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Robert Mugabe: vain, insecure, cocooned

Ibbo Mandaza
By Ibbo Mandaza

Ibbo Mandaza is a Zimbabwean academic, author and publisher; was a member of the Zimbabwean liberation movement, serving in the Department of Research and Education at Zanu headquarters in Maputo during the period leading to the Lancaster House talks in 1979; was on the first group of senior African civil servants who worked with Mugabe in establishing the new state at independence; is currently the Executive Chairperson of SAPES Trust where he is also convenor of its flagship, the Policy Dialogue Forum.

Posted on Friday, 6 September 2019 17:15

Mugabe's political instincts did not wane until recent years/AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

The death of Robert Mugabe in Singapore on the 6th of September, 2019, comes hardly two years since he was ousted in the 15 November 2017 coup, led by the very persons – namely, Emmerson Mnangagwa and Constantino Chiwenga – in whom Mugabe had restored both his confidence and security.

In one of his last interviews in the months following the coup, Mugabe lamented what he described as the worst act of betrayal by the persons who, since 2008 when it was Mnangagwa and Chiwenga who persuaded and prevailed upon Mugabe to stay on as he did after his defeat to Tsvangirai in the presidential poll that year, have been at the helm of power, with the old man a virtual hostage and/or figurehead till his unceremonious fall in 2017. (Many would argue that the stolen election of 2008 was, in effect, the first coup, a sequel the one of 2017.)

Those who remained close to Mugabe since the coup claim that it was this betrayal that provided the catalyst for might be a premature end to a life, which as in the case of his mother who died at the age of 103, could have run well past a century.

Therefore, it is hardly ironic that the regime with which he was personally identified and held almost solely responsible, continues as of old. Even if, as the current political and economic tribulations bear witness, these are certainly the last days of the Mugabe/Mnangagwa/Chiwenga establishment.

A significant feature of Mugabe’s personality was his vanity which blinded him to the reality that the military-security apparatus which cocooned and cuddled him so elaborately was less about the affection for the “Great leader”, than the well-calculated preparations by securocrats waiting for the opportune moment to pounce and seize power.

And so it is that both his advanced age and illness so fueled the struggle for succession that the bloody events of November 2017 were in retrospect inevitable.

Likewise, the feeling of insecurity that characterized both his personal and political life: the viciousness with which he disposed of his political rivals like Ndabaningi Sithole and Joshua Nkomo; and even those – like Edgar Tekere, Enos Nkala and Maurice Nyagumbo – with whom he had shared detention cells and without whom he could never have reached the pinnacle of leadership in Zimbabwe.

In the final analysis, insecurity and vanity informed both his personal and political history, rendering him an inadvertent figurehead for a bunch of power mongers who had successfully wiped out their political rivals in Lusaka in 1975, and found him an expedient replacement for Ndabaningi Sithole at the Chimoio “Congress” of 1977.

This accounted in part for his schizophrenic reactions to those he worked with: dependent on those more intellectually skilled than him, and yet anxious about the risk of being exposed as a lesser quantity among them; able to recognize fellow travelers as both incompetent and dangerous on the one hand and yet, on the other, having had to rely on them to his detriment.

Otherwise, Robert Mugabe was a complex human being; even his familial origins remain a mystery, even if soon to be unraveled in a biography to be published later this year. Such long-held and guarded secrets surrounding his past might account for the enigma that he was even to those of us who worked with him in those heady days of the struggle, and during the first decade of independence.

To quote my tweet on the occasion of his 95th birthday on 21st February, 2019:

Dr Mandaza is currently writing a biography of President Robert Mugabe.

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