Robert Mugabe and the art of leaving the party at the right time

By Pascal Madiri

“Let’s not unman each other part at once. All farewells should be sudden, when forever else they make an eternity of moments, and clog the last sad sands of life with tears.”

Neither Robert Mugabe nor Zimbabweans are masters of spontaneity. It’s unlikely to be sudden. There will be relief and gratitude often expressed in the same way.

Zimbabwean voices seem to be split; the majority of the people want him to leave with a small minority within Zanu pf wanting the oldest president in the world to stay a little. It seems the majority share Julius Malema’s sentiments more readily than Mugabe.

Over the 36 years Mugabe has been the president of this country, the future of every average Zimbabwean continues to be bleak. Thoma Jefferson said “my reading of history convinces me that most bad government has grown out of too much government.”

It doesn’t take the detective skills of Simon Baker (that guy who always solve the complex cases in the series The Mentalist) however to deduce Robert Mugabe’s failures and brutal misrule. His track record of ruining the country he helped liberate is well documented.

A brief look at the Zimbabwean infrastructure and with one coming across with a numerous number of youths just seated by the bridge just to kill time on a constant basis only one question comes to mind, “what did Mugabe do to the jewel of Africa? The problem however is every time the man appears on TV he seems like a man increasingly unaware of his own fallibility.

Robert Mugabe is very stubborn as he is erudite, but with Zimbabwe far worse off than it was during colonisation, with his party Zanu pf failing to deliver in every attempt and almost certain that the ZIMASSET blue print was just a facade and a campaigning gimmick there is little doubt Zimbabweans are seriously mulling over his future. A parting of ways is a real possibility.

The much-vaunted suggestion that he should announce his retirement now and name a successor who will help steer this lost ship back on its trajectory rather than be rooted in the reality of the situation, seems like a respectable suggestion.

Zimbabwe’s economy has been battered and the old man does not even twitch. From last year’s protests, demonstrations, stayaways and strikes Mugabe simply got over them. He always does.

Equally pious is the idea Mugabe is somehow morally bound to step down for the good of the country. If Zimbabweans do not vote the man out in the coming elections, it’s not up to Mugabe to fall on his own sword. And why would he? He is the President of Zimbabwe.

There is no little irony about nodding in agreement about calls for him to go for sleeping on his job.

The president who turns 93 in a few days remains in a minority of one though, in being a president in charge of his own fate. Feared by all left in is party, a green ticket was granted after no one contested against his candidature in the on coming elections.

There are relatively a few murmurs from within Zanu pf saying Mugabe’s time has run out. However nobody at the shake-shake building wants to be the cruel-to-kind vet who informs the dog it has finally had its day.

The longer Mugabe stays on as president the more it feels his swansong will similarly be a celebration of the past rather than what he is presiding over in the present. He’d never admit it, but like Gaddaffi he may live to regret not calling time on his own career. He would have bowed out a winner instead of holding an imaginary icon status and continue to shred his legacy at every turn.

Zimbabweans argue an endemic complacency in the country stems from a government whose once revolutionary ideologies and methodologies are flabby and out of touch with the modern times. Recent protests clearly show an increasing pressing need for change.

The elephant in the room when it comes to continuity are South Africa. From Nelson Mandela right up to Zuma all demonstrate you don’t have to have laid the first brick to build on a country’s previous success, they have overseen 22 years of rapid development and boast of being the only African nation to have hosted the world cup. South African culture is different from Zimbabwean culture, we tolerate an incompetent government and they don’t.

In America in terms of a president’s shelf life, the indications are they go off quicker than lettuce and they have never veered off their modus operandi.  The legendary Nelson Mandela lived by the maxim “real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people,” only served as South Africa’s president from 94 to 96, but Mugabe doesn’t look like he is even considering vacating the white house even after 36 years.

In the modern era, two terms of five years each have been the maximum a president can ever hope for and can occupy as president and that has become the widely accepted norm world over, its yet to be seen if that is going to happen for the first time in Zimbabwe.

Mandela’s retirement is a fascinating case study; one Mugabe may well ponder over the next few months and may regret not doing so at the right time. He left the party at just the right time in 1996, bidding farewell to South African presidency after overseeing the smooth transition from an apartheid government to the ANC government with no moment of madness to talk about. This marked the birth of a rainbow nation and the triumph of reconciliation.

Even in his most indulgent moments Mugabe would never count on achieving anything similar to Nelson Mandela, he will draw strength from having witnessed a peer enjoy prolonged success having stepped back from the precipice.

  •  Pascal Madhiri is a political analyst and social commentator (Khuluma Afrika)