Africa woke up two days ago to the news of the military intervention that kicked Robert Mugabe out of power after four decades on the saddle. More baffling is the fact that no African leader or government (including the South Africa’s Jacob Zuma) or international leader, save the AU (long hours after the intervention), outrightly condemned the military takeover, intervention or coup (whichever name you choose to call it)! But what kind of man was/is Mugabe? We bring you the scorecards of two popular African sons who at different times, were both political prisoners before the task fell on them, to lead their respective neighbouring countries. One of the men, Nelson Mandela, exited the stage a hero. Even at death, he shone like a million stars. On the other hand, the other, Robert Mugabe, is being eased out of office after a Methuselah reign that smacks of lost opportunities for Zimbabwe and Africa.
Before you continue reading this, we must state that we at wastesmart.org hold no position on the unfortunate military intervention in Zimbabwe. However, we share the general view that military interventions, however good the intention, should not be encouraged in civilian space!
Like Mandela, like Mugabe: Similarities that seem beyond mere coincidence!
- Both belonged to the same generation and were born five years apart.
While Mugabe was born in Kutama, Zvimba District, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Mandela was born in 1918 in the village of Mvezo in Umatata, which, at the time, was a part of South Africa’s Cape Province.
- Both were born to relatively poor families.
Mugabe’s father was a carpenter, Mandela’s father was a local chief and counselor to tribal chiefs but “lost his title and fortune over a dispute with the local colonial magistrate”. Mandela’s father died of tuberculosis. Till this day, many Africans from poor backgrounds suffer similar fates and die from avoidable and treatable conditions.
- Both grew up under suppressive white rules.
- Both led popular movements against white rule.
- Both fought for the independence and liberation of their countries.
- Both were imprisoned by the repressive white regimes.
- Both “lost” their first wives
Mugabe’s first wife, Sally Francesca (Hayfron) Mugabe was the First Lady of Zimbabwe from 1987 to 1992 when she died (from kidney failure). Mandela divorced his first wife in 1957, long before global fame smiled on it.
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- But were released from prison and went on to rule their lead their different countries upon independence.
Mugabe was convicted of sedition and was in prison between 1964 and 1974. He continued to lead widespread revolutionary campaigns after the colonial rulers of then Rhodesia. He became Prime Minister in 1980 after a general election which his party, ZANU-PF, won, ending White majority rule. Rhodesia became Zimbabwe in 1980. In neighbouring South Africa, Mandela spent 27 years in prison for leading independence protests after the apartheid regime in South Africa. He was released from prison in 1990, and led his party, the ANC, to electoral victory in 1994.
- Both were the first presidents of their countries post-independence
Mugabe was Zimbabwe’s first Prime Minister in 1980, before becoming its first President in 1987.
- Both have surnames that begin with the letter M.
One was Mugabe, the dictator; the other, MANDELA (MANDIBA), the Statesman!
Mandela vs Mugabe: The difference is clear!
The above points are about where the similarities between both men end. The gulf of differences between both men is as wide as Lake Victoria. Each of both men represents different things. One is the poster boy for the kind of leadership Africa craves for the future. The other is everything wrong with Africa; his is a story that started well, a struggle for the common good but soon became a conquest of personal glory. He would be remembered as the man who perpetrated on the people the same things (the colonial master he fought against) did to his people.
- Mugabe’s rule, (who by the way, was for many years, the oldest Head of State in the world), ended ignobly, on the other hand, Mandela, even in death, remains, arguably, Africa’s greatest son and leader.
- Mugabe was pushed out from power by his disenchanted former comrades, on the other hand, Mandela voluntarily relinquished power to a constitutionally and popularly elected successor.
While Mugabe was removed from power following a military coup on November 15, 2017, Mandela voluntarily handed over power to an elected successor, President Thebo Mbeki, on June 14, 1999.
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- Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe for forty years leaving a divided country in debts and ruins (which most Zimbabweans cannot wait to forget and recover from), , on the other hand, Mandela led South Africa for only four years, initiated a national healing/reconciliatory process, and left a legacy.
- While other nations like Singapore, China, Qatar etc. that were once regarded as poor and developing, have significantly improved the lots of their peoples, Zimbabwe wallows in want, poor public service, worsening hyper-inflation, crumbling social amenities and corruption.
- Mugabe built state institutions around and for himself, every public office beggared to him, his wife, family and associates, on the other hand, Mandela prioritized and reinforced public institutions and left a nation more united than he met it.
At age 93, he never seemed prepared to pass on the baton despite ruling for 37 years! Rather, he stifled power around his neck and family. On the other hand, Mandela ruled for only five years and handed over power.
- While Mugabe’s plan to install his wife as his successor hastened his downfall, Mandela’s reign, fallible as he was as a human, remains a standard that South African leaders, and indeed, African leaders have struggled to match and continue to aspire to.
The quality of political leadership of a country, state or region always impacts on the quality of state of its physical environment and public health, hence, the above topic! In our next series on Zimbabwe, we will explore “Five facts you didn’t know about Zimbabwe” and “Eight major environmental issues facing Zimbabwe that she must address post-Mugabe”. Indeed, Africa needs more Mandelas than Mugabes.
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