Former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe (95) died on 6 September 2019 in a Singapore hospital. He is declared a national hero by the Zimbabwean government and entitled for a state funeral in Harare, the capital city. The disapprobation of Mugabe became epidemically viral on the internet and in the offline world, soon after the news of his death was public. Many of his hardcore opponents, the western mainstream press and white supremacist imperialist propaganda machinery resumed their vitriolic propaganda to demonise the man, accusing him of pushing Zimbabwe and its economy down the hill to sheer bankruptcy during his 37-year-long rule.
While a large number of Zimbabwean people have been mourning over the death of the nonagenarian Mugabe, who was toppled by a coup two years ago, there was also jubilation, visible among his opponents, especially the minority white, who still hold significant control over the Zimbabwean economy. The jubilation was also visible in Europe and North America, where the establishments and their puppets have always loathed the man.
Many questioned him receiving medical treatment in Singapore while Zimbabweans suffer due to a faltering economy and a severe crisis in public healthcare. The western mainstream press, which has always criticised him during his lifetime, bashing his socialist-leaning economic policies and the radical land reform programmes that he undertook from the beginning of the millennium, didn’t spare him even in death. They joined the bandwagon and started malicious propaganda to malign the man and tarnish his credentials by projecting him as a blood-thirsty, corrupt dictator. The first black ruler of Zimbabwe and one of the crucial fighters of its liberation war was vilified by the west without an iota of shame.
Much before his death, articles like this from The Economist — the propaganda vessel of western imperialism — carried agitprop calling for his death and a coup. The coup did happen in 2017 and Mugabe was ousted from power. The 95-year-old didn’t give up though. He tried to remain politically active until his death but couldn’t revive due to his age and frail health. With Mugabe gone, a Pandora’s box of his so-called “misdeeds” will be opened now by the western press, the ilk of The Economist, and he will be denigrated as a man who plundered Zimbabwe. The more the black leader can be portrayed in the darkest shades, the more his enemies would get a scope to project themselves in the brightest ones.
Was the former Zimbabwean leader a tyrant, a megalomaniac dictator who was plundering the country’s resources for self-aggrandisement? What will be an objective and critical analysis of Mugabe and his rule? How can we do an objective and critical analysis of Mugabe without falling into the trap laid by western imperialism?
We need a critical evaluation of Mugabe’s role from an anti-imperialist and pro-African nationalist viewpoint to understand his positives and his negatives. Mugabe’s positive contributions outweigh his negatives, which were caused mostly due to his political limitations caused by a poor understanding of Marxism-Leninism, which he considered his guiding ideology for a considerable part of his life. Mugabe, unlike his contemporary and one-time close ally Nelson Mandela, couldn’t become the darling of the west and, therefore, he isn’t portrayed as one of the faces of a resurgent Africa that dared to stand up against colonial rule, against the tyranny of the white rulers who considered themselves racially superior to the broad masses of indigenous African people due to their skin colour.
Mugabe was born in South Rhodesia — a British colony ruled by the minority white settlers who had hegemony over the means of production and resources — and worked as a teacher at the beginning of his career. Though he embraced Marxism and became vocal for Africa’s liberation from colonial oppression, he never had any strong ideological understanding of Marxism-Leninism. His ideological vacuum, caused by his inability to understand the intricacies of Marxism-Leninism in the context of national anti-colonial struggle, the politics of the united front and protracted people’s war, threw him into laps of foreign powers with vested interests. To seek liberation from one camp of oppressors, he took refuge in another camp, which was full of sheer opportunists donning the cloak of Marxism and betraying the people.
In the beginning, to fight a guerilla war against the British colonial rulers and its puppet regime in Harare led by prime minister Ian Smith, Mugabe sought help from the Soviet social-imperialists. The Soviets under Leonid Brezhnev, the anti-Marxist, reactionary and neo-Tsarist leader, refused to help Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and its military wing because Moscow placed its bet on Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU). The ZAPU and the ZANU had ideological differences and different outlook over African liberation. Mugabe looked up to China for help in 1979, which by then had purged its revolutionary legacy and embraced capitalism as the mode of production.
Mugabe got support from Deng Xiaoping, the anti-communist, renegade Chinese capitalist-roader, who was first ousted from power during the Cultural Revolution led by Mao Zedong but later usurped power soon after Mao’s death in 1976. Deng supported Mugabe not out of any anti-colonial commitment, rather, he wanted to secure Chinese foothold in Africa as an economic giant in the years to come. This was the sole reason for Deng, who was stripping the working class of its power and rights within China, to come out and help Mugabe, who became his pawn against the Soviet social-imperialists who were then attempting to establish hegemony over Africa through aid and military support to different national liberation movements.
This seeking of support from foreign powers, which wore communist cloaks, began Mugabe’s skidding towards opportunism. In return of the Chinese support, Mugabe had to use his war to push his enemies, the white minority reactionaries under Smith, to a quick settlement, rather than a decisive victory and seizure of political power. With the support of Deng, Mugabe was finally able to form a nationalist front Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF), which forced Britain to organise the Lancaster House Agreement and paved the way for a political settlement of the Rhodesian Bush War. Mugabe’s ZANU-PF won a massive victory in the April 1980 election and formed the government. Zimbabwe was born and Rhodesia, which was christened after the notorious colonialist Cecile Rhode, was cast to the trash of history by the victorious African people.
Due to his weak ideological commitment and urge to seize power without deliberation, Mugabe reluctantly agreed to have a large white representation in the new parliament, the ownership of land unchanged until a settlement deal is reached and a multi-party, power-sharing arrangement, albeit with the superiority of ZANU-PF. Despite his socialist rhetoric, Mugabe wasn’t allowed to pursue the economic programme he had in his kitty. He was forced, due to the peculiar character of the coalition government in the first 10 years, to follow a neo-liberal economic rule and shun much of his socialistic economic agenda, including land reform.
Though he was unmoved by the changes taking place in Eastern Europe, where the domination of the former Soviet Union faded in the late 1980s and paved the way for the collapse of the so-called socialist camp, and reiterated his commitment towards building a Marxism-driven socialist state even on 22 December 1989, during a meet of his party, there was a very vague agenda on the table to transform Zimbabwe into a socialist state. The ZANU-PF also endorsed his vision of socialism and supported him, however, the influence of China and its Dengist leadership forced him to abandon the plan of building a centrally-planned economy with public ownership of means of production. By the 1990s, Mugabe reluctantly agreed to take the economy towards a “market socialist” system, allowing the private enterprises a greater playground. His socialism and Marxism became market-oriented social-democracy, rather than becoming communistic.
The betrayal of the US and the UK on the question of returning the farmlands owned by white feudal landlords, who got these lands snatched from their black owners at gunpoint under Rhode’s leadership, brought a lot of unrest in Zimbabwe by the mid-1990s and Mugabe started a campaign to have the white landlords voluntarily sell-off land to the black farmers willing to buy. However, the lack of response from the white farmers and their discriminatory colonial behaviour irked Mugabe, and he unleashed a campaign to violently seize land from the white minority landlords and hand them over to the black farmers. This turned out to be a massive people’s movement and the landless peasants joined it en masse and seized the land that belonged to them.
This forceful seizing of land by the black farmers of what’s rightfully theirs caused a tremendous upheaval in the western imperialist universe. Mugabe was criticised and vilified intensely than ever for his land reform programme. The economy of Zimbabwe faltered due to the immense sabotage by the white landlords and their lackeys. The western powers also ensured that Zimbabwe faces harsh economic conditions so that a people’s rebellion can be fuelled against Mugabe and his government. Their plan didn’t work, they couldn’t manage to wean away the majority of the poor from Mugabe and the ZANU-PF. Despite suffering a setback in the 2008 general elections, the ZANU-PF retained power and won a two-thirds majority in the 2013 election.
However, during the same period, due to the tweaking by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the entire imperialist ecosystem, Zimbabwe’s currency started facing a massive crisis, especially as the government printed more notes to finance the war in Angola. The imperialist pressure on Zimbabwe and the debauchery in the currency market pushed the country’s currency to the nadir, left with no value at all. Later, Mugabe had to switch to the US dollar after devaluing the currency to save the economy and keep the US under pressure.
Mugabe couldn’t save his ultimate fall as his decision to nominate his wife as his successor irked the Zimbabwean people and his ZANU-PF leadership, who still used him as a cult figure to rally the poor Zimbabweans. The poor farmers, the workers, and the old population who still have the memory of the grotesque Rhodesian white rule alive in their minds have been the vocal supporters of the ZANU-PF and Mugabe. Yet, none could accept Mugabe’s wife as his successor. Dynastic politics from Mugabe wasn’t accepted and it exposed the vulnerability of such yesteryear anti-colonial politicians. He was deposed in a military coup, yet the new ZANU-PF leadership didn’t accept it as a coup to ensure they don’t violate the regulations of the African Union, which strongly abhors military coups or take-over of power.
Though Mugabe was a controversial character, swindling between the political position of a socialist anti-colonial revolutionary and an opportunist politician trying to retain power and establish dynastic control over a country whose economy became the worst-performing one in the world, his commitment to the African cause, to the cause of African liberation from western imperialist rule, was genuine and he must get credit for the positive role during the Bush War between 1964 to 1979. His support to the South African liberation movement against the Apartheid regime made the regime bomb the ZANU-PF headquarters, nearly killing him. The CIA and the SIS, the notorious intelligence wings of the US and the UK, tried to depose him multiple times. He couldn’t be deposed easily because he had the support of his people and his popularity far outshined any of his opponents. Even when his opponents within the party deposed him, they couldn’t criticise or condemn him, keeping in view the loyalty he enjoyed in Zimbabwe.
At the same time, Mugabe didn’t mind flirting with the Chinese and the Russians. Showing obeisance towards Beijing and Moscow, he gradually handed over the ownership of Zimbabwean resources to their corporations, allowing them a greater hold on the economy of the country. The Chinese control over Zimbabwe became stronger with time and literally the Mugabe regime became a puppet of Beijing. As Chinese interests in Zimbabwe’s economy grew, their influence on Mugabe and Zimbabwean politics also reached a peak. The Chinese are accused of triggering the coup to oust Mugabe in 2017, which Beijing vehemently denies.
The positives and negatives of Mugabe make him a complex character who can’t be easily classified as a good or a bad man, as a positive or a negative figure of history. However, it’s evident that he was despised by the western imperialism, the British and the US imperialism who have wreaked havoc on the world. The enemies of peace, the neo-colonial empire still hates him because Mugabe remained a staunch anti-western, anti-colonial protagonist all his life. Unlike Mandela, he didn’t make anti-colonialism an exhibition ornament. Rather, all his life, he didn’t give up the black people’s cause for the sake of the crumbs thrown by the west.
If history will judge Mugabe, if the people’s struggle against imperialism and neo-colonialism has to judge and analyse Mugabe, then he will always shine as a warrior against the Rhodesian colonial rulers, the reactionary forces of history who wanted to keep Africa subjugated. Mugabe’s name, despite his failures and negativities, will be uttered with the great anti-colonial crusaders of Africa who wanted to overthrow the yoke of imperialist exploitation and wanted a free, democratic and socialist African Union. Mugabe had his faults, but he is quite better than the imperialist maniacs who have ruled the powerful western countries and have killed millions either directly or indirectly through their actions, yet, glorified and canonized as evangelists of humanism. Mugabe is free of such hypocrisy and as a classic African man, he will be remembered for what he was and what he did in his life.