End of a tyranny

Just over a year ago, on November 21 2017, Robert Mugabe resigned as president of Zimbabwe after 37 years in power. He was 93. It’s amusing to read that in 2011, when he was 78, fellow members of Zim’s elite were beginning to wonder whether he wasn’t perhaps too old to carry on and he should go! Geoffrey Nyarota tells the story in THE GRACELESS FALL OF ROBERT MUGABE (Penguin), which goes back to the days when Mugabe was a “nomadic intellectual” and takes us up to the day of his fall from power. On the way, there are factional fights within the ruling party Zanu-PF, the shenanigans of the second Mrs Mugabe, the egregious Grace, whose power plays led in the end to the coup that deposed them. It’s a riveting tale, with as much quirky detail as you could want.

You could go straight on from Nyarota’s book to that of another Zimbabwean journalist contemplating this moment in which things shifted for the country, Ray Ndlovu’s IN THE JAWS OF THE CROCODILE (Penguin). Ndlovo, who has written for the Mail & Guardian, among other publications, traces events from the perspective of Mugabe’s successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa. Nicknamed “the Crocodile”, Mnangagwa was Mugabe’s loyal second-in-command for decades, until Grace Mugabe manipulated events so that he was fired — and thus in danger of assassination. In a bit of midnight adventure, Mnangagwa fled to South Africa, from which base he helped to co-ordinate the army-led intervention that brought Mugabe down and put him, the Crocodile, in his place. Ndlovo tells this story with considerable insider knowledge, drawing on the testimony of Mnangagwa’s daughter, among others who were caught up in events.

And, if you are a reader of history and want a very in-depth look back into the background of Mugabe’s nearly four decades of power in Zimbabwe, independent historian (trained in Australia) Stuart Donen’s monumental tome will do the trick. It’s called KINGDOM, POWER, GLORY: MUGABE, ZANU AND THE QUEST FOR SUPREMACY 1960-1987 (Sithatha), and in nearly 700 pages it covers the rise and triumph of Zanu, from the early days of black nationalism in Rhodesia, as it was then, to the consolidation of Mugabe and Zanu-PF’s power in the “unity” of that party and its opposition, Zapu, in the “patriotic front” that gives the PF to Zanu’s name. Of course Mugabe and Zanu had made sure Zapu was excluded from proper campaigning in elections, as well as massacring tens of thousands of presumed Zapu supporters in the mid-1980s. Like most history that has not been airbrushed by political elites, it’s not necessarily a very pretty read, but it’s essential if we want to understand the
political situation of the region.

Author Shaun de Waal
Shaun De Waal

Shaun de Waal has worked at the Mail & Guardian since 1989. He was literary editor from 1991 to 2006 and chief film critic for 15 years. He is now editor-at-large. Recent publications include Exposure: Queer Fiction, 25 Years of the Mail & Guardian and Not the Movie of the Week.


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