The news of the sudden demise of the foremost nationalist and doyen of liberation struggles in Southern Africa, former President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe was received by the global community with shock and grief. Former President Mugabe who later became the maximum ruler of Zimbabwe after her independence in 1980 recently died in a Singaporean hospital after a protracted illness at the age of 95 years.
It will be recalled, however, that Mugabe was ousted from power in 2017 in what could be described as “a Palace Coup” by the military wing of the ruling powerful ZANU-PF which had dominated the politics of Zimbabwe since her independence in 1980.
The international media had described Mugabe as the strongman of Zimbabbwe, foremost nationalist, a hero, and uncompromising freedom fighter who confronted the white minority settler regime of Ian Smith in what was then known as Rhodesia.
President Mugabe was a controversial figure. Initially he was the toast of the Western powers soon after Zimbabwe’s independence apparently due his pro-western policies. However, the honeymoon with the Western powers suddenly became sour and terribly strained when Mugabe began to adopt stringent and anti-white policies in favour of his black majority Zimbabweans, an action considered inimical to the interest of the white minority settlers who were in total control of the nation’s economy at independence.
Mugabe will be remembered as a fearless and revolutionary icon who confronted the racist white minority settlers despite their military might in the then white dominated Rhodesia. The erstwhile British colonial power was then ruling what used to be known as the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland under Sir Roy Wellinsky as Prime Minister. The Federation was made up of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Nyasaland (now Malawi).
During the fierce and relentless struggles for liberation and freedom then sweeping across the continent of Africa between early 50s and 60s, the British was forced to grant independence first to Zambia, under the leadership of Kenneth Kaunda as the first President, then quickly followed by Malawi, under the leadership of Hastings Kamuzu Banda as her first President.
Regrettably, in the case of Southern Rhodesia now Zimbabwe, the British in her characteristic dubious diplomacy of divide and rule tactics refused to grant independence to the genuine black majority but rather surreptitiously encouraged the white minority settlers to continue to dominate and subjugate the black population purely for her selfish economic interest as Rhodesia was then the economic powerhouse of Southern Africa during the dark era. The nationalists and freedom fighters led by the indefatigable Joshua Nkomo, together with Bishop Abel Muzarewa, Rev. Ndabaningi Sethole and Robert Mugabe, among other nationalist fighters, immediately declared total war against the white minority settler regime led by the arch racist and oppressor, Ian Smith who had boasted that black majority rule in what was then known as Rhodesia could only happen after one thousand years and certainly not in his life time.
As the liberation war raged in intensity, some of the moderate nationalist leaders notably Joshua Nkomo and Bishop Abel Muzarewa were later lured and compromised to join the white minority government, an action considered by Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF as an unpardonable betrayal and complete sell out, prompting Mugabe and his associates to launch a guerrilla warfare against the racist regime.
In 1965, Ian Smith unilaterally declared independence for Rhodesia otherwise known as (UDI). The then British government responded swiftly against the illegal declaration of independence by dispatching a naval warship “NS Tiger” to Rhodesia ostensibly to quell the insurrection. Paradoxically, the warship was conveying the then British Prime Minister Harold Wilson who on arrival in Rhodesia merely invited the rebel leader Ian Smith for talks aboard the warship.
It was indeed a great irony, illogical, and hypocritical of the British government to have treated the glaring case of rebellion by Ian Smith with such levity without adequate sanctions. Rather the rebel leader Ian Smith was accorded rare diplomatic niceties and respect by the erstwhile British colonial powers simply because he was a white and obviously one of their own. That was the height of British perfidy and double standards reminiscent of her inglorious colonial era in Africa. It must be noted however that Ian Smith had rebelled against Her Majesty’s government at the time he unilaterally and illegally declared Rhodesia independent from Britain as the colonial powers.
As the liberation struggles were raging unabated and the white minority settlers became more vulnerable and at the receiving end, the British government was forced to convene independence conference in London where formal independence was finally granted to Zimbabwe to be preceded by a general election under the universal adult suffrage and participated in by all parties. Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF won a decisive victory and controlled the majority seats in parliament and subsequently became the first Prime Minister of independent Zimbabwe in 1980. Mugabe later became the President of Zimbabwe in a flourishing and strong economy that was engineered and managed by the white farmers who were controlling the nation’s economy at independence.
However, Zimbabwe’s hitherto strong economy suddenly began to witness a downturn as a result of the arbitrary seizure of the farm lands owned by the white settlers by the Zimbabwean government which were later redistributed to the black Zimbabweans who knew little or nothing about mechanized farming. The consequences of the misguided and ill-advised state policy otherwise known as Afrikanisation policy was the beginning of the total collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy which had since nosedived to all time low.
It is a matter of deep regret that President Mugabe had unwittingly squandered tremendous goodwill he hitherto enjoyed across the globe soon after Zimbabwe’s independence as he was then looked upon as a beacon of hope for other nations still under colonial domination. Sadly, Mugabe later embarked on authoritarian and dictatorial tendencies aimed at suppressing political dissent and cowing his perceived political enemies. As it is common with all dictators, Mugabe had transformed himself into a medieval emperor to be greatly revered and worshiped by his “subjects” and thereby totally alienating himself from the people on whose mandate he came to power. It is said that absolute power corrupts absolutely and this common saying summed up the tragedy of Robert Mugabe who progressively became a despot and tyrant against his own people.
Nze Nwabueze AkaboguJP, Enugwu-Ukwu, Anambra State