Lance Guma is the Nehanda Radio Managing Editor. Views expressed in this article are personal. You can reach him on firstname.lastname@example.org
We all have elderly people in our lives that we love and care for dearly. None of us would make fun of them if they stumble, trip or fall over. So how come the 91-year-old president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, became an exception?
On Wednesday Mugabe missed a step and tumbled off the podium at the Harare International Airport moments after arriving from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where he had been elected chairman (albeit ceremonial) of the African Union (AU).
The Zanu-PF leader must have hoped his chairing of the AU would dominate the headlines for weeks to come but instead his “presidential tumble” became the story and ‘internet memes’ of his dramatic fall went viral around the world.
Even South African comedian Trevor Noah took to social networking site Twitter and poked fun at the incident while remarking; “I guess this is not the “fall of Mugabe” that the world was waiting for, but we’ll take it!”
Had this been the late South African icon Nelson Mandela who had tumbled in such a manner, making fun of him would have been in bad taste.
So what is it about Mugabe that has elicited a clear lack of sympathy and compassion? Lets not walk on eggs or develop selective amnesia, we all know the reasons.
President Mugabe has blatantly relied on violence, abductions, rape, torture and murder of opposition supporters to remain in power for over 34 uninterrupted years. The majority of Zimbabweans cannot show any compassion for someone who has shown throughout his rule that he does not care one tiny bit.
In the eighties troops loyal to Mugabe rampaged through villages and towns in the Midlands and Matabeleland provinces butchering an estimated 20 000 innocent civilians according to a report by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace.
While Mugabe justified the crackdown as an attempt to suppress an insurgency by armed dissidents the conduct of the Fifth Brigade who were deployed betrayed other intentions.
It became clear Mugabe used the alleged “insurgency” to justify the mass murder of people mainly from the Ndebele tribe who were perceived as supporting the opposition Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu).
Having bullied Zapu into the 1987 Unity Accord the next big obstacle for Mugabe was the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formed in 1999.
The first election the MDC contested in was the 2000 parliamentary election. This saw Mugabe spread his terror tactics to other parts of the country.
Hundreds of opposition supporters and dozens of white farmers were killed in a campaign that was meant to decimate the support structure of the new party.
The heartless petrol bombing of Talent Mabika and Tichaona Chiminya in Buhera stands out as an example of how ruthless Mugabe’s regime has been.
Both activists were campaigning in Buhera for MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai in the run up to the elections. Joseph Mwale, a member of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) and his fellow accomplice, war vet Kainos ‘Kitsiyatota’ Zimunya, were identified as having petrol bombed the vehicle.
According to witness testimonies a convoy of two MDC vehicles was stopped by a mob of Zanu-PF militants. Two men armed with AK47 rifles and others bearing iron bars emerged from the Zanu-PF car. Mwale and Zimunya started to attack the vehicle with iron bars forcing the MDC youths at the back of the truck to flee.
Chiminya and Ms Mabika were trapped in one of the vehicles.
Sanderson Makombe who survived the initial attack, escaped into the bush and watched as Mwale and Zimunya threw petrol into the car and set it alight. Vastly outnumbered and faced with thugs armed with AK47’s he watched helplessly as Mabika and Chiminya got out of the car and ran ‘across the fields burning like balls of flames.’
When the mob left Makombe ran to Chiminya who was already dead, but Mabika was still alive and shouting out the names of her attackers. She was to die later in hospital. Makombe said there was a police vehicle “parked a few metres down the road and they actually witnessed everything that was happening.”
Makombe said the police came to where they were and instructed them to put the bodies in the back of the truck. “So the task was for us to lift our colleagues, you know, with our own bare hands, they were still burning, you know. Talent was still screaming, she was not dead yet, she had been badly burnt.”
Instead of Mwale being brought to justice he was promoted within the state security agency and currently enjoys high-level protection from the Mugabe regime.
In 2005 Mugabe’s regime sanctioned Operation Murambatsvina, a large scale campaign to forcibly clear so-called slum areas and ‘illegally’ built structures across the country. According to United Nations estimates over 700,000 people were affected directly through loss of their homes or livelihoods, while another 2,4 million were affected indirectly.
After Tsvangirai won the March 2008 presidential election the Joint Operations Command (JOC), a grouping of all the state security agencies loyal to the defeated Mugabe, responded with the brutal Operation Mavhotera Papi (where did you vote).
An estimated 500 perceived MDC-T supporters were killed, while tens of thousands were tortured and maimed. The regional grouping SADC intervened and through the efforts of former South African President Thabo Mbeki a shaky coalition government was formed as a compromise.
A standout example during this period was the murder of Abigail Chiroto, the wife of the then MDC-T Deputy Mayor for Harare Emmanuel Chiroto.
On the 16th June 2008 a Zanu-PF mob descended on the Chiroto house in Hatcliffe. On seeing Chiroto was not there they destroyed the house using a petrol bomb. The mob then abducted his 26 year old wife Abigail and their four-year-old son Ashley.
Fortunately for Ashley the mob decided to dump him outside a police station but his mother was not as lucky as they took her to a nearby farm. Two days later on the 18th of June, Abigail was found brutally murdered. She was discovered with a gunshot wound to the head and a deep cut on her stomach.
A post-mortem report showed she had been savagely assaulted and her limbs broken. Police made no arrests, despite one of the killers having the temerity to use a mobile phone stolen from Abigail.
So today when Mugabe tumbles off the podium at the airport he can’t expect sympathy from us. Think of those who have been eaten by crocodiles in the Limpopo River trying to cross into South Africa to run away from his political mess.
The hard to swallow truth is many wished worse had happened to him.
We also know Mugabe wants to die in office.
The “State House to Heroes Acre” syndrome. Even at 91 some nut jobs in his party want him to be the presidential candidate in 2018 when he will be 94 years old. So when he tumbles we are thankful and hopeful that he will take the hint that he can’t defy nature.
We have a president who, despite his advanced age, is clinging to power forever. He controls the army, police and other state security agencies. He has a virtual monopoly of Radio and Television, has put most judges in his pocket and succeeded in privatising all electoral institutions including the most secret document in the country, the voters’ roll.
So you will excuse us if laughing at him when he tumbles over is the most ‘harmful’ thing we can do to him. At least thousands of angry Zimbabweans have not yet marched on State House in Harare and dragged him and his wife to First Street for a public flogging.
The views expressed in this article are of the writer aforementioned. His views, comments, do not necessarily reflect the views of this publication, its editor(s) or staff.