By Anver Versi
When it happened, it happened at lightning speed. One minute Robert Mugabe was trying to consolidate a dynastic succession by stabbing his old-time ally Emmanuel Mnangagwa in the back, by firing him from his post as Vice President, the next, his whole world had turned against him.
As we were going to press, thousands of Zimbabweans had poured into the streets and their joy was unconfined. They wanted Mugabe “gone yesterday!” Any anti-Mugabe protest a week earlier would have been met with tear-gas, baton charges and rubber bullets.
For almost 40 years Mugabe had ruled the country with an iron fist, like Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s play:
Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
But Caesar had fallen, cut down by the same people who had put him in power, and Mugabe now faced the same fate. His party, Zanu-PF had turned against him, unanimously calling for his expulsion under threat of impeachment; the veterans he had fought with generations ago wanted him out; his supporters had vanished in the night and the army, which he had called his iron fist in a velvet glove, had been the first to strike the blow.
But throughout the revolution – there is no other word for it – the army under Gen. Constantino Chiwenga, was mindful not to call it a coup lest it triggered considerable negative connotations, domestically as well as internationally. The aim had been to find a constitutional way to ease Mugabe out of power.
However, the unbridled joy of the people – “from today, we can live again, we can be Zimbabweans again, the tyrant is gone!” to quote one – and Zanu-PF shutting the door firmly in Mugabe’s face, show that developments had accelerated. Mugabe’s time was clearly over.
One cannot help reflecting on what all of Mugabe’s scheming, and killings (the Matabeleland massacre); the intimidation and beatings of opposition figures; the cowing of the population; the destruction of one of Africa’s most promising economies; the exodus of millions of Zimbabweans to foreign lands just to keep body and soul together; the unchecked looting of the national treasury; the pomp and arrogance while ordinary folk were scrambling around for food for their children; and the endless misery of being Zimbabwean, has amounted to?
What degree of ambition, narcissism and hubris is needed to consider all this worthwhile? What drives a man like Mugabe, with his intelligence, his reading, his eloquence, his innate leadership qualities, to become so corrupted by the chimera of power that all human values are jettisoned and he becomes deaf and blind to the plight of his country?
At what price?
Is the price he and his wife have had to pay in order to sit like a king in a British limousine or rattle about in a mansion that can house a hundred comfortably, or bedeck themselves with expensive clothes and glittering stones, worth the destruction of his country and the murder of the dreams of its children? Now it is all gone in a puff of smoke in just one week and the people’s joy at his discomfiture must taste like ashes in his mouth.
Given his qualities, what a leader he might have made if the false gods of ambition not lured him away, if his values had shouted out to him, “thus far and no further”. Is this how he, or for that matter anybody, would want to see out the remaining days of their lives? Can there be a blow more cruel than to see the people he once led to freedom reviling him and calling for his head? To see comrades he fought with in the jungles despise him? To realise that all the bowing, scraping and singing of his praises was because of the fear he had instilled and not love?
The fall of Mugabe should be a salutary lesson to all our leaders who put themselves and their families above the people. To be called to national leadership is a rare and honourable privilege, and it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rise above oneself by serving the nation; to be loved, as well mourned when one cashes in one’s chips. What an opportunity, not only missed, but hideously distorted in Mugabe’s case. Perhaps he now realises, as others have done before him, that all the riches of the world are as trifles compared to the genuine love, respect and honour that a man can get by truly serving.