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By Morak Babajide-Alabi
Events in Zimbabwe took a dramatic turn last week when the lifetime 93-year old President Robert Mugabe finally accepted the harsh reality that his political career was over. It was not supposed to be a surprise at all, but the grand old man played a deft hand and extended his stay in power, a few hours, beyond the expected. While the resignation was to have come earlier, Mugabe decided it was not yet time to leave the stage. Instead, he treated the world to a rambling live television broadcast.
Freedom, however, came for Zimbabweans on Tuesday. As it is said, there is nothing as sweet as freedom. The celebration witnessed in the Parliament where the Speaker read out Mugabe’s resignation letter was unprecedented in the country. The legislative members couldn’t control their joy, as they burst into shouts, claps, and dances.
It was carnival-like as members instantaneously started singing freedom songs. No one had imagined these reactions. Not too long, the victorious atmosphere in the hall soon spilled to the streets as citizens learned of the sudden change of mind of the “old grandmaster”. The scenes on the streets of Harare depicted people who had been kept shackled for far too long.
The jubilation reflected the mood of the people – united in celebrations with no colour segregation or class definition. Both whites and black Zimbabweans huddled together, danced together and celebrated the departure of the man that has held their destinies captive for over thirty-seven years. In many television interviews, citizens spoke of their hope for a new beginning. They spoke of a new Zimbabwe where freedom will be an entitlement and not a luxury.
Life can indeed play games on human beings. For Mugabe, at this time, it is a cruel game. He was blinded to the fact that he had dealt the citizens harsh hands for too long. He did not for a moment give the thought that the people were dancing along with him out of compulsion and not love.
Mugabe was a leader that lost it along the way. He was a man destined for a good place in African history where generations of Zimbabweans would have studied and celebrate his nationalism for long. This is not all lost, though, as he would still be remembered as the poster boy of the independence of his beloved country. It would be written of him though that he sacrificed his life for his people to be free from the oppressive colonial government.
He became the darling of all freedom fighters in the world. We can still remember the song “Zimbabwe” by the late Bob Marley and his performance at the independence ceremony in Harare in 1980. The legendary Sonny Okosun also sang songs of freedom in Zimbabwe, which was then a beacon of hope for other countries, especially South Africa, that was in the grip of apartheid.
Just as it played out on the streets last week, one is reminded of the joyful faces that witnessed the swearing in of Mugabe as President some thirty-seven years ago. There were dancing, hugging, shouting and above all, there were hopes for a better tomorrow in the land. It is ironic that the exit of the same man that was ushered in with such fanfare so many years ago could bring so much joy to the population as it did last week. The Mugabe that loved Zimbabwe lost the plot and became so disorientated and there was the disconnect between him and the reality his people were facing.
Let’s chill out for a minute in our condemnation of Mugabe as a monster or evil-minded individual. Let us understand the fact that he could not have lasted this long if there was no backing of his party, the ZANU-PF and the leaders. He was unfortunate because he was the “face” of the advisers around him. He was a leader who surrounded himself with people who saw him as the butter on their loaves of bread.
Grace Mugabe had been fingered as the one who pulled the trigger of events in the country. We should not be too hard on Grace for this. This is a woman who rose from nothing to something just by sharing a bed with an aging individual who happened to hold the key to the country’s treasury. With a mindset that nothing is impossible, considering how she got to where she was, Grace felt succeeding her husband would be the peak of a “rag to riches” story. She “worked” on her husband, both in and out of bed until he succumbed to her wish.
Now, my main issue with Zimbabweans is them trying to blame Grace for all the problems of the country. Not one of them is talking about the newly ‘anointed’ President Emerson Mnangagwa, who was until a few weeks ago part of “the cabal” that ran the show. It is unfortunate that he was sworn in as a replacement to Mugabe last Friday, but political observers think the man aptly named “The Crocodile” is in the same league with the former president.
Is Mnangagwa the saviour of this nation? It is agreed that he is just accepted at this time because Zimbabweans want anyone but Grace on the seat of power. This is understandable. Zimbabweans know his hands are not clean. He was, until the power tussle with Grace, a confidant of Mugabe, who had played major roles in sustaining him in office for so long. He was part of the decision making processes that disenfranchised people by rigging elections to keep Mugabe in power.
Mnangagwa played a part in impoverishing the citizens, by being a member of the kitchen cabinet of Mugabe that enacted drastic economic laws that took food away from their tables. He was Mugabe’s right-hand man who held strategic offices throughout the despotic regime of Mugabe. Is this the making of another Mugabe? “The Crocodile” took advantage of his closeness with the army generals to effect a coup.
Zimbabweans are shedding the tears of joy at this moment. Their tears have clouded their vision and are not seeing things in perspective. Or probably in the spirit of a new beginning and hope for a better tomorrow the citizens have decided to overlook the sins of this man who played a major part in turning Mugabe to the despot that he became.
There are many questions begging for answers. It seems, however, we have to ignore the answers and pretend everything is going to be okay now that Mnangagwa is in the saddle. For now, we will pretend that the change Zimbabweans desperately need in their economy, politics, health, finances etc will come very soon.
Will Mnangagwa allow freedom of expression and opinion in the new Zimbabwe? Will foreign investors see him as a credible candidate to birth a new nation? Will he ensure free and fair elections? Or will he be seeking an election that will endorse him for the next five years so he can consolidate power? Will Zimbabweans file out on the streets and call for him to quit if he toes the path of Mugabe?
Going by many African countries’ experiences, change can be a mirage. For politicians, and Mnangagwa is one, the only change they care about is them calling the shots.
As published in the Sunday Vanguard of November 26, 2017.