Mugabe: The Institution


Robert Mugabe. Photo Credits: Flickr/ Al Jazeera English


Bic Mitchum: Some people are called on to serve God; others are called to serve our country. Those who are chosen to serve both; they’re called ‘army chaplains.’ I got a two-way call from the Big Fellow Himself.

Ed Palmer: Priest in the military.

Bic Mitchum: Yeah.

Ed Palmer: It’s interesting. Do they have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on child molesting?

This inappropriate ‘joke’ from ‘The Wedding Ringer’ implies that the Catholic Church is being complacent with the subject. So what if some priests are molesting children? They face charges, they end up in jail for a few years and after their time is over, no one hears about them again. But it’s not the individuals; it’s the institution.

After 37 years as the president of Zimbabwe, a de facto coup d’état in Harare (the capital city), Robert Mugabe was forced to resign in November 2017. Headlines read, “Mugabe resignation ushers in new era for Zimbabwe,” “Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe finally resigns, sparking wild jubilation on the streets of Harare,” “How Zimbabwe Freed Itself of Robert Mugabe” among others. Nevertheless, the institution he – and the ruling party, Zanu-PF – put in place is still ruling the country. What comes to mind – at least for those who’ve recently watched the movie ‘Spotlight’ (which everyone should because Mark Ruffalo is starring in it) – is the issue of whether his resignation is the answer to 37-year-old questions. In the movie, Mark Baron (Liev Schreiber) says, “we need to focus on the institution, not the individual priests. Practice and policy; show me the church manipulated the system so that these guys wouldn’t have to face charges. Show me they put those same priests back into parishes time and time again. Show me this was systematic, that it came from the top down.” But what if the individual was the institution?

 Keith Mundangepfupfu, a Zimbabwean national who is currently studying at Wesleyan University in Connecticut has a lot to say on the matter. “Mugabe created Mugabism and Mugabism outgrew him. And now, MG [Emmerson Mnangagwa], the current president, is going to have to decide how he is going to use Mugabism.” According to Mundangepfupfu, Mugabe (the institution) should not be looked at as monolithic since it comprised different eras (the 80s to the 90s; the 90s to the 2000; and then 2002-2017). During this progression (from era to era), Mugabe was evolving as a president (and person) and as he was doing so, the government structure was evolving with him.

The White Farmers Controversy

“Our constitution changed in 2013,” Mundangepfupfu added. As he explained it, Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe were running against each other during the 2013 Presidential elections and they both wanted to win the votes of the war veterans. The veterans, in return, wanted land. Tsvangirai promised to grant their wish for their votes, but Mugabe went ahead of him and threw out white settler farmers, so he could give their land to the veterans. This started to sink the economy. “But we must note that, at independence, the white farmers had promised to sell parts of their land to black Zimbabweans, but none of them had,” Mundangepfupfu said. And prior to taking action, Mugabe had asked Tony Blair (Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at the time) to help settle the issues regarding land crisis, but he had refused. Then following Mugabe’s action, both the European Union (especially the UK) and the United States placed trade embargos and sanctions on Zimbabwe, which destroyed the country’s economy. But this is not a decision he (Mugabe) regrets. In June 2017, while addressing thousands of his supporters in Marondera, a farming town, Mugabe spoke (in his local dialect of Shona) about his plans to kick out more white farmers:

“We told (former British premier) Tony Blair to keep his England and we keep our Zimbabwe because land is our heritage. We have discovered that in Mashonaland East province alone where Ray Kaukonde was the resident minister, there are 73 white commercial farmers who are still occupying some farms when our people do not have land.”

Mundangepfupfu also said that, “to simply say he was one who ruined a country is simplistic, but he surely had a big role to play. And he has left behind a party that built itself based upon his principles (which he stopped following) and that led to his demise. The only institution that reigns in Zimbabwe is ZANU-PF and it has the support of the military as we saw.” He was referring to Military’s takeover of the government (which eventually led to the resignation of the president). If the military hadn’t turned its back to the president, the civilians would never have had the courage to go on the streets and oppose him as well. In the aforesaid 2013 election – which has been dubbed the “masterclass in electoral fraud” by The Independent Magazine – systematically reinstated Mugabe as the president of Zimbabwe. It also assigned two-third of the Parliamentary seats to members of his institution (ZANU-PF). With overall control over the only committee that can make changes to the constitution, Mugabe had unlimited control over the progression of the institution. But unfortunately (for him), his institution outlived him.

Emmerson Mnangagwa

When Robert Mugabe resigned as the president of Zimbabwe, the whole country (and continent and to be honest, the entire world) celebrated. But while his resignation sparkled “wild jubilation on the streets of Harare,” Tinotenda Petros feels sceptical about it. Petros, who is a 20-year-old Hararian and a student at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, has his concerns.

“It’s like having a house that needs to be rebuilt,” he explained. “But, instead, you get a painter to put a new coat of paint on the walls of the house.”



Tinotenda Petros. Photo Credits: Christopher Herrera.

The preceding President of Zimbabwe, Emmerson Mnangagwa, is just a coat of paint. Mnangagwa, 75, spent up to 37 years working in the government, serving as the speaker of the House of Assembly and as a Minister in several fields – state security, finance, rural housing and social amenities, defence, and justice, legal and parliamentary affairs. He was also Mugabe’s second in command until he (Mugabe) dismissed him in an attempt to “clear the path to power” for his wife, Grace Mugabe. Before that, he was a very active member of Zanu-PF and had even been one of the main people who directed the war of independence, which placed Mugabe in power. In a recent BBC article, it was revealed that several military officers – many of whom had roles to play in the replacement of Mugabe by Mnangagwa – were benefactors of the killings and human right abuse reports from diamond fields in eastern Zimbabwe.

When the news agency asked a Zanu-PF official about Mnangagwa’s prospects, the interviewee responded with, “you think Mugabe is bad, but have you thought that whoever comes after him could be even worse?” On the surface, the house looks brighter and colourful, but the foundation is still unreliable, the walls are still weak and the house needs so many renovations that reconstruction is the more reasonable (and cost-effective) decision. With reconstruction come guaranteed longevity and warranty.


Gukurahundi: The Zimbabwean Civil War

Petros isn’t the only person who is sceptical about Mnangagwa. Nolizwe Mhlaba, 33, feels overjoyed and excited, but (understandably) concerned about Mugabe’s resignation. Born and raised in Harare, a job opportunity for her father relocated the family to New York. She currently teaches critical writing and reading to kids enrolled in the SEO Scholars’ program in New York but before this, she taught History and African Studies at the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa. She is “sceptical about how much change there will actually be.”

One of the concerns she raised during an interview was the civil war (Gukurahundi) that took place in the 1980s. Just as in the Hollywood movie, Hotel Rwanda (and the real-life Rwandan genocide of 1995), the civil war was between the two main tribes in the country – the Shona and the Ndebeles. But in the case of Zimbabwe, the end of the massacre didn’t come with closing credits, 16 awards and 48 nominations (including the Oscar, Golden Globe and the Grammy). It came with approximately 20,000 deaths and disappearances, the honour of being acknowledged in history as the “darkest period” in Zimbabwe’s history (after colonization, of course) and an honourable recognition of Mugabe for his unfaltering input behind the scenes of the genocide. Mhlaba added that, “it was also (and largely) a politically-driven campaign and it so happened that a majority of the victims were in Matabeleland [a province for the Ndebele tribe], but there were also many others in Midlands province or from other tribal groups.”

Although he hasn’t yet taken responsibility of the massacre, Mugabe had a big part to play in aiding the genocide. Dr. Stuart Doran, an independent historian and author of the forthcoming book ‘Kingdom, Power, Glory: Mugabe, Zanu and the Quest for Supremacy, 1960-87,’ wrote an article for The Guardian. In the aforementioned article, ‘New documents claim to prove Mugabe ordered Gukurahundi killings,’ he presented evidences, which “augmented by my investigations and the testimony of Zimbabwean witnesses – appear to substantiate what survivors and scholars have always suspected: Mugabe, the prime minister, was the prime architect of well-planned and systematically executed mass killings.”

But as the national security minister, Mnangagwa did his part as well. He was responsible for the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO), which allied with the national army to oppress Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), the members of which were mostly from the Ndebele tribe. Although the two tribes have seemingly made up and the two teams (the national army with the help of Mugabe and Mnangagwa) and the ZAPU came together to form Zanu-PF, their hands are still stained with the blood of 20,000 innocent people.

“People don’t understand that a simple acknowledgement can go a long way with people who are still healing,” Mhlaba said.



Emmerson Mnangagwa. Photo Credits: Agence France-Presse


Electoral Fraud and violence

One person who is still healing is Bubelo Mlilo, 21, whose Ndebele uncle, his wife and their child disappeared (or were killed) during the war. Born and bred in Bulawayo, she is now a student at IE University in Spain, where she is majoring in Law and International Relations. She is particularly hopeful about the upcoming Zimbabwean elections because, “it could be the first time we have free and fair elections, unless the new president has the same corrupt mentality.”

After his inauguration as president, a spokesperson of the party announced that Mnangagwa would act as the country’s president for the duration of the current term. On or before September 2018, the country will elect its new president. The article on BBC also mentioned the opposition candidate, Blessing Chebundo, who defeated Mnangagwa in a parliamentary campaign in 2000. He was said to have “escaped death by a whisper” after having been abducted by Zanu-PF youths and soaked in petrol. Their inability to light a matchstick provided him with an exit strategy. In addition to this, Mnangagwa has also been associated with the 2008 election attacks on people who opted for the opposition party and not Zanu-PF.

“We don’t want to be like Nigeria,” Mlilo said.


She was referring to the nationwide celebration that followed Muhammadu Buhari’s 2015 presidential triumph and the disappointment it turned out to be. She mentioned that she chose to study international relations because she wants to “improve Zimbabwe’s relations with other countries” and that if the country changes for the better after the upcoming elections, she will definitely move back home. If it remains the same (as it was during the Mugabe regime), “no, because I have to defend a system that I am against.”

Benevolent Dictator?

Under Mugabe’s tenure, Zimbabwe had the highest literacy rate in Africa (with 90% of its people educated) and he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1981. And it shouldn’t be forgotten that he was one of the freedom fighters who saved the country from colonization. Because of this (and several other factors), people often refer to him as a “benevolent dictator.”

“I think that’s a lie,” Tinashe Handina, 19, said. Currently studying Electrical Engineering at Princeton University, he is excited about the proactivity and the change going on in his home country. However, he is afraid that the country might go back to what it was, or worse. He recalled an article he read in which the writer states, “politics in Zimbabwe has occupied a space so far removed from our lives that it has become a kind of spectator sport.” According to Handina, this spectator sport came with a “one step forward, two steps back” rule, where every good deed is retaliated with two missteps. But in a world where “people would not passionately talk about politics because they felt that it was pointless to do so” and people belonging to the opposition party either “disappear or join the system,” how much of an improvement is a new president? Is the devil we know better than the angel we don’t know?



Photo Credits: Twitter/Skepticafro

According to CNN’s ‘Zimbabwe ruling party says Mugabe should step down,’ one of factors that led to Mugabe’s downfall was the fact that “Mnangagwa has strong connections and the support of the military.” During the interview, Tinashe Handina was asked why Zimbabweans took so long to bring down the dictator, even after Burkina Faso’s 2015 coup. He simply laughed and answered,

“if you know Zimbabweans well, you know that we don’t want to die for anything.”

Following Mugabe’s removal from power, people on social media have been posting hopeful tweets regarding the fall of African dictators. But is their resignation and submission to the wishes of civilians possible when even Mugabe didn’t let go of his presidency out of the goodness of his heart? There are many African dictators who are still in power today and may even remain in power for many more decades to come. It’s obvious they are not willing to let go of the power. They manipulate the system – the army, the national assembly, the senates and the police – to ensure that they stay in control of their countries and use their titles to attain results. While Mugabe’s resignation brought hope to many Zimbabweans (and Africans), the question everyone should be asking is, “does Africa have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on institutionalized violence?”





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