What is Robert Mugabe’s legacy?
Robert Mugabe has stepped down as President of Zimbabwe today after 37 years in power.
The announcement came during a parliamentary session to impeach him, after he had initially refused to step down – notwithstanding being detained the army.
‘This is a second independence from our own oppressor. The man with iron fist is gone,’ said kombi driver Rodwell Mangava.
In Karoi, a town 204 kilometers northwest of Harare and within Mugabe’s home province, people said they welcomed his resignation. ‘It was long overdue. He must go and rest,’ said 45 year old vegetable vendor Charity Danga.
His own party, Zanu-PF, resolved to fire him at the weekend and impeachment proceedings had started.
His wife Grace has been banned from party politics for life, along with others linked to the Generation 40 faction behind the expulsion of ex-vice president Emerson Mngagwagwa.
After winning independence from the British in 1980, liberation leader Robert Mugabe ruled the country for seven years as Executive Prime Minister. For the next three decades he held the post of Executive President – but these years became increasingly tainted by failure and corruption.
Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, a human rights lawyer and African Union Goodwill Ambassador, says now it’s critical to ensure that the political negotiations go beyond discourse on power and party interests, and maintain a clear focus on the social and economic wellbeing of ordinary Zimbabweans.
Fear and violence
According to the many thousands of Zimbabwean citizens who have taken to the streets in the past few days, Mugabe made elections a ‘ritual meant to legitimize him and his Zanu-PF party’.
George Makoni, vice chair of Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, says Mugabe used various violent and patronage tactics to ensure he maintained his position as head of state. Fear and loyalty kept him in power.
He manipulated critical institutions constitutionally supposed to be independent, including ‘courts, security forces and traditional leaders among others’, says Makoni.
‘Furthermore, the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) played to his tune – he is the one who appointed all its officials,’ he adds. ‘ZEC ensured that elections were rigged in his favour. The 2008 elections denied opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai ascendency to power, despite his having overwhelmingly won the election.’
Gumbonzvanda, a human rights lawyer and African Union Goodwill Ambassador, says Mugabe advanced women’s and children’s rights in Zimbabwe.
She says: ‘No one will deny the achievements the country made in the first 10 years of his rule. A raft of laws addressed the personal rights of women, including the Legal Age of Majority Act and the maintenance and inheritance laws.
‘The major focus on health and education brought major benefits to girls’ school enrolment, reduction of maternal deaths and treatment of HIV/Aids. On the policy front, President Mugabe can pride himself that the country signed almost every law.’
And gains lost
However, she says, most gains were lost or eroded in the last 10 years, as a deep political, economic and financial crisis gripped the Southern African nation.
Mugabe has presided over a nation in which 90 per cent of the population is now unemployed.
‘The impact of loss of jobs and income affected women and girls most,’ says Gumbonzvanda. ‘The evidence is clear from just the scale of domestic and gender based violence, rates of teenage pregnancy and child marriage.’
Another contentious issue has been the massive land grabs Mugabe ordered in in the 1980s, and then in 2000.
With the help of liberation war veterans, Mugabe made aggressive land grabs from former white farmers, as part of a land reform programme that he said would rectify colonial imbalances.
Instead, several thousands of farmers were evicted from farms in the Mazowe area within Mashonaland Central province, east of Harare.
Muzzling the media
Njabulo Ncube, national coordinator of Zimbabwe National Editors Forum, accuses Mugabe of muzzling the media by passing harsh and repressive media laws which have seen the harassment, arrest and assault of journalists.
‘Under his watch, newspapers were closed and have yet to recover; journalists remain jobless and some have died in poverty,’ he says.
‘He is going down in the history of Zimbabwe as a media hangman.’
Ailing health sector
Although Zimbabwe has one of the highest levels of education in Africa, Mugabe stands accused of failing to deliver decent health services: major hospitals lack adequate medicines.
Meanwhile, Mugabe and his family travel to Singapore for treatment.
While most rural women have to walk 30 miles to access local health facilities, Mugabe’s daughter Bona gave birth in Singapore.
Itai Rusike, executive director of the Community Working Group on Health, says that Zimbabwe had made tremendous gains in reducing HIV/AIDS related deaths over the years through multi-sectoral efforts.
‘[But] if the current situation is not addressed urgently, the country will end up losing gains recorded over the past years,’ he adds.
What is most disturbing is that the shortages of anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) come at a time when the World Health Organisation (WHO) is warning of a drug resistant HIV strain emerging in developing countries. Interruption of drug treatment has been blamed for increases in this new strain.
‘There is evidence of failing access to drugs in recent years, most sharply in clinics that form the frontline of the healthcare system with the community,’ Rusike says.
As the international media focus on the world’s oldest leader, Mugabe may be remembered as the man who won much for his country – and lost more.