Republic of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe lighting the torch in Harare on the occasion of the 33rd anniversary of Independence. The event was on April 18, 2013., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
‘Mugabe: Hero or villain’ documentary out
Sunday, 28 April 2013 00:00
Zimbabwe Sunday Mail
After an almost three-year wait to interview President Mugabe, film director Roy Agyemang and executive producer Neville Hendricks are ready to release the critically acclaimed documentary, Mugabe: Hero or Villain, to an anticipating world-wide audience.
Though the film is yet to be premiered, it has been screened in different “strategic” locations across the globe where it has received standing ovations and has been roundly hailed as the most brutal and honest look at the Zimbabwe situation yet from an “outsider” perspective.
Agyemang is a Ghanaian film-maker who was raised in the United Kingdom and Hendricks is of Jamaican extraction, living in the United Kingdom.
“What inspired us,” explained Agyemang, “is that we were being fed, day-in day-out, of how brutal Mugabe was. He was being vilified almost everyday.
“But with some hindsight, we reasoned that all the bad leaders that the Western world didn’t want, they eliminated so why was it that they were not eliminating Robert Mugabe? There had to be a reason and thus we sought to find out.” Arriving in the country in October 2007, the production team meant to stay for only three months, by which time they had been guaranteed that an interview with the President would have been done.
By December, no interview looked likely and Zimbabwe was burning, at least according to the international media. Not to mention that this was the time when hyperinflation was the order of the day.
“Any other producer would have backed out of the documentary, given the challenges at the time but Hendricks believed there was a story to be told.
“Whereas initially we had come to seek to talk to Robert Mugabe, we ended up having to tell the Zimbabwean story. Other foreign broadcasters were banned from reporting from within Zimbabwean borders and that gave us the edge, we had the privilege of being on the ground.”
Realising that talking to President Mugabe was not going to be easy, the producers found other means of getting into the inner circle of the President’s entourage and soon they were travelling with and covering him.
The interview was only to come in June 2009. Though the film’s title centres on Mugabe being a villain or hero, it achieves more in answering and explaining the Zimbabwean situation, why the land reform programme was embarked on, giving the historical context from the Lancaster House Conference in 1979 to Clare Short’s rather arrogant letter of November 1997, arguing that the newly installed Labour government of Tony Blair had no contractual obligations towards Zimbabwe’s land programme, as that agreement had been reached between Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives and Harare.
Then in what must be seen as highly bold and critical to the credibility of the film, it gives a narrative of how the Western world pampered Mugabe from Independence in 1980 to around 1987, even to the extent of having tea with him at Buckingham Palace, to knighting him, to giving him several honorary degrees, as well as receiving a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1981, yet Zimbabwe was burning at home.
Those were the days of the Gukurahundi. To the Western world, Mugabe was a hero then, because he was not hurting any of their interests.
Then the moment the land question entered the national psyche, the chorus soon changed, and Mugabe became a villain overnight, became a dictator, a “Black Hitler”.
The onslaught saw the enactment of several statures to punish Robert Mugabe financially, to cripple him and his economy, the largely quoted being the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (Zidera), with the ultimate being taken onto the United Nations Security Council agenda where China and Russia, who have always stood by Zimbabwe since its liberation struggle, vetoed the resolution as the situation in Zimbabwe posed no threat to international peace and security.
For those who will go to watch the film with the expectation that they will be taken from the 1920s when Robert was a herdboy to the heady days of the liberation struggle, they are likely to leave theatres disappointed for the documentary is no attempt to portray the life and times of Robert Mugabe, though that might have been the initial attempt, but is rather a look at why and how Zimbabwe has been put onto international discourse, rather not so favourably.
The documentary shows how resilient Zimbabweans can be, as shown with the financial crisis that reached its peak in 2008 with the printing of the largest single-note denomination in the world, the 100 trillion note. It traces how the nation somehow escaped from the jaws of a crisis and has recovered economically, thanks largely to the successes being enjoyed from the land reform programme, which initially caused the vilification of Robert Mugabe.
It emphasises that natural resources of a country remain its natural heritage and should remain under its sovereign control.
Tomorrow the documentary will be screened to a select number of media practitioners in the country, before it is released onto a largely anticipating worldwide market.
The film was first screened in December last year at the British Film Institute before it was taken to the Pan-African Film Festival in Los Angeles where it received a Special Recognition Jury Award.