By Patrick Brogan.
Tyrant. Freedom fighter. Corrupt. National hero. All these epitaphs have been used to describe Robert Mugabe’s political career. All of these are correct in depicting this complicated man.
Former Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa will take the office of President on Friday. Indeed, it was his dismissal that led to the current political crisis. He then fled the country because he said his life had been threatened.
Many believed his sacking was paving the way for Mugabe’s wife Grace to take power. The military found this unacceptable and stepped in. Morgan Tsvangirai beat Mugabe in the 2002 General Election but stepped down for the second round because he feared his supporters may be targeted. He welcomed Mugabe’s resignation and believes it will usher in a new era.
People on the streets and in the parliament cheered when they heard the news of the President’s resignation. Mugabe was once a hero of the Zimbabwean people. He helped lead the country to independence and became its first Prime Minister as an independent nation.
His mother was deeply religious. This meant the young Robert spent a lot of time in the company of older teachers, particularly priests, after his father left the family. An Irish priest by the name of Jerome O’Hea became his new father figure and was very influential in forming the young Robert’s worldview.
He became obsessed with seeking the priest’s approval and didn’t spend much time with the children his own age. He took studying very seriously and always carried a book. “I lived in my mind a lot”. O’Hea and his mother believed he was destined for greatness. To some extent he was. He helped South Rhodesia to independence from British rule.
The problem was he continued the guerrilla war tactics into politics and ruined Zimbabwe to retain power. The economy was destroyed. He agreed to a power sharing agreement with Tsvangirai, with the leader of the opposition losing much of his credibility and suffering as a consequence. Mugabe was part of a generation of African leaders that promised so much, but in the end lust for power got the better of him.
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