Mugabe: Hero or zero?

Empty seats and fulsome praise

16 September 2019 | Africa

Some believe the late Robert Mugabe was thrown into the dustbin of history when he was deposed as president of Zimbabwe in 2017, yet many African leaders still think of him as a great man who liberated Zimbabwe.

Nevertheless, at his funeral fewer than half of the 60 000 seats of the national sports stadium were filled.

Former Namibian president Sam Nujoma was among the African and world leaders who gave a glowing review of the man whose tyrannical rule pushed thousands of Zimbabweans into economic exile.

“We are gathered here to pay our last respects to a great freedom fighter, Comrade Robert, who made a great contribution to the total liberation of our continent,” said Nujoma.

He praised Mugabe for defying the rule of Ian Smith and “defeating him on the battlefield”.

Former Ghanaian leader Jerry Rawlings said Mugabe was an “impressive moral compass”.

“Our tears flow for our departed hero,” he said, adding that Mugabe was a pioneer of black assertiveness.



Disconnect

Political analyst Kamwanyah Ndumba says the praise bestowed on Mugabe by African leaders is testimony to a disconnect between the leaders and ordinary citizens.

He said Mugabe certainly left a contradictory legacy, but the fact that he stadium was only half full was a powerful message.

“He can only be judged by the people who lived under his rule. And it is no surprise that there was such a low turnout at his memorial service,” said Ndumba.

Another political analyst, Dr Nico Horn, said it was clear that the African leaders decided on ideology first and ethics second.

“We saw a half-full stadium, yet when you listen to African leaders it sounds as if Mugabe was a master of Africa,” Horn said.

Horn also pointed out that the claim that Zimbabwe's economic collapse had been caused by a boycott by the western powers is only half the truth.

“Now there are revelations of billions he used to acquire property abroad, showing that he was not the martyr figure he is made out to be,” he said.

Horn added that sitting Zimbabwean leader Emmerson Mnangawa also owes the Zimbabwean people an honest answer for getting rid of Mugabe.

Zimbabwean writer Wonder Guchu, who lives in Namibia, wrote last week that Mugabe was a divisive man in life and in death.

He also pointed out how Mugabe received top-class medical treatment abroad at the expense of the taxpayers, while the people Zimbabwe had to make do with “medieval” health facilities.

Mugabe died in a Singaporean hospital last week.

“Robert Mugabe would be flown to Singapore for medical check-ups. Most of the time, he commandeered the only Air Zimbabwe aircraft to just go for a medical check-up,”Guchu wrote.

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JEMIMA BEUKES