By Dinizulu Mbikokayise Macaphulana
Margaret Dongo sounded very rude when she said Robert Mugabe cannot fire a pistol but in justice the man cannot even throw a neat blow, but he has over years become a Leviathan, a crocodile that boasts a massive infrastructure of violence, overt and mainly covert.
AT this late hour in the long day of Zimbabwean politics; the true Robert Mugabe is standing up to be seen. So many who are close to him; and have been for decades; are getting to know the man from his many shadows.
Robert Mugabe “the thing in itself for itself” is out to play and politically in Zimbabwe the proverbial chips are down. In the exposition of this article everything that Robert Mugabe is presently doing in Zimbabwe, and what is happening to him, should not have been such a surprise if we kept our eyes on the real Robert Mugabe and not the many things and shadows of himself that he has, over many years, scattered around to fool and confuse even the circumcised.
As early as 1995, when some sceptics and critics mooted the importance of him considering retirement, Robert Mugabe warned that he would leave power only in “the Mugabe way.” We concentrated on the school bully arrogance of the statement and forgot to probe the deeper nuances of the phrase, and today we are face-to-face with the “Mugabe way.” And even those among us who have eaten with lions and laughed with snakes are shivering at the immense cruelty of the “way” Robert Mugabe discharges his Mugabeism.
There is no myth or enigma to what Robert Mugabe has become, never mind the fictions and artefacts of himself that he has circulated to throw attention away from his vulnerable self, the man is a fragile monster created by a clique in the ZANLA military outfit of the liberation struggle. The Leviathan has grown full circle, swallowing its way up, and is now prepared to swallow ZANLA itself symbolically and, if it needs be, physically.
As I write this article, Robert Mugabe is about to show the world that the war veterans that produced him and that he turned into a political militia can be crushed to fine dust as part of the Robert Mugabe “way” of dealing with adversity and managing his tricky exit from active politics, by retirement or natural incapacitation.
Robert Mugabe: The Thing and its Doubles
In describing what he called “the thing in itself for itself” Hegel meant the ability of human beings and other things to be everything except what they seem to be. Judging by the many descriptions that Robert Mugabe has received from different writers and observers from different vantage points, one would conclude that there are many Mugabes or that the real Robert Mugabe remains unknowable.
Edgar Tekere describes Robert Mugabe as an ambitious but reluctant politician who keeps bleeding grudges, is naturally angry, and does not hesitate to crush even those who elevated him to power with merciless brutality. Geoff Hill describes Robert Mugabe as having had a Jesuit upbringing from the Catholic Mission run by Father O’ Hea in Kutama, even as a Catholic youth Robert Mugabe kept to himself and appeared to everyone as someone who was about himself from start to finish.
Robert Mugabe grew up as a bitter and an angry youth who looked up to his mother. At his old age presently, the mother’s boy has found another mother figure to look up to, his wife Grace Mugabe. Psychologically, when Robert Mugabe seeks a good leader he imagines a dear mother rather than a strong father that he never had.
The anger that Robert Mugabe has bottled up within himself is projected in what Heidi Holland describes as scary paranoia and fear that people around him are all out to get him and therefore he should get them first. This anger also drove Robert Mugabe to build a leadership style that makes him a feared rather than loved Machiavellian prince. Fear, in the observation of Peter Godwin, is what the angry Robert Mugabe uses to control the party faithful hence the many pictures where many war types are seen kneeling and shivering before him.
The portrait of Robert Mugabe as a “perpetually terrified man” was also pressed home by Enos Nkala who described Mugabe as a dangerous coward who expects those close to him to dramatize their loyalty to him. It is cowardice and fear that led Robert Mugabe to build around him what Paul Moorcraft has called “a war machine” made out of spies, mafia types and other dangerous people with spectacular covert abilities.
Martin Meredith draws a picture of a deceptive Robert Mugabe who, on the outside, projects civility and polish while concealing a crude and unfinished individual within. Robert Mugabe is a sophisticated evil genius who is not corrupted by power but who tends to corrupt whatever power he holds. Easily, Christopher Hope finds Robert Mugabe comparable to venal tyrants of the world such as Milosevic Slobodan, Hendrik Verwoerd and Ian Smith himself.
In a strong way, Robert Mugabe is all the above and more. As a freedom fighter and politician but one who tends to attack the same freedom he fought for, Robert Mugabe belongs to a class of dangerous people that Plato described as those “who may love humanity but hate human beings.” This kind of people passionately speak for freedom and justice, and are willing to die for these ideals, but do not hesitate to practice injustice and to limit the freedom of others.
Growing up full of anger as he did, Robert Mugabe was a typical Mama’s Baby, a fragile Sissy who never threw blows or wrestled with other boys. The nearest he came close to combat was in ranting and cursing, throwing bitter invectives at his adversaries. As he grew older the anger turned to bitter hatred that desperately needed venting out. He largely kept his own company and buried himself in books. From books he amassed phrases and aphorisms, and built an impressive archive of quotes that made him a magical orator, but sadly not a polished thinker.
The Making of the Leviathan
Robert Mugabe entered politics as a fire-eating orator and some kind of an intellectual. He had a compelling and bewitching manner of putting arguments across and he electrified his audiences with his passion, and anger. The men of action, guerillas such as Rex Nhongo and Josiah Tongoogara needed such a person in the political wing of Zanu PF. These guerillas were men of hardihood who believed in expiring even their own comrades in arms in the name of the struggle.
Masiphula Sithole did a good job chronicling the “struggles within the struggle” where guerillas literally conspired against and finished each other off in the most brutal of manners. For a leader, these dangerous men found an angry and eloquent Robert Mugabe, literally exploding with the bottled hatred and rage from childhood.
It was a recipe for historical disaster. The fragile Mama’s Baby had found some hard boys from the bush to whom human life was not more than that of a chicken. The sissy had found a “war machine” and was going to use it. Rex Nhongo first and Josiah Tongoogara next were influential in replacing Ndabaningi Sithole with Robert Mugabe in 1974. Mugabe struggled to get acceptance from such African leaders as Samora Machel, Kenneth Kaunda and even Julius Nyerere who later became his fanatical backer.
Amongst the politicians, Edgar Tekere was also key in getting Robert Mugabe accepted as a leader, even Joshua Nkomo, who became a bitter enemy to be destroyed, worked overtime getting Robert Mugabe accepted as a leader of Zanu PF. At the risk of diminishing liberation fighters, the guerillas in their nobility were mostly men of action and spent less time in the habit of thinking, relegating all that to Robert Mugabe who became a god and was relied upon for ideas.
Sadly, Mugabe, unlike Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere and even Jomo Kenyatta was never really an intellectual in the true sense of the word. He never competently traded in the intellectual habits of generating and polishing ideas. Robert Mugabe was trained as an academic in the cold sense of the word, those fellows who dutifully collected and passed on the received colonial ideas from the mission school without rigorous interpretation and domestication. These are the fellows who were trained to be accessories and functionaries of the colonial machinery.
It is for that reason that for all his storied learning, Robert Mugabe does not have any writings or archive of thoughts that can be called a philosophy, or Mugabeism. There is a collection of invectives and rantings such as “so Blair keep your England and let me keep my Zimbabwe.” These rantings excite soldiers and other securocrats but do not motivate any sober intellection.
In the description of Socrates, Robert Mugabe would be a good sophist, those poetic guys who say what the audience will enjoy but go on to do what is in their agenda even if it is evil. A sophist is unlike the philosopher who values ethics, truth and justice, he is an opportunist who utters words for their sound and not sense, rhythm and rhyme and no reason at all.
So dear readers, Zimbabwe became godless when an angry sissy and a sophist found a killing machine under his charge and spell. From the Rhodesian regime he selectively inherited more monsters like General George Peter Halls, Ken Flower, Colonel Lionel Dyke and other dangerous military and intelligence types.
Robert Mugabe was not interested in inheriting experienced engineers, scholars, economists or any technocrats, he wanted killers. In this way Robert Mugabe became, simply, another Ian Smith. Margaret Dongo sounded very rude when she said Robert Mugabe cannot fire a pistol but in justice the man cannot even throw a neat blow, but he has over years become a Leviathan, a crocodile that boasts a massive infrastructure of violence, overt and mainly covert.
The Art of Deconstructing a Killing Machine
As a good sophist who loves himself and his family, and who hates and fears even his friends Robert Mugabe at his late age is back at work. He is a dangerous and angry man who fears himself and what he has built.
Since 1996, the CIO that used to be known as a dangerous secret force of assassins with dark glasses was beefed up with spooks and a sophisticated crop of intellectuals and strategists who plan the drama of Zimbabwean politics the way movie writers craft their scripts. These spooks are well paid and motivated technocrats some of them, and they keep Robert Mugabe informed and in charge. These are the guys who built a ten headed monster called Baba Jukwa that was able to destroy itself when its job was done.
Using this intelligence machinery, Robert Mugabe is successfully managing and manipulating his succession. Largely, for the security and happiness of his children when he is gone, Robert Mugabe is using his spooks to destroy the war machine that he built over years. Trusted and also feared and hated organs of the war machine are being crushed to dust.
Knowing them well, having been part of his monstrous infrastructure of violence and systematic distribution of pain and suffering, Robert Mugabe may not leave people like Emmerson Mnangagwa with power, and alive. If they don’t die physically they have to be killed symbolically and castrated beyond any measure. The Godfather, even if he is a sissy one, has to urgently blunt his boys.
To think of Robert Mugabe now one has to imagine the old village wizard who before he dies destroys his tikoloshes and goblins so that his children may remain in peace. The poor war veterans don’t understand what is happening to them with all the beatings and gassing but the sissy and the sophist is only angrily destroying what he built.
The person who will succeed Robert Mugabe will not be another Mugabe with all the power and instruments of violence. Many people who thought they knew Mugabe, who are close to him and thought they were loved and trusted by him are wondering what happened to their man. Nothing happened; the man is being himself, “the thing in itself for itself.”
Robert Mugabe is way too angry and jealous to create another Mugabe, a Leviathan. Sydney Sekeramayi, Robert Mugabe’s personal choice, if he is not eclipsed by Dr Amai who trusts no one but herself, will have enough power to crush some small enemies but not enough to be another Robert Mugabe.
It is for that reason that the political opposition in Zimbabwe should take advantage of the fact that Robert Mugabe is eroding his own power and that of Zanu PF to unite and come up with a political force that will be able to share power in Zimbabwe if not totally seize it.
Dinizulu Mbikokayise Macaphulana is a Pretoria based Zimbabwean Political Scientist and Semiotician