Mugabe was every bit the contradiction of the colonial-postcolonial figure, supported one day as the romantic revolutionary to be praised, reviled as the authoritarian figure to condemn, the next. The revolutionary to be feted was a motif that continued through the 1980s, despite signs that the hero was getting particularly bloodthirsty. A string of honours were bestowed like floral tributes to a conquering warrior: an honorary doctorate of laws from the University of Massachusetts in 1984, despite the butchering of the Ndebele; an honorary doctorate from the University of Edinburgh (subsequently revoked in July 2007); a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II in 1994.
Accounts such as Martin Meredith's Our Guns: Robert Mugabe and the Tragedy of Zimbabwe, point to the aphrodisiac of power, violence as currency, the cultivated links with the Democratic Republic of the Congo's Laurent Kabila, and the creation of a crony state. The DRC connection softened the blows of international sanctions, at least to some extent, keeping rural voters in clover and the security forces content. Such arrangements, involving a juggling of loot and measuring out the spoils, is rarely indefinite.
The narrative of the power mad creature runs through as a counter to the liberal thesis that Mugabe started with promise, and went sour. This would have been tantamount to suggesting that Lenin insisted on changing the world through even-tempered tea ceremonies and soft voiced mediation, only to endorse revolutionary violence at a later date. James Kirchick, oft fascinated by the wiles of demagoguery, saw the strains of brutality early: Mugabe's time in prison, as with other revolutionaries, led to a certain pupillage with power, a sense of its necessity. Degrees in law and economics were earned via correspondence from the University of London, a way to pass carceral time for subversive actions against the white Smith regime in 1964. All that time, he nursed Marxist-Leninist dreams.
As leader of the movement to oust the white regime, Mugabe was not sparing with his use of violence. In this, he differed from the founder of the ZANU founder Ndabaningi Sithole, who renounced terrorism and subversion after his 1969 sentence for incitement. Nor was he averse to internal suppression: his cadres had to be trustworthy in the cause.
Over time, the distance between Mugabe the ruler, and the Zimbabwean citizenry, grew. International sanctions, applied with much callousness, bit. Hyperinflation set in. The state was left bankrupt. Food shortages in 2004 did not sway him. "We are not hungry," Mugabe told Sky News. "Why foist this food upon us? We don't want to be choked. We have enough."
In November 2017, a coup by senior military personnel was launched in terms that seemed almost polite, a sort of dinner party seizure. Mugabe was placed under house arrest; his ZANU-PF party had decided that the time had come. The risk of Marufu coming to power was becoming all too real, though this femme fatale rationale can only be pushed so far. There were celebrations in the streets. Thirty-seven years prior, there were similar calls of jubilation for the new leader. Left with his medical ailments, Mugabe died at Gleneagles Hospital, Singapore on Friday, farewelled by his successor President Emmerson Mnangagwa as "an icon of liberation, a pan Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation of his people." The muse of history can be atrociously fickle.
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