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Return of Late Mugabe's Body Ignites Debate on His Legacy

The coffin of the late former Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe at his residence in Harare, Thursday Sept. 12, 2019. Zimbabwe's founding leader Robert Mugabe made his final journey back to the country Wednesday.

The return home of the body of former President Robert Mugabe has reignited debate around his legacy, in a way many had stopped discussing, following his overthrow by the army in 2017.

Mourners at Rufaro Stadium for Body Viewing of Former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe 4
Mourners at Rufaro Stadium for Body Viewing of Former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe 4

The sounds of singing, drumming and clanging of traditional instruments has filled the city of Harare and other places since the announcement of the death of former President Robert Mugabe in Singapore. As is customary in Zimbabwe, people gather to celebrate the life of the departed through music.

For many, the return of the body of the late leader who was forced to resign after a military takeover that saw his former deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa, assume the presidency, gave them the opportunity to say what was in their hearts.

Simbarashe John Mungate, who referred to Mugabe as baba or father in Shona, said the late leader had a boldness like no other.

“The most thing that I liked about him is that he was bold. His boldness … He was bold like a lion. Everyone here is talking about how he was truly a great man.”

Some of the people at Rufaro Stadium who wanted to view the body of the late Zimbabwean leader.
Some of the people at Rufaro Stadium who wanted to view the body of the late Zimbabwean leader.

Mungate added that the loss was not Zimbabwe’s alone.

“Zimbabwe as a nation, we’ve lost … we’ve lost and we’ll never find a leader like him in Africa, not only in Zimbabwe, but in Africa.”

Mugabe’s nephew, Jason Zhuwao, said apart from what the world knew about his uncle, as a politician, to him, Mugabe was a family man, dedicated to the well-being of his relatives.

“He was a loving man indeed. A man who was soft-hearted, caring, loving and passionate. He is a man who kept in touch with a greater part of his family. He believed in strong core values of unity as a family, and this is the legacy he has left for us.”

Widow Grace Mugabe at Rufaro Stadium
Widow Grace Mugabe at Rufaro Stadium

Mugabe’s legacy over the 37-years he ruled the country, has drawn mixed reactions – on the one hand, criticism over his land reform policy and disputed elections, but on the other hand, praise for his stance on education. Mugabe’s lawyer Terrence Hussein, said he and many others benefited from that.

“Comrade Mugabe opened the doors for everybody by empowering us with education. First thing he noticed when he came into power, was that black people were unsophisticated and uneducated – this is not a racial epithet – it was something he noticed and it was a fact. What he did was that he decided to empower en masse, and entire generation of black people, like myself.”

Mugabe body viewing stampede ...
Mugabe body viewing stampede ...

A man of principle is another reverberating reference to Mugabe, who was consistent in his attacks against the West, for not only imposing targeted sanctions on him and his colleagues, but undermining black people as whole. Professor Claude Mararike of the University of Zimbabwe, said Mugabe wanted only the best for his countrymen and fellow Africans.

“He was a consistent politician, disciplined politician. Loved his freedom, the freedom of his people, and he really was principled. That is what we admire of him. A great lover of education for his people, a great lover of empowerment for his people.”

People at the Blue Roof in Harare
People at the Blue Roof in Harare

Zimbabwe opposition leader Urayayi Zembe of the Democratic Party, however, had no kind words for the late politician, describing him as a villain who destroyed the country.

“With regards to Mugabe, there is no doubt that for 37-years, he ruined this nation in terms of its politics, in terms of its rules and regulations, in terms of its constitutional framework, in terms of jobs, in terms of its industry, in terms of its health, in terms of its industry. All facets of life have been ruined by Mugabe’s leadership.”

But an unnamed family member, who described Mugabe as a dear uncle, said irrespective of people’s sentiments about Mugabe, he made an impact that no one could take away.

Zimbabweans Express Mixed Feelings Over Mugabe's Legacy
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(Material for the story supplied by Blessing Zulu and Jonga Kandemiiri)

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