WHEN former Zanu PF Youth League member and activist Acie Lumumba, whose real name is William Gerald Mutumanje, used the f-word (saying f**k you) to President Robert Mugabe, many people, friend and foe alike, protested it was wrong.
Editor’s Memo,Dumisani Muleya
Not because they were trying to be strait-laced or holier-than-thou. But because it was wrong in terms of judgment and morally, especially in our African culture.
Lumumba’s insult — a deliberate and calculated act of vulgarity and insolence — was pretty insulting. Hurling insults at elders, a 92-year-old grandpa for that matter, especially unprovoked and in public, is insulting to society. Moreso in Mugabe’s case, given his office and the inherent respect and prestige it commands.
Of course, there are people who say Mugabe must be shown the respect he deserves, basically none. Well, but insulting him so crudely is simply untenable.
Yet respect, which is a lot more important and greater than popularity, is a two-way traffic.
Enough of that; now for the real issues. The question is why is Mugabe now being so brazenly and openly disrespected even by those who initially idiolised him when he had the world under his feet in 1980?
Every now and then, ordinary people are being arrested and hauled to the courts for insulting him. Politicians are now always hurling tirades and even potshots at him.
Even in parliament, it is no longer unusual to watch Mugabe being booed and heckled by opposition MPs. It happened last year during a state of the nation address, showing how he has now fallen from grace to grass.
At the height of his power and popularity in 1980, Mugabe was liked — and hated too — by many who saw him as a liberation struggle hero and a progressive leader. He was worshipped at home and lionised around the world, getting many awards, including an honorary knighthood in Britain. He dined and wined with the powerful, rich and famous.
But now he is a virtual pariah. He has degenerated into a petty and vicious tyrant consumed by hubris and self-righteousness; facing an endgame of tragic dimensions.
Having started relatively well in his rule in 1980, despite vengeance and human rights abuses against his political rivals and their supporters, Mugabe later allowed himself to descend into a life of power, violence and plunder.
From the post-Independence hopes of idealism and success, Mugabe lost the plot somewhere. In fact, he started losing it early into self-rule and never recovered thereafter.
As the economy inevitably began to decline with him losing popularity in tandem with its deterioration due to misrule, his true colours emerged showing vengeance, brutality and a pathological obsession with power.
In the process, he savagely crushed opponents, committed egregious human rights abuses, amassed power, allowed corruption to become rampant and disastrously mismanaged the economy.
As a beleaguered inept leader in the face of growing discontent after 2000, Mugabe resorted to desperate measures — seizing white-owned farms, grabbing companies, increasing presidential powers, arresting journalists and muzzling the media and crushing any opposition.
This is the same approach his regime is using now in the face of renewed popular discontent and social unrest. It is cracking down on citizens for merely engaging in civic resistance against tyranny, repression and economic failure. People are being arrested and detained all over the country. Even clerics like Evan Mawarire who only engage in passive resistance are being arrested and harassed.
Instead of investing in social services, infrastructure and the country’s future, Mugabe has built a police state and heavily invested in state propaganda, media repression, co-option of elites and equipping security forces to quell potential uprisings.
But he had to finance such outlays at the expense of the public’s living standards. While his regime has survived economic shocks, including hyperinflation, it remains corrupt and incompetent. It has lost legitimacy and is at sea; it has no idea how to resolve the crisis. Hence, lack of respect for him. In short, Mugabe is now acting like a cornered rat.