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Widespread reaction to death of Robert Mugabe

Publish date: 09 September 2019
Issue Number: 840
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
Category: Zimbabwe

Legalbrief reports that the fallout from Robert Mugabe’s death continues to be felt – in neighbouring SA, across the continent and around the world. The Guardian reports that reactions to his death reflect his mixed legacy. President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took over from Mugabe after he was ousted in 2017, described him as ‘an icon of liberation, a pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people’. Nelson Chamisa, leader of opposition MDC, said ‘even though I and our party and the Zimbabwean people had great political differences with the late former President … we recognise his contribution made during his lifetime as a nation’s founding President'. A report on the News24 site notes that ANC secretary general Ace Magashule said Mugabe's life epitomised the 'new African' who, having shrugged off the colonial yoke, strived to ensure his country took its place among the community of nations, firmly in charge of its own destiny. Former Labour MP and anti-apartheid campaigner Peter Hain said ‘this is a tragic case study of someone who began as a widely admired freedom fighter, bringing his country from repressive racist white minority rule … into an evil, repressive, corrupt dictator, which was tragic for his country and tragic for his own reputation’. 

There was little regret expressed on the streets of Harare at the news of the death of the former President, notes a second report in The Guardian. Nomarn Makoto, a school teacher from the poor outlying neighbourhood of Epworth, said he felt little sympathy for Mugabe, who was ousted in a military takeover in 2017. ‘He has just died like everyone else. He left us in this mess and we are still suffering. The Bible says your deeds, good or bad, will follow you. His will surely haunt him on the other side,’ Makoto said. Netsai Gute, a retired civil servant whose pension was wiped out by runaway inflation caused by Mugabe’s economic mismanagement, said Mugabe had become a distant ‘godlike’ figure who believed himself infallible and indispensable. ‘He was heartless. Everything that we fought for he threw in the mud. May God have mercy on his soul, because he left Zimbabwe worse off,’ Gute said.

Full report on the News24 site

Second report in The Guardian

First report in The Guardian

In the Sunday Times, analyst Barney Mthombothi is blunt. ‘The man was a monster. An absolute villain. He was evil. He turned what should have been a dream future for the people of Zimbabwe into an absolute nightmare. We’re taught from a young age not to speak ill of the dead. But Mugabe was the devil incarnate. There should be no equivocation about the utter devastation that this man inflicted on his people. No beating about the bush. He inherited a fairly prosperous economy, but left behind something akin to a wasteland. Zimbabweans were being oppressed for the second time, this time by one of their own, who was egged on by his fellow African leaders and most notably by SA.’ Writing in the Daily Maverick, analyst Peter Fabricius shares this view. ‘The pugnacious, audacious and ruthless Mugabe succeeded in fending off death and political defeat by a vast array of enemies, domestic and foreign, during his long political career. Mugabe once remarked in response to the latest rumour of his passing, that “Only God who appointed me will remove me”. In the end it was not God – or perhaps God acting in mysterious ways – but one of Mugabe’s closest, once most trusted and longest-serving lieutenants, Deputy President Mnangagwa, who had fought alongside him in the bush and served in his Cabinet, who ousted him. And it was his second wife, Grace, his former secretary some 40 years his junior, who precipitated his fall.’

Full Sunday Times report (subscription needed)

Full Daily Maverick analysis

When the liberation hero-turned autocrat breathed his last at Gleneagles Hospital in Singapore on Friday, he was ‘surrounded by family’. A report on The Citizen site notes that suites at the hospital are priced between R12 000 and R81 000 per day. He first sought medical treatment for a cataract problem in 2011 and returned in 2014 for another procedure. Since then, his visits became more frequent. The irony was not lost on former DA leader Helen Zille who noted that ‘after destroying his country’s infrastructure, including the nascent health system, he died in Singapore’. ‘This is the place from which South Africans mourning Mugabe’s death think we have nothing to learn,’ she said in a tweet.

First report in The Citizen

Second report in The Citizen

Mugabe is expected to be buried this weekend after his body is returned from Singapore where he died on Friday. A report on the News24 site notes that presidential spokesperson George Charambaq said his body should arrive in Zimbabwe on Wednesday, with an official funeral on Saturday and the burial the following day. However, the location of the burial is unclear, with Mugabe's family and President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government apparently at odds over whether it would be at his homestead northwest of Harare or at a Heroes' Acre in Harare. Some of Mugabe's closest confidants will miss his funeral to avoid arrest or the threat of persecution. They were members of G40, a Zanu-PF clique of relatively young politicians with which Mugabe aligned himself in the last days of his 37-year presidency. After the 2017 coup that ousted Mugabe, the army claimed that G40 consisted of criminal elements, and abduction attempts and attacks on some of their homes scared them into exile. The main G40 personalities who risk arrest if they return to Zimbabwe are:

• Jonathan Moyo who served in three Mugabe Cabinets. He faces corruption charges if he returns from SA.

• Saviour Kasukuwere, who held two ministerial appointments under Mugabe.

• Mandi Chimene the former Manicaland Provincial Affairs Minister who was a prominent opponent of then Vice-President Mnangagwa's succession ambitions before the coup (she failed to attend her daughter's funeral in Zimbabwe early this year).

• Robert Zhuwao, Mugabe's nephew, who is wanted on corruption charges.

• Walter Mzembi, a former Tourism Minister, who faces corruption charges.

Full report on the News24 site

Full Sunday Times report (subscription needed)

Amnesty International has called for a national healing programme to address human rights violations during Mugabe's notorious rule. 'Mugabe leaves behind permanent scars of his brutal rule. Going forward, those who come after him must forge a national healing programme, beginning with accountability for the past human rights violations. Zimbabweans deserve the truth,' said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for Southern Africa. Business Day reports that Mwananyanda said the early progress made by Mugabe’s Government on economic, social and cultural rights was wiped out by a series of disastrous government policy decisions.

Full Business Day report (subscription needed)