The Sunday Mail
They thought Mugabe was their poodle and confused his love for cricket, exquisite suits and tea as proof of his undying love of all things British. They were wrong. Mugabe was never a British poodle. He was a statesman, who treaded a very cautious path in the early years of the country’s independence.
In a way, the West betrayed him. They betrayed him in failing to rein in South Africa’s continued military intrusion into Zimbabwe including sponsoring rebellion.
The West betrayed Mugabe on the land issue. The British government reneged on its promise to fund the exercise.
They had even knighted Mugabe and could not believe when a man they thought had domesticated preferred being on the side of blacks not only in Zimbabwe, but on the continent.
Yes, Mugabe was not a saint. Yes, Mugabe made some errors of judgement. Yes, in the end a certain cable within ZANU-PF had captured him, but none can deny his commitment to the upliftment of the African in the post-colonial epoch.
This was precisely Thabo Mbeki’s memorial message at an ANC organised Mugabe memorial in KwaZulu Natal last week.
Conscious of the dominant narrative that the West was foisting on Africans through its dominant medial multinationals, Mbeki took it upon himself to unwrite the lies about who Mugabe was.
Judging by the immediate negative reaction to Mbeki’s eulogy, it is clear that there is a large swathe Western media and governments were in crafting an image of a tragic hero. Even some African journalists, who are expected to have a deeper understanding of what Mugabe meant to the Western world especially with regards to the land issue, were surprisingly parroting the same narrative of a conflicted Mugabe.
But, this sort of sordid depiction of Mugabe was in an instant, unwritten by Mbeki, when he addressed a bemused ANC gathering in KwaZulu Natal. Given Mbeki’s stature and the intricate details about his interaction with Mugabe, many are bound to have a rethink about this founding leader of Zimbabwe, who until his death, remained uncompromisingly committed to the African cause.
Describing Mugabe as a tried and tested compatriot and a great pan-Africanist who defended his beliefs, Mbeki said: “The message is very clear: one of the cadres and comrades we should always value as the combaters of the liberation of South Africa is President Robert Mugabe.”
The input of Mbeki’s unambiguous valorisation of Mugabe is to say to his detractors; we don’t know your beef with him but to us we talk of someone who personally committed resources, intelligence, weapons and manpower in the fight against apartheid.
In a very logical itemised account, Mbeki recounted how Mugabe gave refuge, offered a haven, trained ANC cadres including giving them Zimbabwean national identities in order to evade detection by the apartheid regime.
Mugabe, Mbeki told us, had delayed implementation of the land reform programme for fear that such a move would scuttle the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) negotiations.
President Mbeki reiterated something that he has consistently said about the British’s government adversarial attitude towards Mugabe because of his uncompromising stance in correcting the colonial historical injustices particularly the inequitable land ownership in the country.
The escalation of the dire relations between the British government and Mugabe culminated in Blair revealing to Mbeki a planned invasion and ousting of the founding leader. In his own words, Mbeki said; “Blair said he did not get rid of Mugabe because it wasn’t practical, since surrounding African countries showed lingering support for him and would have opposed any action. And indeed, we opposed it strenuously because we were saying, the Zimbabwean people have the right to determine their own destiny.”
It is a travesty of own conscience to try and besmirch Mugabe’s unwavering struggle for the emancipation of the black man. Yes, he was not a perfect being but his imperfections paled in the shadow of his overall contribution to the well-being of the African.
We take exception to people wanting to dictate to us who our heroes are. We hold not beef with other countries that celebrate their own ‘heroes’ even though some of these celebrated individuals committed heinous crimes against humanity.
One of the most celebrated American presidents, Thomas Jefferson who is touted as a statesman, diplomat, lawyer, architect and founding father who served as the third president of the United States from 1801 to 1809 was a slave owner. We all know how slaves lived, how they were treated and the filthy riches accrued from selling or owning them.
It is a record of history that Jefferson was one of the US presidents who owned the most slaves with 600 plus during his lifetime. But despite this sordid history of his, Jefferson is still celebrated in America as a statesman and founding father.
We will continue to sing a hymn of praise about Mugabe and that is a narrative we seek to popularise for posterity. And as Africans, we totally concur with Mbeki that Mugabe was: “a great patriot, a defender of Africa’s independence, a defender of Africa’s interests.”