I am often asked by colleagues and friends, especially those who don’t live in Zimbabwe, what I think about President Mugabe. To most people he is either a cruel despot who ruined Zimbabwe and uses unorthodox means to say in power or he is a brilliant leader, a very intelligent and dedicated Pan-Africanist who has beaten the whites at their own game.
I think most people want to hear my views because of my somewhat unique perspective- I am a Pan-Africanist yet I don’t support ZANU PF. I am a member of the MDC-T and I am convinced that most of Zimbabwe’s current problems are a result of ZANU PF’s rule- in particular its intolerance, corruption, incompetence and resistance to change.
However the good the party and president Mugabe have done cannot be gainsaid. While he is blamed for many things like Gukurahundi, hyperinflation, political intolerance, violence and others he is also lauded for land reform, his efforts to empower indigenous Zimbabweans, the massive investment in education that resulted in Zimbabwe being the most educated in Africa and the relative peace and security of the country.
The legacy of president Mugabe is a complicated. I was asked about this again yesterday and thought of a book by one of my favourite authors- the late Chinese linguist and philosopher Lin Yutang- called The Gay Genius: The Life and Times of Su Tungpo published in 1947. In the first paragraph of the first chapter, Lin Yutang explains that it is more difficult to understand the living than it is to understand Su Tungpo who died in 1101- almost a thousand ago.
For one thing, the living man’s life is not completed, and one
never knows what he is going to do next when a crisis comes. The
drunkard reforms, the saint falls, and the pastor runs away with a
choir girl. A living man has always so many “possibilities”. Then, too,
the living man has secrets, and some of the best secrets usually come
out long after the man is dead.
There is a current Chinese saying that final judgment upon a man
is possible only when the cover is nailed on his coffin. A man’s life is
like a drama and we can judge a drama only when the curtain drops.
There is this difference— a man’s life is a drama in which the wisest
and shrewdest actor does not know what comes in the next act.
Because he is alive, and in power and not the most predictable of men, President Mugabe may yet disappoint his supporters or surprise his detractors. The jury is still out, waiting for the final nail.
It is difficult to describe his legacy now, perhaps because- as Lin Yutang says-“the man has secrets…”. Many secrets. At 90 a man will surely have a lot of those.