Mugabe: Revolutionary, statesman, dinosaur and village benefactor

Monday September 16 2019


By Alan Tacca

Many people – especially Africans – treat the dead as if they were still partly with us, with power to reward or to harm the living. The living can sort out or even forgive each other; the dead are touchy, vindictive and implacable.

When people pray that the soul of the departed rest in peace, they are sometimes praying for the ghost of the departed not to disturb them! You can see why they flatter the dead.
I prefer Albert Camus, to whom the dead completely merge with the universe in a kind of mineral anonymity, with the cosmos maintaining its dynamic geometry as if nothing had happened.

Now, those who believe in the survival of souls and existence of ghosts may find that Robert Mugabe has four ghosts; a rather unusual configuration.
His formative years under White supremacists; his education; his early politics; his rebelliousness and imprisonment; all these things shaped Robert Mugabe the revolutionary. The first ghost.

When he took power in 1980, the zeal of the revolutionary did not readily go away, but overlapped with the calculating pragmatism of Mugabe the statesman.
He who interacted with other leaders and showed a level of sanity was also the man whose forces slaughtered more than 20,000 of his countrymen in Matabeleland, showing those who might ever be tempted again to challenge his authority, that he was the master of violence.
The revolutionary and the statesman. Those are two ghosts.

After the turn of the millennium, when Mugabe had done 20 years in power, the distance beyond which a ruler staggers along as a certified dinosaur, after it was clear that even the land seizures had not brought heaven to Zimbabwe, the man went amok and openly did dinosaur things.

Around 2003, he acknowledged that even the Commonwealth could not hold him, quitting the organisation.
At his parting, this third soul (or third ghost), the dinosaur, is also at large, in a manner of speaking.
But stories from Zimbabwe speak of a region that flowed with milk and honey under Mugabe’s rule. Er… region may be a slight exaggeration; more accurately, a village. His village. Like Mobutu had Gbadolite.
To the people of his village, Mugabe gave food and clothes.


To the citizens of this village, Mugabe’s mission and the beauty of Zimbabwe were summed up in the handouts of maize-flour, salt and basic clothes (new or second-hand) that came from the great man.
We are told that in this village, virtually everyone will wish that Mugabe’s ghost haunt the ‘traitors’ who deposed him or celebrated his fall. This is the fourth ghost, the ghost of the village benefactor.

Instead of Zimbabwe, a village.
Pondering this village, it occurs to me – not for the first time – that Africa’s dinosaurs perhaps go on and on because they are striving to organise states that are too big for them, and the realisation of whose order always eludes them.

It is possible that, ultimately, they were less gifted than they believed; that in fact they were biologically engineered and socially cultured with visions for governing nothing much bigger than a village.
As I write on Wednesday, it seems Harare’s officialdom would probably want to bury Mugabe as a hero in the national shrine as an act of magnanimity and a display of state supremacy.

If he is interred in his village, it will be not only his last act of defiance, thanks to his will and his family, but perhaps also a statement that this is where he most truly belongs.

Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.