Former president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, died on September 6, 2019. His burial was scheduled for Sunday, September 15.
African and world leaders duly gathered in Harare on Saturday 14 to give him a fitting farewell.
The funeral service was held but not the burial, which was put off for another thirty days. Mugabe refuses to leave this world, at least for a month.
So the man loved and lauded by some and loathed and vilified by others refuses to go away and will be with us a little longer both in body (though dead) and spirit (we are told it does not die).
Some say that’s typical Mugabe: stubborn, tenacious, unwilling to let go or would only do so on his own terms, defiant to the last, even after the end.
If there is any legacy of his about which there are no differences, it is this: defiance.
Defiance marked his whole life. He resisted colonial rule and the illegal takeover of his country by white settlers, and for this he was jailed for more than ten years.
Upon release, he took the resistance to a higher level and led a successful armed struggle. Prison had not broken him and led him to compromise as it had done others.
Upon Zimbabwe’s independence, he went on to implement what he had fought for and correct the wrongs of the colonial and settler regimes. This included land redistribution.
This last one was probably the reason he has been most vilified and for which Zimbabwe was punished with crippling economic sanctions. Even in the face of these, he remained defiant.
Mugabe stood firmly with the other leaders of the Frontline States in southern Africa to push for the liberation of South Africa. For this their countries bore the brunt of South African attacks and destabilisation. He and the others remained defiant until South Africa was finally freed.
Even when faced with the fact of a coup and asked to read a speech of resignation that the military had prepared, Mugabe refused and read another one instead. He would not go on their terms, at least not without a fight.
And now, in death, he doesn’t want to go away; he is still defiant. And as in life, the world will not leave him alone. There is a fascination about Mugabe that is rather peculiar.
Those who admire him will not stop singing his virtues. They recognise his flaws but do not think they are in any way fatal, but only normal human weaknesses, and in any case do not subtract from his achievements.
The ones that hate him see only the monster. For them, there can be no saving grace for such a man. They continue to point to the evil in him even after his death.
Others who once saw greatness in him but have been disillusioned by his lapses will not stop talking about how so much promise came to nought.
That Mugabe inspires such diverse attention is perhaps an indication of his stature and complexity as well as a reflection of the difficult situations he had to deal with. His story is also an all too familiar one with respect to many African leaders.
They start with great promise. They have their heads and hearts in the right place. They say and do the right things and have solutions to many of the pressing challenges their countries face.
Along the way, they begin to lose it and by the end of their lives it is all gone.
Depending on where you stand in relation to Mugabe or indeed other leaders in similar situations, you might find that people have different excuses for the unfulfilled promise.
Some, more willing to give him credit, will argue that he was prevented from realising his promise by other, more powerful, interests that would be hurt by his doing so. Or they will find excuses for his failings elsewhere. For instance, that he had become hostage to a group around him that benefitted from his continued stay in power, chief among whom is his wife Grace who was said to be positioning herself to succeed him. Or that her shopping habits had bankrupted the country, or any number of other reasons.
Others, less forgiving, will say he had found the comforts of power, like Orwell’s pigs, and wanted it exclusively for himself. It had gone to his head and made him commit all manner of atrocities.
For the moment it seems there is no agreement about Robert Mugabe’s place in history. However, when time has passed and passions have cooled and there is a more detached assessment of his contribution to Zimbabwe and Africa, history might assess him more kindly and place him among the most influential leaders. History might find that the good that he did was not, after all, interred with his bones.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.