Mugabe: Marking birthday of hero...villain

HARARE - As President Robert Gabriel Mugabe celebrates his 89th birthday this Thursday, it boggles the mind how far he has come.

He is loved and loathed in equal dose and is credited with staying ahead of political curvatures.

If he were an animal, a cat would be envious as he evidently possesses more than nine lives.

His presence is probably the glue that is holding the fractious former ruling party from collapse as he is its core.

Observers say Mugabe is always a step ahead of his political foes and subordinates through sheer brainpower, a gift of the gab and a reputation for being vicious when provoked.

Ian Smith once referred to him as “an apostle of satan”, and then did a “hook-and-Larry” and said that he now amazingly found him “sober and responsible” soon after taking power.

It is difficult to strike a bulls-eye in evaluating exactly who he is and what character he is without looking at experiences that have been watersheds in the development of his character.

In his early childhood, he was just any other boy herding cattle in the rural area of Kutama where activities such as bullying and ridicule, are rife.

He seems to have developed a very hard emotional shell that was open to very few people from that time.
The late James Chikerema, who grew up with Mugabe said as a boy, the veteran ruler would isolate himself from the crowd if he was picked on when herding cattle.

His prodigious intellect earned him the opportunity to be schooled by the Jesuits who found young Robert leagues ahead of his peers.

His best friends were his books, in reading he found himself in a different space.

Robert Mugabe was born on February 21, 1924, in Kutama.

Mugabe was fortunate in attending school at the local Jesuit mission under the supervision of school director Father O’Hea.

This must have made him realise that not all whites were supremacist.  O’Hea taught Mugabe that all people deserved equal treatment.

Mugabe’s teachers, who called him “a clever lad,” were early to recognise his abilities as considerable.

Mugabe ended up at University of Fort Hare in South Africa, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and English in 1951 before returning to Kutama to teach there.

By 1953 he had earned his Bachelor of Education through correspondence courses and in 1955 moved to Northern Rhodesia.

There he taught for four years at Chalimbana Training College while also working toward his Bachelor of Science in Economics through correspondence courses with the University of London.

After moving to Ghana, Mugabe met his first wife, Sarah Heyfron, whom he married in 1961.

Whilst in Ghana, Mugabe declared himself a Marxist, supporting the Ghanaian government’s goal of providing equal educational opportunities to the formerly designated lower classes.

 Upon returning to introduce his fiancée in 1960 to his beloved mother, he found that many black families had been displaced and the presence of whites had boomed.

So great was his frustration that by April of 1961, Mugabe publicly discussed starting a guerrilla war.

Fiery in nature, especially when provoked, he is said to have declared defiantly to a policeman, “We are taking over this country and we will not put up with this nonsense.”

In 1963, Mugabe and other former supporters of Joshua Nkomo founded their own resistance movement, called the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu).

The Rhodesian government later arrested Mugabe and sent him to jail where he would remain for over a decade before moving to execute the liberation war which resulted in him becoming Zimbabwe prime minister in 1980 after winning the first post-independence election.

In less than six months from now, he faces what could be his last and most difficult election.

The loss of popularity due to the cascade of the economy, sanctions after taking over white farms, attempts at a one-party state, effects of droughts, allegations of intimidation to opponents, corruption and the rise of the MDC all pose a danger to his continued rule.

Yet he has moved from the tough leader he is known for and has been at the forefront of calling for peaceful elections, even if that might see an end to his three decades plus rule.

Observers say Mugabe’s seemingly last election campaign seems to be an attempt to patch up the tattered script of his life’s legacy.

And an invite to rival turned coalition partner Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to attend the birthday celebrations could just be the sign that the man wants out peacefully. - Simbarashe Kunedzimwe

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