HARARE - Everyone pretends to know President Robert Mugabe yet his true character and personality will remain a puzzle not only for his contemporaries but for future historians and the general public.
He is a recognised but highly misunderstood brand. Even the people who purport to know him better than others principally due to proximity to him have yet to understand the man especially what informs his choices and actions.
What is remarkable from the recent developments in Zanu PF that have resulted in a number of senior members of the party leaving the bus, is that each of the victims and victors have their own different and conflicting perceptions of Mugabe’s role in the drama.
To former vice president Joice Mujuru, it would appear that she believes that the driving mind behind her demise has nothing to do with Mugabe.
To Mutasa, it is evident that he believes Zanu PF as he knows has been hijacked and he still believes that sanity will be restored when Mugabe realises that the new Zanu PF is not what it was meant to be.
To Rugare Gumbo, it would appear that he believes that the president has and is being manipulated and as such cannot be held responsible for what has happened and is happening in the party.
The remarkable thing in all the drama unfolding in the party is that all factions believe that Mugabe is blameless.
To the new party gate-keepers, the losers have been the authors of their demise. Even in the mind of Emmerson Mnangagwa, one of the VPs who was generally perceived to be a faction leader opposed to former VP Mujuru, it seems so clear to him that Mujuru and company chose the swords that sealed their political fate.
This is not the first crisis to confront Zanu PF that has seen Mugabe emerge seemingly blameless not only to the faithful but also to the victims.
The loyalty to Mugabe, the person, seems universal especially among the warring factions.
None of the so-called faction leaders would dare challenge Mugabe which in itself exposes the fallacy of the proposition that Mujuru and company were part of any conspiracy aimed at removing the only elephant that Zanu PF has known in the bus.
Mugabe has acquired global fame among the down-trodden people because of what he is perceived to stand for and implemented.
Rightly or wrongly, he is perceived to have single-handedly transformed an exclusive colonial education order into a democratic one.
Although the land and natural resources that define Zimbabwe were given generously by the Creator, Mugabe has been credited for playing the role of a Robin Hood in using the State to correct the historically determined relationship between the people and land.
Mugabe’s state of mind is largely informed by his own personal experiences to allow any new experiences to dilute his belief that it was the Creator’s purpose to place him where he is and has been since independence in the power value chain to assert the rights and aspirations of the majority of the people.
It is with respect to Mugabe’s values regarding the prescripts of the law that one may need to interrogate his legacy as it will help resolve some of the lingering questions regarding his commitment to limitations of absolute power.
There can be no better person to help us venture into the mind of Mugabe than Mnangagwa who in his interview published by the Sunday Mail on February 22, 2015 under the title: “The President Mugabe that I know”, says that he first met Mugabe in May 1964 at the first Zanu congress. He was elected special assistant to Mugabe at the Chimoio Conference.
He claims that his legal background was an advantage as he could use some of the principles to advise his boss.
Mugabe assumed the role of the president of Zanu in 1977 and anyone who wishes to better understand the recent developments in Zanu PF will necessarily be compelled to begin the journey from 1977.
It is for this reason that the people who have experienced Mugabe’s power have to be listened to not necessarily because they know better but because they have been part of the story.
It is significant that Mnangagwa makes the point that at the time, “Sometimes natural justice was not fully applied: hearing both sides.” Even Gumbo would agree that in his case nothing seems to have changed.
He proceeded to state that: “If a person were accused, they would sometimes, be sentenced and executed.”
It is remarkable that in 1977, Mugabe according to Mnangagwa’s narrative held the position that: “No, Cde Mnangagwa we want (1) records of every single case; (2) justice where both sides are heard.” Notwithstanding, the same Mugabe would appear to have changed his approach.
One would have expected Mnangagwa at the very least to have reminded Mugabe of the values that defined his character and personality in 1977 when a decision was made to arbitrarily fire Gumbo and Sibanda from the party without following judicial procedures.
Mnangagwa who knew and ought to know that the prescripts of the law limit arbitrariness and unilateralism, was compelled to caution the party against violating principles that seem to have preceded independence.
He made the point that: “Therefore, I was fully aware of how to handle judicial procedures.” However, with respect to Mutasa & Co, it would appear that this knowledge that Mnangagwa claims to have gained from both his boss and from practicing as a lawyer seems to have evaporated.
He also made the point that he was a lead prosecutor when Gumbo and others were prosecuted during the war and found guilty. He credits his boss for making the decision to refer the matter to a full council and that is what saved Gumbo.
About Mugabe’s values, Mnangagwa said: “He is a very consistent man. He doesn’t like being lied to. You must always be honest whether it pleases him or not. You must tell it as it is.”
There is no doubt that Mnangagwa would argue that the process to remove Mujuru and company was procedurally fair and consistent with the values enshrined in the Constitution.
In addition, it will be argued perhaps in a self-serving manner that Mujuru and company tested their own medicine and they forfeited their right to any due process having allegedly benefited from its absence and manipulation.
The people who choose to disbelieve the narrative proffered by Mugabe’s diverse followers that he is consistent tend to be justified by the consistency in the inconsistency that has characterised the approach to the numerous challenges that have faced the party.
It is this consistency that leads people to conclude that Mugabe has consistently used rules to advantage.
He can and has eloquently argued as repeated by Mnangagwa that he had no constructive knowledge of the methods used to change the top leadership of the party and State.
A careful and critical reading of Mnangagwa’s perspective on Mugabe’s character and personality, paints an unfortunate narrative that from the outset, he has been Zanu PF’s alter ego.
Instead of portraying Mugabe as a man who believes in the rule of law, it would appear that what is being suggested is that it pays to follow the leader and to know what he is thinking before offering an alternative view.