Brian Maregedze Book Review
Life and Times of Robert Mugabe (1980-2017): Dream Betrayed
Kenneth Mufuka and Cyril Zenda, 2018, Afro-media Publishers, South Carolina, ISBN 9-781513-625959
Reviewed by Brian Maregedze
The personality of Robert Mugabe has dominated post-independence narratives of Zimbabwe’s history. In the year 2004, Roy E. Brownwell II, in a reviewed essay, observed the declining nature of Robert Mugabe’s career which eventually reached its arguably “humiliating end” on November 21 2017.
“The Life and Times of Robert Mugabe” is the subject of investigation in a recently published book by Ken Mufuka and Cyril Zenda, starting from Robert Mugabe’s famous speech as Prime Minister in independent Zimbabwe and ending in his downfall in the political stage in 2017. This timely publication, unlike other works on the same personality, compares Robert Mugabe to Tshaka the Zulu in many ways.
Unlike earlier Eurocentric writers on the life of Robert Mugabe, Mufuka and Zenda argue that their book offers an Afrocentric view of the man, deploying Tshaka Zulu as a prism to analyse Mugabe’s life. While this is commendable, I am sure some readers will find it far-fetched to use the tag of “Afrocentric” just because they are using Tshaka the Zulu.
The two authors firstly identify and summarise existing narratives as well as the challenges that beleaguer these narratives. The tags of an “Englishman”, “passionate Catholic”, “the exceptional public speaker”, “the Machiavellian politician” and “the dictator” or “Hitler” of the West are articulated and problematised.
In the third and fourth chapter, a monolithic writing of the life of Robert Mugabe is made, though with little success. Although Mufuka and Zenda claim to debunk the narratives of earlier journalists on Robert Mugabe, they fall in the same trap as they prematurely use Tshaka the Zulu under the guise of historical anachronism.
A bitter man who has lived a life of bitterness is portrayed, in love with his mother just like King Tshaka the Zulu is offered in what these two authors claim is a comparative view. Reading through the infamous 2005 Murambatsvina (clear out of filth), Mugabe is portrayed as a tyrant (p.48).
Again, labelling Mugabe as “callous”, the ideological lenses deployed still have Western flavour, thereby falling to the pedestrian Eurocentric approaches that the two authors ostensibly set out to debunk (p.33). To describe Mugabe while extracting Western theologians and their discourses on divinity doesn’t tally with an Afrocentric reading of Mugabe as the two authors had initially argued (p.10).
The sixth and seventh chapters address the way Robert Mugabe responded to the needs of the war veterans led by the late Chenjerai Hunzvi. During the same period (1997-1998), a number of steps which plunged Zimbabwe into “crisis” are explored, among them the effects of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes [ESAP], the impact of the Mozambican excursions, war veterans’ gratuities and compensation funds, the involvement of Zimbabwe in the Democratic Republic of Congo war, and the publication of the report on the Matabeleland disturbances (Gukurahundi).
All these were issues at Mugabe’s doorstep and needed his attention. This then brought the rise of anti-Government sentiments from various spheres of the Zimbabwe society. The period between 2000-2008, which the authors titled “Things Fall Apart” (probably a reference to Chinua Achebe’s most famous novel), saw the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change and other anti-Mugabe forces which suited the Western view of multi-party democratic movement.
Mugabe developed a modus operandi to the crisis, which hovered around blaming the British government, accusing local political opponents, deploying the “LAND IS THE ECONOMY” slogan culminating in the land debate among others explained in the book.
The eighth chapter focuses on the central argument of the book, which compares Robert Mugabe to Tshaka the Zulu. In this section the authors identify circumstances in which Mugabe deployed the perilous concept of “belonging” to attack political opponents, “manufactured” enemies, especially the urban populace, which Mugabe accused of voting for the opposition party. In retribution, Mugabe authorised the Operation Murambatsvina to punish the urbanites whom he described as “thankless people” (p.105).
He also pursued a “Look East Policy” in response to the imposed illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe by the Western countries. Notable also was the “unstable and contradictory relationship” between Mugabe and the military, traced from the late General Zvinavashe’s tenure as the Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander to Mugabe’s demise in 2017.
The issue of “personalisation” of the liberation struggle also comes out strongly. The ninth chapter delves into political violence characterising the 2008 elections. The book concludes with a chronicle of once-Mugabe allies now-turned-enemies, and the perceived victims of Mugabe. These include the late Joshua Nkomo, Joseph Msika, Solomon Mujuru (Rex Nhongo) and Joice Mujuru. It was during the episode of trying to humiliate and deal with yet another now-perceived “enemy”, the now president, Cde Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa (congratulations are in order), that Mugabe faced his own Waterloo. The dismissal of the then Vice President, ED Mnangagwa, under spurious accusations led to the demise of Mugabe.
While the book is readable to a general reader, the authors could have done better in their presentation and editing. Reading through the book, one is easily irritated by the numerous typological errors, with dates supposedly of post-independence Zimbabwe falling into pre-colonial era, for instance, 1886 erroneously used in line with Matabeleland disturbances which in actual fact are under the 1980s (p.9).
To a critical academic reader, the book is not worthy of recommendation. With the rise of self-publishing industry in Zimbabwe and the world over, this book can be used as a case study on the need to have professional editorial work considering that the book appears hurriedly published.
Brian Maregedze is a historian, author and columnist.