doomed to fail from the start. The dictator made token changes, including approving a new ‘democratic’ constitution which has not been put to use years after it was signed. Tsvangirai went around the world campaigning for the lifting of sanctions and resumption of aid. Up to $2 billion in emergency relief was provided by Western governments. The European Union lifted sanctions on most members of the Harare regime. Mugabe has since broken his alliance with Tsvangirai who was a token ‘prime minister’ and drove him out of his government, throwing the opposition into turmoil and giving him crucial time to recover.
Under Mugabe, Zimbabwe is now ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. It is now also one of the poorest. It was not always like that.
In 2008, military generals invaded diamond claims belonging to the British firm Africa Consolidated Resources. That gave Mugabe new bargaining power with the Chinese and the Russians, who supplied weapons in exchange for diamonds. Mugabe and his wife looted diamonds worth $15 billion, according to authoritative reports seen by Now Daily.
Today, Mugabe’s family and top officials enjoy lavish lifestyles on account of the diamonds. They send their children to expensive schools abroad, sup at the best restaurants in Harare, build mansions and drive posh cars, far from the madding crowds that suffer daily under the burden of utility shortages, poverty and joblessness which afflicts 96 percent of the population.
As American novelist Aldous Huxley wrote, dictators survive by creating one reality for the masses and quite another for those around them, who are allowed to enjoy the trappings of power. Mugabe has perfected that. Unfortunately, his age no longer permits him to enjoy the benefits of the perfect terror machine that he created.
© John Chimunhu 2017. All Rights Reserved.