ZULU: Some lessons from Robert Mugabe's rule

Saturday September 07 2019

Zimbabwean then President Robert Mugabe is sworn in for a sixth term in office in the capital Harare on June 29, 2008 after being declared the winner of a one-man election. PHOTO | ALEXANDER JOE | AFP


Mugabe was an icon and forceful liberator, a gigantic and inspiring leader who exemplified what being a strongman means in African politics. He inspired a very proud nation to believe in itself, and Zimbabweans had a good time the first 15 years or so after Independence, with outstanding infrastructure, clean cities, optimistic and well educated population, and booming agricultural sector in 1991.

He also built very effective primary healthcare delivery systems that led Zimbabwe (alongside Kenya and Botswana) to pioneer what came to be termed irreversible declines in child death rates and birth rates in sub-Saharan Africa. Under Mugabe, Zimbabwe also developed a relatively effective educational system that saw it attain Africa’s highest adult literacy rate at 94 per cent.

He gallantly stood up against colonialism and the seeming western domination in setting the development agenda and driving "interventions" for addressing Africa’s development challenges. On the other side of the coin, however, he was a perfect example of why we need presidential term limits.

But his reign clearly demonstrated how absolute power leads one to shift the agenda from nation building to power preservation, which inevitably entrenches dictatorship, misplaced "patriotism," intolerance, and economic plunder.

First signs of Mugabe’s ugly side surfaced during the so called Gukurahundi massacres where thousands of Ndebele civilians members of the opposition African People's Union Party under the leadership of Joshua Nkomo were killed and tortured by the state security between 1983 and 1987. There should never be justification for butchering political opponents.

There should be no dispute that something needed to be done to fix the skewed land ownership. However, it is evident that "Fast Track Land Reform" initiative that Mugabe initiative in 2000 was deliberately executed in the brutal, violent and disorderly manner primarily to fight for political survival and consolidate power amid growing public support for the opposition.


Many Mugabe sympathisers have argued that what "killed" the Zimbabwean economy was the economic sabotage that the West resorted to through unwarranted economic sanctions specifically designed enforce regime change. A fact that cannot be refuted, however, is that the huge economic downturn manifested under his political watch.

Another critical point relates to the Comrade dying in Singapore. This is a perfect example of how African leaders misappropriate resources and don't prioritise investments in proper healthcare.

Indeed, Mugabe’s life exemplifies the story of our continent which seems to be: The more things change, the more they remain the same. The time to push for the future we all want for the mother continent is now. Aluta continua!

Dr Eliya Msiyaphazi Zulu is the executive director at the African Institute for Development Policy