Robert Mugabe, a Conquering Lion of the African Liberation Struggle, has joined the ancestors. He was 95.
Most commentators discussing Mugabe’s legacy, even those who are being “kind,” can’t get past saying “it’s complicated.”
Mugabe’s career is certainly complicated, but I view his situation like that of the leaders of Cuba, Venezuela and Iran: the American bully has been intent on seeing the revolutionary leaders of those nations fail for decades, so the U.S. does everything it can to ruin those countries, so the people living there will blame their leaders for their failure to successfully lead them to prosperity.
Mugabe earned his place, leading the revolutionary forces of the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) against the minority settler leaders of the country called Rhodesia, named for the colonist Cecil Rhodes.
There was another opposition force — the Zimbabwe African Patriotic Front (ZAPU), led by Joshua Nkomo. After years of armed struggle, waged almost entirely by ZANU, the white minority forces led by Ian Smith were ready to buckle when the British negotiated an end to the revolution, without total capitulation, installing a puppet-like African leader named Abel Muzorewa as prime minister to essentially protect white interests, while giving the appearance of a Black-led government.
The ZANU forces would have none of it and went back to the bush to continue to wage war, when in 1979 Lord Carrington, the British foreign secretary, and U.S. President Jimmy Carter managed to wrangle the infamous Lancaster House peace deal, ushering in the new Black state.
The Brits, and to a lesser extent the Americans, promised the white African leaders that they would pay the settlers who stole the land under British authority to surrender the land to Black ownership. Ian Smith had led a breakaway from England in 1965 to avoid a peaceful transition to minority rule, so the revolutionaries had to fight and beat them down to the negotiating table.
Only thing, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan took office before any checks were written and they nixed the agreement, refusing to give Zimbabwe a single dime of what had been promised. It’s complicated.
Things went along swimmingly until the mid-1990s (neighboring South African Blacks were rising up by then, winning their freedom from apartheid, white minority rule) and in Zimbabwe, the veterans of the protracted armed struggle began demanding their promised land.
That’s when I entered the picture. I attended the Rev. Leon Sullivan’s fabled “African-African American Summit” which met in Harare, Zimbabwe, passing through Pretoria, South Africa, where we were entertained for an evening by new South African President Nelson Mandela.
One of the attendees with me was Andrew Brimmer, economist and Federal Reserve Board governor. In an interview, Brimmer told me that Zimbabwe had one of the strongest economies on the African continent, and that Western investors were looking favorably at Zimbabwe. There was only one little problem: veterans from the successful armed struggle against white rule had massed outside the summit to protest and call attention to the fact that more than a decade after that Lancaster House deal, they still hadn’t gotten any promised land.
They led noisy protests and Mugabe determined that it would be better for him and for the country if the country just took the farmland from the white settlers and redistributed it to Black peasants. So, he did, and whites fled en masse to white enclaves like Australia, only to return years later because they were just “ordinary” white people in Australia, but they were really special in Zimbabwe, even without all their land.
So the West took to badmouthing Mugabe, and his name has been mud in the Western press, ever since Zimbabwe started confiscating from the thieves, the African land that had been stolen.
Thus, Mugabe, who had once been adored for his cool-headed leadership, became a pariah and was never to be revered again. Meanwhile, new, younger leaders came on the scene and they wanted the fulfillment of Freedom’s Promise, demanding western-like reforms from Mugabe.
It’s the classic American trap, and most of the time it works, tarnishing the revolutionary leader in the eyes of the world and making that leader appear to be ineffective, except in suppressing his own people and holding on to power.
Mugabe did what he had to do in order to secure his country’s revolution, and its future. That’s why he is truly a revolutionary hero.