Mugabe: I’m not a colonial product

Zimbabwe's longtime president, Robert Mugabe, says he does not want anyone to be fooled by his impeccable Western style of dress and his precise, teacher-like use of English: he is African through and through.

"I am not British, I am not a colonial product because I am a complete Zimbabwean," he told graduates at Great Zimbabwe University near the remains of the 13th century walled city, for which Zimbabwe, the former colony of Rhodesia, is named.

Addressing the students earlier this month, Mugabe had typically harsh words for Africa's former white rulers.

"They think their right is to rob others of their resources," he said. But black Africans have the right to their own natural wealth and must "remain true" to local values after centuries of colonial rule that brought foreign cultures to the continent, he added.

The ascetic, austere Mugabe is a tough critic of the West, but he has been described as an anglophile and is known as a stickler for ceremony and detail. At the graduation, he wore a sash, robe and mortarboard, academic regalia used in some of Britain's most conservative universities.

Mugabe warns, however, that his Western appearance can deceive. He said the nation's former British colonisers thought he admired all things British and had a British "way of thinking".

'I would be a rotten thinker'
After Zimbabwe's independence in 1980, "they said publicly the problem with Mugabe is that he thinks like us", said the 89-year-old former teacher who was handed power as Zimbabwe's first black leader by heir to the British throne Prince Charles and the departing British colonial governor in 1980.

"Goodness me! How can I think like them?" said Mugabe. "I would be a rotten thinker to think like them."

But he does dress like them, and requires other Zimbabweans to do so, too. Since 1980, Mugabe has insisted on a strict suit and tie dress code among ministers and lawmakers in the Harare Parliament. The former guerrilla leader quickly abandoned Chinese-style Mao jackets in favour of tailored business suits with colour-co-ordinated neckties, breast pocket handkerchiefs and matching accessories, sometimes including flowers in the buttonhole of his lapel.

Other post-colonial African presidents have observed Western dress codes but few as elegantly as Mugabe. President Kamuzu Banda of Malawi, who died in 1997, appeared in three-piece suits and a homburg hat but always carried an African chief's flywhisk, made of lion's hair. Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya switched between regular suits and leopard skin shoulder wraps and headgear and also habitually carried a flywhisk. Former president Nelson Mandela broke the mould, preferring bright batik-style casual shirts, even on formal occasions.

Until Western travel and banking bans were imposed on Mugabe and his party leaders to protest human and democratic rights violations about a decade ago, Mugabe regularly visited the upscale Harrods department store in London's Knightsbridge district and Savile Row in Mayfair, the home of Britain's best bespoke tailors. Now he takes vacations in Malaysia and Hong Kong, Asian clothing and tailoring hubs, and shops on trips to United Nations meetings in New York and Geneva, which are excluded from the travel bans.

British convertible Rolls Royce
At the annual state opening of Parliament, Mugabe rides in a vintage British convertible Rolls Royce, escorted by police on horseback wearing colonial-style pith helmets carrying upright lances bearing flags and service insignia. The nation's judges attend the ceremony in scarlet robes, wearing traditional British wigs of bleached horsehair in the parliament house originally built as a copy of the British House of Commons legislature at Westminster, London.

Most Zimbabweans see no contradiction in Mugabe's love-hate relationship with Britain and the West which he stridently criticises and calls racist at most state functions.

Top personalities mostly follow his sartorial example and defend the use of large cars in the largely impoverished nation.

"There is status involved here. It is a mark of authority. How can you be taken seriously and command respect if you are not properly dressed and if you don't have a proper car?" said Harare business leader Edward Nyathi.

'A  civilising influence'
Mugabe is a keen sports fan and remains patron of Zimbabwe's national cricket team though he no longer attends matches at the colonial Cape Dutch-style Harare Sports Club across the street from his offices.

He once described the quintessentially British sport of cricket as "a game every young Zimbabwean should learn to play. It is a civilising influence." – Sapa-AP

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


ConCourt settles the law on the public protector and interim...

The Constitutional Court said it welcomed robust debate but criticised the populist rhetoric in the battle between Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Minister Pravin Gordhan

Where is the deputy president?

David Mabuza is hard at work — it’s just not taking place in the public eye. The rumblings and discussion in the ANC are about factions in the ruling party, succession and ousting him

Press Releases

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

Wills, Estate Administration and Succession Planning Webinar

Capital Legacy has had no slowdown in lockdown regarding turnaround with clients, in storing or retrieving wills and in answering their questions

Call for Expression of Interest: Training supply and needs assessment to support the energy transition in South Africa

GIZ invites eligible and professional companies with local presence in South Africa to participate in this tender to support the energy transition

Obituary: Mohammed Tikly

His legacy will live on in the vision he shared for a brighter more socially just future, in which racism and discrimination are things of the past

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday