Mugabe rules – 33 years and counting

2013-08-04 14:02

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At 89, Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe looks set to continue breaking political records.

Having secured a seventh term yesterday, not only is Mugabe Africa’s oldest-serving president, but he is the continent’s only remaining leader to have been continuously in power since his country got independence from Britain in 1980.

Mugabe has indicated that he will see his term through should Zanu-PF win the election – which it did yesterday with a two-thirds majority.

This would also make the eccentric hardliner the first African president to reach north of 90 while in office. The only president to reach the 90 milestone while in office is Isreal’s Shimon Peres.

Mugabe, who has engrossed the Zimbabwean political landscape in a dynasty spanning over three decades, is a complex and complicated character.

He has the characteristics of a god-king, tyrant and a benevolent dictator, all morphed into one. To those who love him, he is the proverbial knight in shining amour who rescued Zimbabwe from the clutches of imperialistic Britain.

Others hate him, claiming he is a despotic tyrant who has destroyed Zimbabwe, which was once known as the “jewel of Africa”. Mugabe can also be Mr Nice Guy. Shortly before this week’s crucial polls, he went to great lengths to charm journalists and give the impression of openness – perhaps not surprising given the vote-rigging allegations.

Both Mugabe’s sympathisers and critics have one thing in common – their fascination with him. This fascination emanates from three sources – his staying power, ability to reinvent himself and his unconventional and unorthodox brand of politics.

For example, it is an established fact across the world that politics and religion don’t mix, yet Mugabe, who is a self-confessed Marxist, quotes liberally from the Bible, especially when it comes to homosexuality, which the holy book condemns.

Mugabe is a straight talker and diplomacy is not one of his strong points either. Many leaders around the world would pause and think twice before hurling insults at another leader or making unsavoury statements about another country. But Mugabe has little trouble telling other leaders where to get off.

Recently, Mugabe called Lindiwe Zulu, President Jacob Zuma’s envoy to Zimbabwe, a “street woman”. Last year Mugabe caused a diplomatic storm when he called Jamaicans “drunkards who are perennially hooked on Marijuana”. Other leaders who have not been spared include former British prime minister Tony Blair and former US president George W Bush.

A teacher by profession, Mugabe is a staunch believer in education and is well educated. At one of his rallies recently, Mugabe told his supporters: “Go and get educated.”

His dislike for white people can only be matched by his unquenchable thirst for power. He once remarked of white people “the only white man you can trust is a dead white man”.

But Mugabe has not always been the villain he is now made out to be. After his ascendancy to power in 1980 after fighting in the Rhodesian Bush War, he was hailed as a bit of a Nelson Mandela by the same Western powers that now despise him.

He called for reconciliation between former warring parties, which included white Rhodesians and rival political groups. As a result, he was even knighted by the Queen of England.

He has since been stripped of his knighthood following the bloody 2008 election.

» Follow our team’s daily coverage from Zimbabwe here and on Twitter @City_Press

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