Robert Mugabe, or “Good ol’ Bob” as he was once called, was born just west of present day Harare, in the Zvimba district. President Mugabe, who on 21 February 2013 celebrates his 89th birthday, rose to power as the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) amid the conflict against white-rule. After spending over a decade in prison, Mugabe was elected prime minister in 1980. At the time, Mugabe was the people’s champion. Now, no amount of blood, sweat, or tears will convince a large number of Zimbabweans that Mugabe should remain president.
The beginning of Mugabe’s rule was met with much optimism. 56-year-old Robert Mugabe opened his first parliamentary session with the country’s old prime minister, Ian Smith, by his side. More significantly, black Zimbabweans finally had a leader of their own recognized by the international community. Love, rather than rancor grew among whites when he didn’t turn out to be the Marxist ogre they had originally envisioned. In the international arena, Zimbabwe became a pillar of hope. The United States extended a “warm embrace,” offering the southern African country a $225 million aid package. Unfortunately, just like a honeymoon, the political bliss of reconciliation ended shortly thereafter.
South Africa soon recognized that Zimbabwe could become its biggest threat. Officials in South Africa worked to ensure that their neighbor would neither become an example of a stable African country nor a security threat. South Africa blocked trade routes and supported dissident activity within Zimbabwe. Though there was only an estimated 200 dissidents, South Africa sought to convince Mugabe that growing contention was a problem that he needed to deal with harshly.
Within the country, Mugabe’s political party Zanu made Zapu (the Zimbabwe African People’s Union) their number one public enemy. This political propaganda sought to portray Zapu as a group of vagabonds that were working to separate the unity that Mugabe created. A handful of Zimbabwean soldiers, known as the 5 Brigade, underwent North Korean military training–a move in line with Zanu’s philosophical political orientation. Soon after, the 5 Brigade were sent out to eliminate dissident activity–leading to a campaign of arson, beatings, and mass murder of the civilian population. Within six weeks, 2,000 civilians were killed.
The black majority soon realized that the hopes and dreams that they had attached to Robert Mugabe died along with the 2,000 civilians. Many white Zimbabweans resumed their old war-time habits of carrying weapons and preparing for the worst; others fled to neighboring countries.
Fast forward to 2013, and you find a country with a leader that refuses to accept defeat, widespread shortages of basic commodities, and $217 in the bank. That’s right: $217– after years of rapid inflation, improper land appropriation, and high civil servant wages, Zimbabwe is more susceptible than ever to economic shocks. After years of speculation about Mugabe’s poor health, it is not a surprise that the people of Zimbabwe are waiting to hear when the next man or woman will have an opportunity to hold the highest office in the land.
President Mugabe has created much angst and discord in his country because of his insistence to remain in power. Good Ol’ Bob should remember the words he once said: “If those who have suffered defeat adopt the unfortunate and indefensible attitude that defies and rejects the verdict of the people, then reconciliation between the victor and vanquished is impossible.” After years of having to steal elections and silencing oppressors, President Mugabe should give the Zimbabwean people a real reason to celebrate by retiring.