For Old Bob, Let’s Render Mount Ephraim

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By Tony Iyare

For all Thy saints, O Lord,
Who strove in Thee to live,
Who followed Thee, obeyed, adored,
Our grateful hymn receive.

For Zimbabwe’s heroic anti-colonial fighter and former President, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, 95, please join me to render the beautiful lines of Benjamin Milgrove’s memorial hymn, Mount Ephraim.

Let’s also try some of the local Jerusarema and Muchongoyo dance steps and pour libation to his enviable legacy as he’s laid to rest.

We cannot miss this for Old Bob, the way Thomas Hardy in one of his epic poems, The Choirmaster’s Burial depicted how such honour eluded a famous choirmaster who had requested the same rhyme to be sung by his graveside.

Unfortunately, the choirmaster who was a toast of his church congregation, kicked the bucket in the dead of winter, making it inhospitable for his wish to be carried through.

Unlike those whose thoughts are already enmeshed to the prism of Eurocentric historiography or what the popular writer, Chimamanda Adichie calls the danger of a single story, one posits that Mugabe, popularly known as Old Bob, was a colossus on the African continent where purposeful leadership is rare.

Writers of his epitaph cannot but weave it around his avowed deft leadership prowess that transformed Zimbabwe after independence.

In spite of his failings to exit power when the ovation was loudest and the tantrums of his Gucci loving wife, Grace, he deserves the honour accorded to icons like Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, Guinea’s Sekou Toure, Mozambique’s Samora Machel, Angola’s Augustino Neto, Togo’s Sylvanus Olympio, Congo’s Patrice Lumumba and Burkina Faso’s Thomas Sankara.

These are leaders who sought to free Africa from the pangs and ruination of neo-colonial strangulation. And for their effrontery to spit at working as marionettes of the West, they paid a heavy price.

From Nkrumah’s Ghana to Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, the mechanics may be different but the strategy of wracking these governments to their knees was essentially similar.

For instance, the torture meted to Lumumba at the instance of the Belgian government was really humiliating. After he was arrested and forced on a flight, the beatings he received was so much that only the pilot’s complaints that the plane was going to crash provided some respite.

Mugabe was no doubt an enfant terrible to the West, who when it suited their fancy canonised and awarded him knighthood. But became demonised, when he sought to bring smiles particularly to the distressed veterans via the aggressive implementation of the land reform policy after Britain reneged on its earlier resolve to fund the process as enunciated in the Lancaster House Declaration.

His epic legacy remains the commitment to massive education of his people and particularly, his predilection for the education of the girl child.

Perhaps, one of the most literate leaders of his era, Mugabe who became the country’s Prime Minister at independence in 1980, vigorously promoted education by allotting huge resources to the sector, making Zimbabweans some of the most literate on the continent.

Today, Zimbabwe has thousands of teachers, engineers, doctors, nurses, and other professionals working in neighbouring countries and overseas. It’s not by accident that they constitute the highest number of migrant foreign professionals in South Africa.

The gains in education, was tremendous. In 1980, the proportion of female students in primary schools was 47.6% compared to 52.4% males. But by 1999, the proportion of females had increased to 49.1% and that of males had gone down to 50.9%. In 1980, 43.3% of students in secondary schools were females while males were 56.7%. By 1999 also, the proportion of females had increased to 46.9% and that of males had decreased to 53.1%.

Unlike multi-racial South Africa which took away education from the churches claiming they were misleading Blacks, Mugabe did not take the authority away from the Anglican and the Catholic missions which ran the schools and foisted a culture of teaching and learning rooted in Christian values.

The government made basic education accessible through policies of free education, compulsory education and upholding children’s right to education. With a socialist philosophy, primary education was made free and this resulted in the expansion of admission rates.

According to a UNESCO report, Zimbawe, in spite of the whittling of its economy, once touted as the food basket of Africa, was able to increase its spending on education.

“Despite the increase in allocation, the 2018 commitment falls short of the 20% benchmark set by the Dakar Framework for Education, as well as the 22% Southern African Development Community (SADC) benchmark. Zimbabwe’s actual spending in education only exceeded the 20% Dakar Threshold in 2014 (21.2%) and 2015, (23.3%).

“However, this notwithstanding, the country is among the biggest spenders in education, with regional countries such as South Africa spending an average of 19.1%, Malawi – 17.2% and Mauritius 15.7% of their total expenditures on education, between 2009 and 2017,” the report said.

At independence, the prevarication by Mugabe and his comrades to push too hard on land reform was a tactical move to refrain from jeopardising the impending negotiation of the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa with the white minority government.

It’s same reason why Michael Bratton’s paper on “Development in Zimbabwe: Strategy and Tactics” written in the Journal of Modern Africa Studies as far back 1981, had raised rhetorical questions about the direction of the then fledgling independent state under Mugabe.

Then an Assistant Professor of Political Science and African Studies at Michigan State University, East Lansing, Batton posed the following:

“Events in independent Zimbabwe has confounded pundits on the left and right who assumed that African resistance to settler colonial rule was more revolutionary than nationalistic.

“How can the rather unexpected direction of political and economic change in Zimbabwe since April 1980 be understood? The Zimbabwe African National Union (Patriotic Front) Government of Prime Minister Robert Mugabe has committed itself to redress the severe social inequities of the past but has decided, at least at the outset, to reach its goals through a prudent rather than a doctrinaire approach. What factors explain the current development strategy?

“Does the apparent accommodation of ZANU PF with private capital signal a dangerous divergence from the stated goal of building socialism? Or does it represent an awakening to the idea that economic production, even if organised on capitalist lines, is a prerequisite of development in Africa?

Undoubtedly, Mugabe’s undoing was his intransigence to make way for a successor particularly in deference to the demand of the youthful population who were largely disconnected from the struggles of the colonial era. By 2006 when he opted to extend his rule, this call had become deafening.

His refusal to shift grounds even in the face of failing health, was compounded by the wife’s political machination to plot for power. The military eventually moved to terminate the ensuing shenanigans in 2017 by shoving Mugabe aside, paving the way for the emergence of Emmerson Mnangagwa.

*Iyare, a Communication & Development Strategist is also an International Relations Analyst