Can the real Mugabe please standup

HARARE - At his prime, he was the master of tough talk, at one time ordering his protégés to:  “strike fear in the heart of the white man. Let them tremble.”

This was the time bands of marauding war veterans were violently invading white-owned farms under the guise of land black-empowerment reforms.

Decades earlier, President Robert Mugabe — two years into Independence — had turned on his erstwhile comrade and Father of the Independence revolution Joshua Nkomo in what became known as Gukurahundi.

Mugabe described Nkomo as a snake forcing the late burly Zapu founder to flee to Botswana.

“The only way to deal effectively with a snake is to strike and destroy its head,” Mugabe said.

What followed was a systemic abuse of State machinery leading to the death of at least 20 000 civilians.

Yet, last Thursday, Mugabe appeared to mellow, a side many Zimbabweans are beginning to know only now.

Analysts say at 89, Mugabe could have suddenly realised that time is not on his side and now wants to clean up what could be a heavily soiled image.

From Gukurahundi and violent farm invasions to Murambatsvina and the 2008 election violence, Mugabe has left a footprint which has led critics to describe him as a liberator turned tormentor-in-chief.

Not acclaimed for holding any punches against opponents of his regime in the past 33 years, Mugabe told a 60 000 crowd in a televised speech during Thursday’s Independence Day celebrations that all who fanned political violence should be jailed.

“No one should be forced to vote for me or Professor Mutambara (deputy prime minister),” Mugabe said to applause.

At his peak, Mugabe used events such as these to tear into internal “enemies” and countries such as Britain and the United States which he perceives to be funding initiatives for his ouster.

Analysts say Mugabe, cognisant of the fact that he will not be around much longer, is keen to close his book with a chapter which shows a caring old man and leader.

Others say the real test for the former guerrilla movement leader’s sincerity will be the upcoming elections, in which he will have to fight tooth and nail to overturn a 2008 March election defeat by rival turned coalition partner Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

Political analyst Alexander Rusero said Zimbabweans should take the “new Mugabe” with a pinch of salt.

“Mugabe’s recent peace calls are a demonstration of someone who wants to go out with some legacy, the legacy of an African Statesman,” said Rusero, who also teaches journalism.

“However, without action on the ground to complement his words, Mugabe is fast becoming more of a soothsayer.

“It has become apparent that Zanu PF does not have an election strategy and that raises the spectre of another bloody show akin to 2008. Mugabe will resort to what he knows best if nothing springs up that he can use to defend his throne,” Rusero said.

Once the darling of the West, including the Queen of England, Mugabe fell out of favour after he embarked on an often violent land reform programme.

He also faced accusations of stealing elections and fanning gross human rights abuses to silence critics resulting in the Western countries slapping travel and financial sanctions on him.

Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director Pedzisai Ruhanya warns Mugabe’s peace calls could be a double-edged sword.

“The Mugabe of 1980 and 2008 seems different from the Mugabe of 2013.

It is age but also a realisation that he has to address his legacy. He has been associated with a lot of tragic events in this country,” said Ruhanya, a fierce critic of Mugabe.

“He has been Machiavelli’s Prince and in his book Machiavelli talks about the need to live a legacy and he wants to be seen as the peacemaker,” said Ruhanya.

“Mugabe’s message could also be double-edged to lure his opponents into a sense of false security. If his people in the security sector behave otherwise Mugabe will say he is on record that he called for peace.
“It is now part of history that he is preaching peace. Mugabe is an academic and it is the riffraff that do not understand what is happening,” he said.

Even as one of his fervent supporters and serial bootlicker, Media and Information minister Webster Shamu who doubles up as Zanu PF political commissar gushed “No pen shall take away the country brought up by a gun” at the independence day celebrations, Mugabe took to the podium with a different message that would have made the war mongers in his party shift in their chairs.

Tsvangirai, who at one time would have been happy to see Mugabe at The Hague like other fallen dictators, seems mellowing to the “new Mugabe”.

Addressing a peace prayer in Chinhoyi at the weekend, Tsvangirai, who acts as the spokesperson for the three principals in the shaky coalition, said Mugabe is remorseful. “We sometimes joke with the president.

I tell him he wanted to bludgeon me and he replies it was all politics. We have agreed that we can differ ideologically but we are all Zimbabweans,” Tsvangirai told a cheering crowd.

But, as Zimbabwe hurtles towards an election which could be Mugabe’s last as well as hardest-fought, the jury is still out there — particularly as critics point out that some of his hard-core followers are sharpening swords for the do-or die poll.

Comments (1)

An apt analysis. We need Mugabe to walk the talk. If what happens on the ground continues to be out of sync with his words, then rest assured he will be trying to pull wool over people's eyes.

Webby - 23 April 2013

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