See how Robert climbs
After all the flak he’s taken, all the direct hits, all the shrapnel he’s absorbed over the years, it is quite amazing that Robert Mugabe hasn’t stepped out of the firing line, retreated even a little tactical distance. But he feels no pain.
He doesn’t even shudder when a bomb goes off right under his feet.
He just goes on leering at his enemies, that little quincy smile on his face, his head wobbling on gimbals like some dysfunctional puppet. He doesn’t even drop down into his trench for a quick bandage and some stitching. He just stands there, a great big target against the sky, begging everyone to have a shot at him.
Robert Gabriel Mugabe, dictator-in-residence, overall owner-manager and head bouncer of what is now humorously known as the Zimbabwe Ruins, is a man totally unto himself. The trouble is that all 80- something sensationally haughty years of him will go down in African history for all the wrong reasons. He will be called a despot and a tyrant, all the rest of the worn-out cliches used on the Idi Amins and the Charles Taylors. No one will see him for the uncompromising titan that he is.
Whatever you may say about Mugabe, he is not a hypocrite. When, back in the early 1980s, Joshua Nkomo’s Matabeleland opposition got a bit whiffy, Mugabe didn’t waste time issuing utopian statements about Godstate democracy, collectivism and constitutional prerogatives—as our Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma are wont to do. He didn’t set his specialist corruption police on ring-patrol. He simply sent the Korean-trained Fifth Brigade extermination squad into Matabele-land and wiped out several thousand of the mothers.
The Matebeleland massacres safely under his belt, Mugabe has used exactly the same full-frontal approach of the Fifth Brigade to destroy his country’s economy, its democratic matrix, its hope. The Fifth Brigade operated between 1982 and 1987. It has taken Mugabe about the same amount of time, five years, to bring Zimbabwe to its knees. He’s not a pariah for nothing.
Mugabe’s virtues are entirely by default. In the writhings of the interminable African political game, he is the solitary unchanging value, the one you feel you can trust to behave exactly as he’s always done. He has no pretensions whatsoever to political self-improvement. He’s happy to be the monster standard.
Such purity of intention we should all admire. Mugabe is an enduring antithesis to the quotidian hypocrisies of politicians anywhere. Only last week he was up on sticks at the United Nations, telling them straight to their smug faces what appalling wankers he thinks they are. A week before that he was instructing the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to go piss up a rope. What other latter-day leader of a tiny nation has had the sheer spunk to say that the developing world should be more aware of what the IMF really is: a cabal of rapacious international pawnbrokers engorging themselves as they call in the pledges they hold on the natural wealth of about a third of the world? There isn’t a magnificent tree that falls to a French logging company in Equatorial Africa, there isn’t a handful of ore that doesn’t get claimed as interest on some loan made by the IMF or the World Bank.
I can’t help watching Mugabe, relishing the utter contempt in which he holds the fanciful bodies, committees and commissions so beloved of G8 meetings. Mugabe does what he wants, not what anyone else wants. Has the Southern African Development Community ever looked quite so ridiculous, so self-immolating and ineffectual as when Mugabe ignored its recommendations and continued on his own sweet way? Does he really give a blind tinker’s about such visionary substances as New Partnership for Africa’s Development? Not for an African Union minute.
And when it comes to force- feeding the prejudices of white people, there’s nothing quite so nourishing as the Mugabe diet. His country may be starving, but the bigots feast on his every action and word. Only last week he was raving on about there being quite enough potatoes to go round if only his people would start eating them. That’s entertainment!
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Robert Mugabe makes no bones about his disdain for white people. He’s quite far along the way to the establishment of his own Platonian ideal, when every last Blair-loving honky, dispossessed of all property, is shovelled out of the country. White folk in Zimbabwe know exactly where they stand and that’s not only in three-day petrol queues. Non-gay Chinese are the new flavour of the week in Harare.
It’s too easy to call Mugabe names. Whatever he’s called, he remains the sort of power-crazed African nightmare politician all the other “reformist” African politicians seem quite prepared to tolerate among their ranks—in some cases openly encourage, even talk of emulating.
What better embodiment of Bacon’s immortal couplet: “He doth like the ape; that the higher he climbs the more he shows his arse”? What you can’t help but wonder is how long it’s going to take for Mugabe’s fellow leaders to stop admiring it so much.