Khaya Dlanga: Lessons from Mugabe

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe. (Reuters)

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe. (Reuters)

South Africans heaped a great deal of praise on Robert Mugabe after his interview on People of the South aired on SABC3 on Sunday night. South Africans also laid into the interviewer, Dali Tambo, for being too soft on Mugabe. The president of Zimbabwe had his black hair well combed and his moustache was in pristine shape. Every now and then, when he spoke about his nemesis, Tony Blair, he would shape his hand into a fist and slam it on the armrest of his chair. 

Mugabe took his time as he spoke, like a man not rushing anywhere soon. He reassured us that he was not going anywhere and was still going to run for president in the next election. The leader also looks younger than his 89 years; perhaps that has to do with his dyed hair and healthy moustache.

South Africa could learn a thing or two from Mugabe, although we must stay away from the means to his ends. Fortune columnist Stanley Bing, who is also an executive at a Fortune 500 company, wrote a rather amusing book called What would Machiavelli do? The Ends Justify the Meanness. Right at the beginning of the book, he talks about the qualities needed to be a true student of Machiavelli and tests you by asking the following:  

Complete the following statement: I believe other people ...

(a) should do what I want them to do;

(b) should fall down and kiss my feet;

(c) should lie down in my path, so I can walk on them; or

(d) There are other people?

The correct answer, of course, for the true Machiavellian, is (d).

Many believe Mugabe holds the “there are other people?” view. Of course it is easy to see why. When the “land grabs” started taking place, it was not the middle and wealthy classes that suffered the most, it was those who were already poor. The people who could afford to leave Zimbabwe went to South Africa, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and elsewhere. Others walked to neighbouring countries as the country’s economic system collapsed – and lost a few decades of progress in the process. But most people remained in their homeland and the feeling that Mugabe did not care grew.

When, during the interview, Tambo asked Mugabe how he would like to be remembered, he made what I  consider to be the most poignant statement of the interview: he desired right up to the end that his own people would be masters of their own destinies.

It’s a great sentiment. How Mugabe went about trying to achieve it, on the other hand, can not be applauded. A battery of laws were put in place that made almost everything in Zimbabwe illegal and how that contributed towards making people masters of their own destinies is questionable. People were beaten up, and some died. Many lived in fear.  It was a bloody mess. Perhaps for Mugabe,the ends justified the meanness because, years from now, his people may well own Zimbabwe's economy.

South Africans, black ones in particular, do not have that to look forward to and one can see why Mugabe’s thinking appealed to so many. But what South Africa needs to do when it comes to the land question is not to look at it in isolation. It has to be part of the economic pie, which most black South Africans have not tasted. We can not have a situation where there seems to be a reluctance to have the majority participate in the real economy.

One of the roles of the government in South Africa is to ensure that people are equipped to be masters of their own destinies by educating them. The vast majority of our young people, those who went to schools in the townships and rural areas, start their working lives on the back foot and most of them will never catch up. They have to be given the right tools so that they can take ownership of the economy.

Being able to determine our destinies is not just about the ownership of land and minerals, it is about taking part in and driving 100% of every single economic sector, and then growing every aspect of it for all South Africans. We know what happens when black people take over something: there is an expectation that they will fail, even from many black people. If we are to change this perception, we have to equip ourselves with the correct tools.

Mugabe was right about getting the land back but his methodology was wrong, and for that he will forever be seen as a hero by some and a villain by others. History will always be divided when it comes to his legacy. But, I believe, it is possible to learn from his intent. I think Mugabe wanted to show that he was better than Mandela when he said of Madiba’s reconciliatory approach to white people: “He was too saintly”.

Mugabe ran his country for 20 years before he made the move to take land away from white farmers – a decade after the 10-year deadline set by the Lancaster House Agreement in 1979. Mandela ran South Africa for just three years and became a figurehead – even if he often said that then deputy president Thabo Mbeki was running the show. In those three years, the ANC was intent on demonstrating that it was doing something – such as building houses, electrifying homes and giving water to those without.

We won’t have a land revolution in South Africa; we can’t afford that. But if we did have a revolution, it would be an economic one. The poor cannot stay poor forever, and they will not remain patient forever.

If not given a chance to be their own masters, they will seize their own destinies – and it won't be pretty.

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Khaya Dlanga

Khaya Dlanga

Apart from seeing gym as an oppression of the unfit majority, Khaya works in the marketing and communications industry for one of the world's largest brands. Before joining the corporate world, he was in the advertising field where he won many awards, including a Cannes Gold. He was awarded Financial Mail's New Broom award in 2009, while Jeremy Maggs's "The Annual - Advertising, Media & Marketing 2008" listed him as one of the 100 most influential people in the industry. He says if you don't like his views, he has others. Read more from Khaya Dlanga

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