WHEN President Robert Mugabe commemorated his 91st birthday last Saturday on a golf course near the spectacular Victoria Falls, he was surrounded mostly by mafikizolos (johnny-come-latelies) after systematically purging his liberation war colleagues, particularly after last December’s congress, and losing some to death.
Since Independence Mugabe, a typical Machiavellian, has ruthlessly dealt with internal dissenters and critics, among them, party stalwarts Edgar Tekere, Eddison Zvobgo, Enos Nkala and Maurice Nyagumbo (all late) in the 1980s and 1990s, and lately Rugare Gumbo, Didymus Mutasa, Dzikamai Mavhaire and former vice-president Joice Mujuru, among others.
Mutasa and Gumbo filed a High Court application on Thursday challenging the legality of Zanu PF’s divisive 2014 congress.
Some of Mugabe’s sternest critics and perceived threats have died under mysterious circumstances and these include Josiah Tongogara, Solomon Mujuru, Sydney Malunga, Brigadier-General Armstrong Gunda and lately Edward Chindori-Chininga.
Mugabe, a deeply divisive figure at home and abroad, is the only leader the country has known since Independence from colonial power Britain in 1980. He is the only remaining founding African leader among those that fought white domination still in power.
The likes of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere and Samora Machel (all late) and Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda have long since made way for leadership renewal.
While other African states have had successive leaders, Zimbabwe is stuck with Mugabe.
Despite old age and ill-health, Mugabe’s succession debate remains taboo in Zanu PF and anyone he feels poses a threat to his rule is dealt with ruthlessly and decisively.
According to recently expelled Gumbo, Mugabe joined politics and the struggle for Independence back in the 1960s “with only a dirty shirt and trousers”.
“Everything Mugabe is, he owes it to us — the very people he detained. He is ruthless,” Gumbo bitterly complained in an interview in 1980 on the eve of Zimbabwe’s Independence.
The likes of Gumbo, Tekere, Nkala, Nyagumbo and more recently Mujuru and Jabulani Sibanda and Mujuru were all discarded after falling out with Mugabe despite their immense contributions to his rise and survival before and after the liberation struggle.
“He uses people — the presidents of the (then) Frontline States, people like (the late vice-president Joshua Nkomo) to build himself up and then he tries to destroy them. He cares nothing for the masses or for the country. All he cares about is Mugabe,” Gumbo said in the interview which was ironically published on Mugabe’s birthday on February 21 in 1980 in the state media.
The Frontline States was a group of southern African countries formed in 1970 to support the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.
Gumbo is certainly not alone in this view of Mugabe which has been expressed at different periods by other Zanu PF luminaries like Tekere and Nkala.
And while in some instances there may be a case for the proverbial sour grapes, analysts say this presents an accurate character analysis of the veteran leader whose amoral approach to politics — while serving his quest for power splendidly — will however taint his legacy already damaged by the current economic and social failures.
Political analyst and academic Ibbo Mandaza said using people to further his personal interests “runs in Mugabe’s DNA and his capacity to dispense with those who had served him loyally is feature of all dictators”.
“He (Mugabe) has no enduring loyalty to anybody and that is a feature of dictators. He can even sacrifice his own relatives (like James Chikerema) at the altar of political expediency. These are some of the Machiavellian methods he has used.”
Citing the likes of former ministers and senior Zanu PF officials such as Nyagumbo, Zvobgo, Tekere, Mutasa and Morton Malianga, Mandaza said there is a long list of colleagues who suffered after being dumped by Mugabe.
“Nyagumbo who shared prison cells with Mugabe for more than a decade (during the liberation struggle) committed suicide in distress after being dumped by a comrade (Mugabe),” Mandaza said.
Fellow political analyst and academic Charles Mangongera concurred with Mandaza saying “ever since his entry into politics in the 1960s, Mugabe has always been a brilliant political power player manipulating people in true Machiavellian fashion to achieve power for himself”.
“If it means using the tribal card, he uses it, if it means using downright thuggery or persuasion he will do it all. During the Government of National unity (GNU) he managed to cosy up to MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai and pretended to be ready to give up power only to steal the (2013) election with Tsvangirai none the wiser,” he said.
“In 2004, he elevated Mujuru to the vice-presidency only to bring her down recently and even accuse her of bringing witches from Nigeria in an attempt to topple him,” Mangongera added.
Gumbo even accused Mugabe of being sadistic.
“When we were detained, Mugabe would come to see us in the pits where we were kept like animals. He would laugh at us, taunt us, we were tortured. He laughed. He enjoyed seeing us suffering,” Gumbo said.
But Gumbo and other colleagues were useful in Mugabe’s ultimately successful struggle to wrest control of Zanu from its founding leader Ndabaningi Sithole in 1977.
Zvobgo, who was useful in Mugabe’s quest for untrammelled power which he fulfilled by drafting the 1987 constitutional amendments, was also dumped.
Bulawayo-based political commentator Godwin Phiri said: “Everyone in politics is expendable and Mugabe is only following a script of political survival for which he is not the author.
People like Gumbo, Mujuru, Mutasa and others had naturally come to the end of their utility for Mugabe, hence his decision to dump them. They are certainly not the first in that regard as even people like Nkala were at one point very useful to Mugabe in balancing regional politics, coming as he did from Matabeleland.
But Nkala was rendered irrelevant by the signing of the Unity Accord with Zapu in 1987, hence Mugabe could afford to dispense with him after the Willowgate scandal.”
Mangongera adds: “Mugabe has certainly survived by using and dumping colleagues and rivals. However, his will not ensure the kind of positive legacy he would have loved to leave behind.” .