There are two sides to every story and the same could be said of the legacy of Zimbabwe’s first post-independence leader, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, who passed away Sept. 6 at the age of 95.
“Mugabe’s legacy will continue to be contested between those who revere him and those who revile him,” wrote lawyer and award-winning author Petina Gappah. “But what matters most now is how Zimbabwe’s new president handles that legacy.”
“From one viewpoint,” she wrote in a published opinion piece, “he is Zimbabwe’s founding father, the man who led his comrades through an armed struggle for the liberation of Zimbabwe’s black majority from Rhodesian white-minority rule.
“His achievements in those early, heady years of independence were exemplary, with emphasis on health, education and women’s empowerment. This opened up possibilities to many Zimbabweans, particularly the rural poor, who were shut out from Rhodesia’s opportunities.
Yet from another viewpoint,” she continued, “he is the hero who became a villain, his 37-year rule characterized by massive human rights abuses, from the Gukurahundi massacres and persecution of supporters of the rival Zapu party of Joshua Nkomo just after independence, to the persecution of perceived enemies, both in the opposition and within his own party, whom he considered threats to his power.
“Even the land reform program,” she added, “much admired across Africa for restoring land to its rightful owners, was implemented amid chaos and violence.”
Among the many eulogies for the former president was one referencing Mugabe’s first wife, Sally. A “great feminist” who inspired many women’s rights activists around the world, she was secretary general of the Zanu-PF women’s league, founder of the Zimbabwe Child Survival Program and a backer of the pan-African consortium Akina Mama was Afrika. Born in Ghana’s Gold Coast, she fell in love with the future leader who was working there. She died in Harare in 1992.
Mugabe’s second wife, Grace Mugabe, had political ambitions but was better known for shopping trips in European capitals. After side-lining vice-president Joice Mujuru, she opposed Mugabe’s right hand man, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who ultimately ousted the president in a military coup.
Now there is reportedly a dispute over where Mr Mugabe will be buried. Some of his relatives want him to be buried at his rural homestead in the village of Kutama in Mashonaland West province. But government officials are pushing for burial at a shrine near Harare.
Most of Zimbabwe’s national heroes – those who fought against white-minority rule – are buried at the Heroes’ Acre shrine just outside of the city.
SOURCE: Global Information Network