The End For Mugabe?
South Africa finally -- finally -- has wound up the courage to criticize one of Africa's longest-serving tyrants (and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe has not been shy about shouting back). So far, we've only seen rhetoric. But perhaps this is a sign that the era of Mugabe, which has sunk his country into misery, is coming to a close.
How did things descend to this nightmare level? Robert Mugabe did not come to power through a coup. He emerged as the leader of a serious guerrilla army, who then fought and won a British-supervised election. For his first several years in office, he practiced a policy of reconciliation (at least with the white population, if not with his tribal rivals in the Matabeleland province). During the years of the revolution, I met Mugabe several times and am still ashamed of how generally favourably I wrote him up. But he was impressive then, both as soldier and politician and survivor of long-term political imprisonment, and when I noticed the cold and ruthless side of his personality I suppose I tended to write it down as a function of his arduous formation. Also, in those days the reactionary white settlers would console themselves with a culture of ugly rumours (such as Mugabe’s supposed syphilis and mental degeneration), which I was determined not to gratify.
The syphilis story can’t have been true or Mugabe would not be the annoyingly long-lived man he has become. But something did go horribly wrong, and among those who remember those years there is an unending parlour game about exactly what that something was.