Editor’s Memo: Dumisani Muleya
YESTERDAY Zimbabweans commemorated, or simply just observed, former president Robert Mugabe’s birthday which has now been institutionalised into a national holiday, even though the majority might have done so with disdain, bitter memories and even anger.
Yet some would have had empathy and fond memories of Mugabe. People have different experiences of Mugabe’s rule. Some benefitted from it a great deal, while others, the majority, suffered and were left with scars and wounds on their bodies and consciences.
But the fact remains Mugabe failed and the disastrous legacy of his devastating reign is there for all to see. This is the irony and even folly of keeping in the national memory and public life commemorations of Mugabe’s birthday. How does a nation so devastated and ruined by a leader’s authoritarian sway keep on perpetuating his period of influence and memory through such symbolisms?
As a founding leader of Zimbabwe, it is no surprise though Mugabe’s footprint and legacy still looms large. His personality, politics and bequest are still with Zimbabwe and the world in some respects. It will remain so for a long time to come.
Mugabe’s name is not just in people’s remembrances, reminiscences, heads, hearts and souls, but also in the street names, main airport and yesterday’s holiday. There was an attempt to build a US$1 billion university bearing his name. His name and memory are ubiquitous in Zimbabwean politics and public life.
No doubt Mugabe played a major role in the Zimbabwean liberation struggle and history, and recorded some positives during his rule, but these contributions pale in significance compared to the consequences of his misrule: incompetence, corruption, nepotism, ethnicisation of the state, venality, depredations and poverty.
By keeping all symbolisms of Mugabe intact and most importantly replicating his rule, President Emmeson Mnangagwa is proving to all and sundry, including those who admire and support him, that he is the best Mugabe student alive.
Having been the chief enforcer of Mugabe’s rule for decades, it is difficult for Mnangagwa to extricate himself from the fallen dictator’s philosophy, beliefs and practices in social, political and economic spheres — Mugabeism.
Although Mugabe was not ideologically rooted compared to some of his contemporaries and a visionary, he, however, had his own thinking, theories and principles which influenced his rule.
Mnangagwa has never hidden he is a Mugabe protégé and admirer. He even considers him a father figure. That is why Mugabeism remains alive and well in Zimbabwe.
Despite toppling Mugabe through a military coup to save his own political career, protect self-interest and personal aggrandisement, Mnangagwa has remained rooted and loyal to Mugabeism.
The way Mnangagwa carries himself around, behaves in office, his protocols, conducts statecraft and deals with dissent (read recent brutalities and killings); it all has
echoes of Mugabe’s style.
When he leaves and arrives back in the country, for instance, you see Mugabeism in display. Senior officials line up at the airport Mugabe-style to see Mnangagwa off and welcome him back; falling on each other to bootlick to curry his favour.
Perhaps he doesn’t even realise it, even the way Mnangagwa sits in meetings, especially on couches in his office receiving delegates and visitors, Mugabe mannerisms filter through. The other thing he would probably want to do is to imitate Mugabe’s speech delivery, but then he lacks the eloquence and charisma.
On leadership style, policies and governance, Mnangagwa has been behaving differently from Mugabe — at least at the level of rhetoric and symbolism — but the outcome of his
actions have been the same.
That is partly why people say nothing has changed, except for the worse, of course.
If Mnangagwa really wants to be different from Mugabe, he has to abandon Mugabeist toxic politics, economic philosophy, policies and symbolisms. This can be done by embracing a new thinking, reforms and democratic practices.
Otherwise, Zimbabwe will remain edging irretrievably for a Venezuela-style meltdown.