Thursday, July 2, 2020


History has markers every step of its way. It keeps records of its patient existence that grows by the second.

History is a truth that cannot be tempered with yet many have tried only to be shamed by its unmovable presence, if you care.

Twist it as we may, history remains the same because even to those who respect that it exists on its own dare not mess with it because it always comes out clean, even if you do not care.

History dares all because history is a chronicle of things that happened in time and time is present and real.

I dare ask where I should begin to comment on a man who became better known than the country that gave him fame yet we all know that no player is greater than the sport they play.

To some who thrived on his rhetoric, Robert Mugabe was a messiah; to those who despised his tactics and did not fall prey to his lust for absolute power, he was a demon.

I think I have already begun.

Many who struggled to take care of me in exile, particularly in Botswana, might expect cheers from this forlorn citizen of three worlds. But the loneliness of a long-distance runner is legendary.

In death, there is no victory.

Robert Mugabe, once again, has deceived expectations and took a pathway into the dark alley to side-step unavoidable confrontations with citizens and head straight for a showdown with his Maker the outcome of which we will never be privy to.

We need not be.

Unfortunately, there is a mix of joy and scattered sadness over Mugabe’s death.

Zimbabweans in and outside the country are split as to their opinion of the man who cleverly used the opportunity of the leadership of one of Africa’s most advanced countries at independence to advance opinions that were cleverly tailored to not only glorify him but to also try to entrench him as a continental and world class leader.

Robert Mugabe is dead now, like we all will be. But the most unfortunate thing is that he left Zimbabwe in a worse situation than it was at independence, both economically and socially.

And we are not only talking about our failures to maintain what we inherited from the colonial governments. The euphoria of independence lasted too long as we were made to splash around in swimming pools without thinking about how the water got into the yard in the first place.

South Africans are only now waking up and they think violence will solve their problems. Africa beckons. They ain’t seen nothing yet.

It is fair to allow those who benefitted from Robert Mugabe’s rule to shower praise on him for they were given shortcuts to privileged life at the expense of the majority.

But as some Zimbabweans sing praises to Robert Mugabe, decency admonishes us against forgetting the bad things that came out of Mugabe’s rule most of which demanded his intervention, explanation or apology.

It is infuriating to have continental bodies such as the African Union, SADC and other stupid and meaningless groupings that stand on the sidelines to solely cheer African presidents as they abuse African people.

Because of this disgusting waiter/waitress attitude towards the people of Africa from the AU and SADC, I have now begun to hate the term “Pan-African” because for decades, it has been used in the justification of the abuse of the people of Africa.

No, sir! People need governments who protect them. Any safety net that allows one of our individuals to fall through to their death is no safety net. We go back to the proverbial drawing board.

In Zimbabwean traditions, we believe that “wafa wanaka”, which translates to the admonishment of “speak no ill of the dead”. Really? Why?

Please tell me why survivors should speak no ill of their nemesis.

So, when a good person dies, we should praise them, right? And when a bad person dies, we should praise them, right?

Get out of here and fast, please!

Just like we grew to dislike Ian Smith before and after independence, so is the same with Robert Mugabe.

They created and represented a system that was nasty and cruel to the people.

In my professional endeavors, I met Mugabe and his late wife Sally in and outside State House many times. He was just Mugabe.

The last two times I met him on a one-on-one was when he declared my sister, Julia Zvobgo, a national heroine and it was difficult for me to comprehend how such a fragile (yes, fragile) man could have been the cause for so much pain and atrocities in the country.

We are all responsible for our lives and for how the deeds we are known for will affect or be interpreted by our survivors.

No one is guaranteed praise after death because that is precisely the time when the effects of our behavior on society or country stand on their own.

Praise for the sake of praise to please or console a gathered crowd does not stand.

In the case of Robert Mugabe, it is essential to understand Zimbabwe before, during and after his rule.

I am not here to knock bricks out of Mugabe’s façade as has been forcibly being rammed under our throats by a select group of media.

I am speaking as both a citizen of Zimbabwe and a victim of its perceived successes touted around Africa and the world in total disregard of the mindless violence brought upon Zimbabweans, especially those with divergent views.

I am a survivor of Mugabe’s system. I am not the only one.

The Gukurahundi Massacre shames me wherever I go because I cannot explain it even to myself.

So many of our citizens who criticized Mugabe vanished and their disappearances haunt me. I am talking to you now because I ran and fell into the arms of Batswana who not only shielded me but assisted me and gave me protection.

Today, more than a quarter of Zimbabwe’s population lives outside Zimbabwe because of Mugabe.

Qualified teachers are herding cattle in Botswana and nurses are running tuck-shops in South Africa.

If this thing called Pan-Africanism is meant “to encourage and strengthen bonds of solidarity between all indigenous and diasporan ethnic groups of African descent” then it is working just fine for Zimbabweans in addition to the xenophobia that has now crept up from the very country that is causing the misery in Zimbabwe.

Yes, Mugabe was the first popularly elected Prime Minister/President of Zimbabwe in 1980 but, please, let us not mistake being first to achieve something with heroism.

I do not care for what he achieved; I care about those who died because of him. I am still trying to count the bodies of those he killed or who were killed in his name without him ever trying to discourage it or apologise.

I am still trying to find those who disappeared under his watch.

Zimbabwe is still trying to get birth certificates for the children whose parents were killed during Gukurahundi but who cannot be acknowledged to this day.

History has markers every step of its way. Check it out yourself.

The only reason Mugabe looks better is because he was succeeded by a worse undeserving leader than we ever expected.

And, yes, Emmerson Mnangagwa is my two-mile-away homeboy and knows where to find me because he desperately needs advice.


*Tanonoka Whande writes in his personal capacity.


Read this week's paper

Sunday Standard June 28 – 4 July

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of June 28 - 4 July, 2020.