Thursday, February 24, 2011

President Mugabe of Zimbabwe: A True Pan-Africanist

President: True pan-Africanist

Tuesday, 22 February 2011 19:39
By Alexander Kanengoni
Zimbabwe Herald

PRESIDENT Mugabe is 87 and many things have been said about him, some of them good, others bad - he is only human.

For instance, I won't forget the old woman who stood up at one of the recent Copac outreach meetings in the rural areas and made an emotional statement about Robert Mugabe.

She pointed towards Harare with her frail hand and said it would be difficult to find another leader like him; selfless, dedicated, committed and with really not much wealth to show for it.

She said there was a real danger that when the man eventually dies, his children might slide into poverty and survive on charity. We all saw there were tears in her eyes. The man sitting next to me sighed, looked down on the ground and began to draw indecipherable patterns with his finger.

The Copac co-ordinator, standing in front of the small gathering, absent-mindedly flipped through the papers in his hands and mumbled something inaudible to himself. There was silence.

I don't believe the woman knew that the President has a pig project at his rural home in Zvimba, if that can be called wealth.

I don't believe the woman knew the President has a farm near Darwendale. How many people have farms? I have one near Centenary and a struggling poultry project at my late father's small farm in Mt Darwin.

Many Zimbabweans have similar things running. President Mugabe is like any one of us. The most gratifying thing though is you get these positive sentiments about him openly, quite often these days.

These days, there is a growing consensus amongst all people, even across the political divide, about his unique and outstanding leadership qualities. And, you are left with no doubt they are all saying it from the bottom of their hearts.

The sincerity and honesty were there in the tears of the woman at the Copac meeting. I saw it in the unreadable patterns the man sitting next to me at that same meeting drew on the ground.

Africa saw it in Big Brother Africa when young Munyaradzi Chidzonga, the Zimbabwean participant, said his biggest wish was to meet President Mugabe and talk to him.

Although he didn't say it, it was clear the young man also wanted to become a hero like Robert Mugabe.

But what Munyaradzi didn't know was that he was already our hero.

Unfortunately, this is not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about something else. I want to talk about another side of President Mugabe's leadership attributes that has not been given sufficient accentuation - his Pan-Africanist ideals and how he tries to foster them.

His African journey began at the University of Fort Hare in South Africa in the early fifties. That was where his politics blossomed, outside his homeland.

Perhaps that explains why his politics and nationalism developed such a strong African accent. It was at Fort Hare where he met most of the people who would become future leaders of the ANC of South Africa.

They met and brainstormed politics through the nights. The seed of pan-Africanism that had been planted and germinated at Fort Hare kept growing inside him, so that when he returned home to teach, Ghana became independent in 1957 and he packed his bags and went there to experience how independence felt.

He also wanted lessons for his own country in their impending fight to free themselves. Kwame Nkrumah and his vision of a united Africa was his hero.

Well, he brought back home more than politics. He brought back Sally, a Ghanaian. It might seem insignificant that he married a woman from Ghana but in the bigger context of his pan-Africanist idealism, it is quite significant. He was living his dream.

But his pan-Africanist ideals would be tested when Zimbabwe became independent in 1980 and he became the Prime Minister.

At last he had the chance to put his ideals into practice. The adoption of "Nkosi Sikelela Africa" as the national anthem for the newly independent state was a huge statement on Robert Mugabe's pan-Africanist ideals.

The song espoused an African and not merely a nationalistic vision.

Emerging from a nationalist war as we were, the temptation would have been to cap our victory with a fervent nationalistic anthem but I can picture Robert Mugabe raising his hand in objection.

To him, our independence was not merely a nationalistic achievement. It was an African achievement and we had to celebrate it through a song that captured that African dream.

The anthem "Nkosi Sikelela Africa" was composed by a black South African around 1880 in a compound at the gold mines in Johannesburg. What brilliance! More than one hundred years old and it's still Africa's guiding light.

It was an innocent prayer to God for Africa to be free. It was composed during the times when we did not yet know we had to fight to be free.

Robert Mugabe made the remaining vestiges of colonialism in Africa his top target. The independence of Zimbabwe was meaningless unless South Africa and Namibia were free, he would declare.

That required a colossal effort and monumental human sacrifice. Zimbabwean lives were lost in pursuit of that African dream. But the biggest test would come at the expiry of the entrenched ten year clause regarding the land issue in the Lancaster House Agreement.

The willing-buyer-willing-seller clause fell away and was duly replaced by the compulsory Acquisition Act, but Robert Mugabe would delay the compulsory acquisitions of former white commercial farms because he feared that might complicate the South African independence struggle.

Imagine the land reform programme in 2000 happening in 1991. The South African whites, with the absolute support of the West, would never have let South Africa go for fear that the country would experience a similar land reform programme.

I wonder whether South Africans are aware of that fact. But even if they know, what difference would it make anyway? It's only now they seem to appreciate the role Africa played in their freedom.

The whites had misled them to believe they were not part of Africa and they believed it.

It's the Namibians who openly appreciate the role that Africa, particularly Zimbabwe, played in their freedom.

But it would be naive to blame the South African people for such lack of appreciation. Such appreciation doesn't happen on its own. It requires political leadership to foster it. It requires a political leader to sow it in the hearts of the people.

Robert Mugabe is one such leader. For some strange reason, Nelson Mandela did not plant it in his people thus setting a disastrous precedent that Thabo Mbeki grappled with and Jacob Zuma is still grappling with.

He is finding it difficult to convince his people they are Africans. The xenophobic attacks that occasionally occur in South Africa are largely a result of people who view themselves apart from the other Africans. Robert Mugabe's pan-Africanist ideals extend to his love to see peace and stability on the continent.

When he went into the inclusive government with the MDC, there were muted voices within his own party, Zanu-PF that he had sold out, that he should not have gone into a partnership with counter-revolutionaries and agents of the West.

But that was a mere reflection of his personality. If he could assist Frelimo forge a working relationship with Renamo, who began as bandits created by Rhodesians to frustrate Mozambique's effort to support the Zimbabwean liberation struggle, how could he deny that for himself and his country?

If he could assist Frelimo to work with Renamo, a grouping that had no political agenda, how could he deny the same for his country in the face of a similar grouping called MDC, created by the West to safeguard their interests?

Zimbabwe's foray into the DRC together with Namibia and Angola was a pan-Africanist mission to stop the country from descending into mayhem and President Mugabe was instrumental in that decision.

In the end, the whole DRC campaign was painted to appear as if it was Zimbabwe alone that was there. After everything else has been written and said, Robert Mugabe is a true pan-Africanist.

But then, one cannot help thinking about the tears in the old woman's eyes as she bemoaned that he might be the President of Zimbabwe but besides the love for the well-being of his people, he has nothing much to show for it. And that his children might live on hand-outs when he eventually dies.

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