ON the eve of Zimbabwe’s historic general election in 1980, veteran nationalist Rugare Gumbo, whose contribution to the liberation struggle is illustrious and undeniable, strongly warned Zimbabweans on February 21 that they were going to regret down the line electing President Robert Mugabe as the country’s founding leader.
Editor’s Memo: Dumisani Muleya
In a withering attack against the man of the moment at the time, Gumbo described Mugabe as power-hungry, ruthless and self-centred; characteristics which have endured to this day.
“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. He is ruthless,” Gumbo said.
“He uses people — the Presidents of the Frontline States, people like 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.
“When he joined the party he had only a dirty shirt and trousers. Now he has money — a lot of money. He is wealthy.
He built a fortune on the backs and the sweat of people like us. He takes his wife all over Europe and spends thousands. This is the man who wants to make this country Marxist (socialist). He must be stopped.”
Gumbo admitted he was bitter, but feared for Zimbabweans and the nation under Mugabe’s imminent rule.
“Yes, I am bitter. I am also afraid — for my people and for my country. Those who vote for Mugabe will do so out of fear, and it is wrong. They must be told not to do it. Mugabe’s intimidation must be stopped. The people must be united . . .”
While Gumbo’s warning has now come to pass, no one listened at the time. Given the euphoria of independence and near religious support for Mugabe, Gumbo’s warning fell on deaf ears. Mugabe was riding on the crest of a wave of popularity.
Despite history being full of examples of great betrayals by pioneers and luminaries of liberation struggles, Gumbo was ignored by many in Zanu, except a few who had shared the same ideas and harsh experiences with him in Mozambique during their detention in dungeons for opposing Mugabe’s leadership — revolting against the party hierarchy if you are coming from a revisionist angle.
Otherwise, he was brushed off as no less than a bitter man, or worse still a Judas Iscariot or Marcus Brutus. Yet today Gumbo’s prophetic words ring true and instructive, showing he knew and understood who Mugabe really was right from the beginning and at a time when not many were willing to scrutinise, let alone criticise him in public.
Many treated Mugabe like a demigod; a leader greatly revered and admired to a point of being showered with Churchillian accolades bordering on hagiography. He was hero-worshipped and this created the current personality cult around him.
However, he is now loved and hated almost in equal measure of intensity by his dwindling band of disciples and growing multitudes of critics.
Gumbo said at the launch of Arthur Mutambara’s new book, In Search of the Elusive Zimbabwean Dream: An Autobiography of Thought Leadership, at Sapes Trust in Harare on Wednesday night, he feels vindicated.
He revisited his warning in 1980, saying he has been proved right although he had agreed in between to work with Mugabe to try to change things from within.
“So in 1980, I made a statement; I said guys we are dealing with a monster and we are going to suffer, but because of the euphoria of independence and the celebrations that were taking place, no one talked about it,” he said.
If only people listened to the likes of Gumbo and certainly Joshua Nkomo, things could perhaps have turned out to be different!