Saturday 26 September, 2020

Those memorable Mugabe moments

Former Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe.

Former Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe.

A week after the world witnessed the slow but sure departure of Zimbabwe’s President for the last 37 years, during which he moved from a beloved freedom fighter to being seen and accepted as a despised dictator, Robert Mugabe stands as one of the world’s most controversial figures ever.

At least for his public perceptions and at times warped thinking, for which he has been extensively quoted, Mugabe made headlines world-wide as the man who not only refused to let go of power until well into his 90s, but also for saying all he wanted to about everyone he wanted to target, apparently without any regard for general public perception and repercussion.

The son of a carpenter who went to work at a Jesuit mission in South Africa when Robert was just a boy, and mysteriously never returned home, young Mugabe's mother, a teacher, was left to bring up Robert and his three siblings on her own, which could possibly have had a troubling effect on Robert’s formative childhood development.

But young Mugabe seemed to have adjusted well to the challenges, and helped out by tending the family's cows and making money through odd jobs.

He went on to get a good informal education and become a teacher himself before going the route of correspondence courses during his earlier political life to gain formal tertiary qualifications, backed up later by honorary degrees from some prominent European universities after more teaching sojourns.

A native of Rhodesia in which an extremely minute white population dominated everything in sight, Robert Mugabe, through blood, sweat and perhaps tears, along with roughly a decade spent in prison, led a struggle to transform the society into Zimbabwe, a black-controlled country which he took over as its prime minister in 1980 and led on a promising economic trajectory before the proverbial handle began to fall years after under his socialism ideals at the helm of a population of 16.7 million.

Then slowly crept in the tyranny and repression that came to be so intrinsically identified with his leadership, with many in his regime, in particular his eventual successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, widely and practically labelled as “The Crocodile’ for his scorching style of repression and devastation in support of the preservation of the regime, which collectively became a source of much concern globally, but seemingly of no consequence to ‘Bob’, whom much of Africa and the world gleefully told ‘goodbye’ last week.

From his reportedly extensive wealth on an official salary of $12,000 per month back in 2015; to his ‘official’ keeping of a mistress – his now wife - with whom he bore children during his first marriage; his present wife’s known financial extravagance that landed her the unofficial title, ‘Gucci Grace’; to his ruthless takeover of white-own properties in Zimbabwe against international pressure over the manner in which it was being done; to his classical catalogue of quotations on international subject matters from philosophy to world leaders and leadership,  Robert Mugabe perhaps came in second to none among world leaders in terms of being so widely despised by the public over the years.

But ‘Bob’ stood steadfast until he made the ultimate mistake of seemingly seeking to position his much-disliked wife, Grace, to succeed him in the face of ill-health and fading strength over recent times. With the country’s military and his own political party both turning against him over the move, and in the process radically shifting the sands under his feet, the complete loss of his power base forced him to stubbornly make an exit that is still being celebrated globally amid efforts in Zimbabwe to sanitise his legacy in a bid to rebuild the governing Zanu-PF party’s public image.

Of course, in the midst of that public relations job, the atrocities and intrigue of Mugabe’s rule will be largely swept under the carpet to, hopefully, die a slow, natural death historically. But before that impossibility can possibly be accomplished, Loop News took a close look at the life of 93-year-old Robert Gabriel Mugabe, who moved from being Prime Minister to virtual President for Life in Zimbabwe before now departing into the sunset.

Mugabe and family

Below are some of the intrigues that have been associated with his life generally:

  • Mugabe developed a preoccupation with homosexuality, lambasting it as an "un-African" import from Europe. He described gay people as being "guilty of sub-human behaviour", and of being "worse than dogs and pigs". While the stance was believed to have been designed to distract attention from Zimbabwe’s growing national problems, he was noted for his stridency in that regard and, as an example, in August 1995, when he was due to open a human rights-themed book fair in Harare, the country’s capital, he refused to do so until a stall that was being run by the group, Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe, at the venue, was removed.
  • In 1999, Mugabe publicly defended the use of extra-legal arrest and torture against a group of Zimbabwean journalists who had reported on a security forces’ killing that the government did not want to be publicised.
  • In April 2007, Mugabe directly exacerbated the problem of his unpopularity in Zimbabwe by ordering the killing of 100 elephants to provide meat for a feast.
  • Public perception had it that with his poor childhood development record, even minor criticism would be viewed as a wound by Mugabe. He was considered to be a person who could not tolerate difference. Being profoundly doubtful about himself, he was considered oversensitive to the idea that he was not as good as everyone else. People were said to have been considered to be either with him or against him. Differences of opinion were reportedly viewed as being provocative and hurtful to Mugabe, who is believed to have thought that compromise reduced him.
  • Mugabe’s first wife, Sally Hayfron, was said to have been his confidante and only real friend, who was one of the few people who could challenge his ideas without offending him.
  • While married to Hayfron, Mugabe, in 1987, began an extra-marital affair with his then secretary, Grace Marufu, who was 41 years his junior and at the time was also married. In 1988, Grace bore Mugabe a daughter, Bona, and in 1990, a son, Robert Jnr. The relationship was kept secret from the Zimbabwean public, although Hayfron was aware of it. According to her niece, Patricia Bekele, with whom she was particularly close, Hayfron was not happy that Mugabe had an affair with Marufu, but "she did what she used to tell me to do: 'Talk to your pillow if you have problems in your marriage. Never, ever, humiliate your husband.'” Hayfron died in 1992 from a chronic kidney ailment.
  • Following Hayfron's death, Mugabe and Marufu were married in a large Catholic wedding ceremony in August 1996. As First Lady of Zimbabwe, Grace gained a reputation for indulging in her love of luxury, with a particular interest in shopping, especially for clothes and jewellery. Her lavish shopping sprees led to her receiving the nickname ‘Gucci Grace’. In 1997, Grace Mugabe gave birth to the couple's third child, Chatunga Bellarmine.
  • Robert Mugabe Jnr and his younger brother, Chatunga Bellarmine, are known for posting their lavish lifestyle on social media, which drew accusations that they were wasting Zimbabwean taxpayers' money.
  • In 1994, Mugabe received an honorary knighthood from the British state, but this was stripped from him on the advice of the UK government in 2008.
  • In late July 2013, amidst discussions regarding the next Zimbabwean national elections, an 89-year-old Mugabe was asked by an international reporter, whether he planned to run again in the 2018 election when he would be 94. Mugabe’s response was: "Why do you want to know my secrets?"
  • On March 29, 2008, when he lost the presidential elections to Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposing Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Mugabe refused to let go of the reins of power in Zimbabwe, and demanded a recount of the ballots. Mugabe later publicly declared that as long as he was alive, he would never let Tsvangirai rule Zimbabwe.
  • In 2010, under a power-sharing government with Tsvangirai, Mugabe seize total control of Zimbabwe by selecting provisional governors without consulting Tsvangirai.
  • In 2011, in preparation for the 2012 presidential elections in Zimbabwe, amid wide-scale international concern about the repressive approach by his government, Mugabe said he would not let westerners monitor any of the country's elections.

Mugabe surrounded by military might.

Of the many ‘gems’, reflective mostly of hateful language, that have emerged from his mouth over the 37 years he has held state power, the following were prominently listed:

Mugabe has delved into a wide range of topics; from homosexuality and Britain, to Barack Obama and latterly, Donald Trump. So sit up, clear and lock away the tray before you, buckle your seat belt and prepare for a bumpy but reflective ride, Mugabe-style, thankfully behind his time.

On imperialism:

"Africa must revert to what it was before the imperialists divided it. These are artificial divisions which we, in our pan-African concept, will seek to remove." - Speech at Salisbury, 1962

"Stay with us, please remain in this country and constitute a nation based on national unity." - A plea to the white population of Zimbabwe at a Zanu-PF rally, 1980.

On his political journey:

“Only God, who appointed me, will remove me - not the MDC, not the British. Only God will remove me!" - Election rally, 2008.

"Our party must continue to strike fear in the heart of the white man, our real enemy." - Zanu-PF rally, 2002

On homosexuality:

"We ask, was he born out of homosexuality? We need continuity in our race, and that comes from the woman, and no to homosexuality. John and John, no; Maria and Maria, no. They are worse than dogs and pigs. I keep pigs and the male pig knows the female one." - ZDC radio interview, 2015

"We equally reject attempts to prescribe 'new rights' that are contrary to our values, norms, traditions and beliefs. We are not gays!" - UNGA, 2015

 "Homosexuality is a filthy disease, and "never, never, never" support homosexuality."  

"If aid, as I understand, is to be given on the basis that we accept the principle of gay marriages, then let that aid stay where it is."

On Britain:

"Britain is a very cold, uninhabitable country with small houses." - Mutare rally, 2013 

"We are still exchanging blows with the British government. They are using gay gangsters. Each time I pass through London, the gangster regime of Blair 'expresses its dismay'." Reference to an incident in which human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell attempted a citizens' arrest on Mugabe during a visit to London in October, 1999.

"We have fought for our land, we have fought for our sovereignty, small as we are, we have won our independence and we are prepared to shed our blood ... So, Blair keep your England, and let me keep my Zimbabwe." - Earth Summit, South Africa, 2002

On Hitler:

"I am still the Hitler of the time. This Hitler has only one objective: justice for his people, sovereignty for his people, recognition of the independence of his people, and their rights over their resources. If that is Hitler, then let me be Hitler tenfold. Ten times, that is what we stand for." - State funeral of a Cabinet minister, 2003

On the economy:

"Our economy is a hundred times better than the average African economy. Outside South Africa, what country is (as good as) Zimbabwe? … What is lacking now are goods on the shelves - that is all." - Interview, 2007

On Jesus Christ:

"I have died many times. That's where I have beaten Christ. Christ died once and resurrected once. I have died and resurrected and I don't know how many times I will die and resurrect." -  To state radio on his 88th birthday

On cricket:

"Cricket civilises people and creates good gentlemen. I want everyone to play cricket in Zimbabwe; I want ours to be a nation of gentlemen." - This is a widely reported quote, but it is unclear when Mugabe said this.

On US presidents:

"Let Mr Bush read history correctly. Let him realise that both personally and in his representative capacity as the current President of the United States, he stands for this 'civilisation', which occupied, which colonised, which incarcerated, which killed. He has much to atone for, and very little to lecture us on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. His hands drip with (the) innocent blood of many nationalities." - UNGA, 2007

"President Barack Obama came to Africa saying Africa must allow gay marriages... God destroyed the Earth because of these sins. Weddings are for a man and a woman."

"I've just concluded - since President Obama endorses same-sex marriage, advocates homosexual people, and enjoys an attractive countenance - thus if it becomes necessary, I shall travel to Washington, DC, get down on my knee, and ask his hand (in marriage)." - ZDC radio interview, 2015

"Some of us were embarrassed, if not frightened, by what appeared to be the return of the biblical giant gold Goliath (President Trump). Are we having a return of Goliath to our midst, who threatens the extinction of other countries?" - UNGA, 2017

"May I say to the United States President, Mr Trump, please blow your trumpet. Blow your trumpet in a musical way towards the values of unity, peace, co-operation, togetherness, dialogue, which we have always stood for." - UNGA, 2017

On Nelson Mandela:

"Mandela has gone a bit too far in doing well to the non-black communities, really in some cases at the expense of (blacks)...That's being too saintly, too good."

"Mandela preferred his personal freedom over the economic freedom of black South Africans."

"Whites in South Africa control land, industries and companies, and (in) that Mandela had made a big mistake by ignoring the land issue."

On grooming a successor:

"Grooming a successor, is it an inheritance? In a democratic party, you don't want leaders appointed that way. They have to be appointed properly by the people." - TV interview, 2016.

On racism:

"The white man is not indigenous to Africa. Africa is for Africans. Zimbabwe is for Zimbabweans... The white man is here as a second citizen."

"White farmers' killers should not be prosecuted."

"Racism will never end as long as white cars are still using black tyres."

"Racism will never end if people still use black to symbolise bad luck and white for peace."

"Racism will never end if people still wear white clothes to weddings and black clothes to funerals."

"Racism will never end as long as we still wash white clothes first, then other colours later."

"Racism will never end as long as those who don't pay their bills are blacklisted not white-listed."

"I don't care, so long as my toilet seat is white and I'm still using the white toilet paper... I'm still fine.”

Certainly a dirty old man by any measure.

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