African leaders paid tribute to Robert Mugabe, former President and liberator of the African nation of Zimbabwe who has died at the age of 95.  But there were few real tears for him from his own people. For, while hailed as a liberator of the black majority from white rule in his nation, his reputation was no longer that of a pure hero in the way that South Africa’s Nelson Mandela is still regarded.
Defenders of Britain’s colonial past in Africa sometimes joke that in their quest for freedom and independence, African revolutionaries demanded the right to mismanage themselves. This satirical saying is definitely true of Robert Mugabe who was originally venerated as a liberator of Zimbabwe’s people, and yet, who later became to be detested as a ruthless dictator, murderer, and destroyer of his own African country’s economy.

Brought up a Roman Catholic, Robert Mugabe gained degrees via correspondent courses and initially became a teacher working in Ghana. Having been later imprisoned in Rhodesia for his opposition to white minority rule, he formed the ZANU-PF political movement and later, on his release, led the ZANU guerrilla forces, which, along with Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU-supporting forces, forced the ending of oppressive white rule in Rhodesia in 1979 after the apartheid regime in South Africa surprisingly withdrew its support from the Ian Smith-led regime. This was done by agreement with the UK government via the Lancaster House Agreement (Rhodesia was still technically part of the British Empire despite its illegal unilateral declaration of independence in 1966).Robert Mugabe was inaugurated president of Zimbabwe – the new name for the now independent Rhodesia in April 1980.

Robert Mugabe began well in office, promising to forgive and forget, while promoting some enlightened policies for the improved education of his people. However, influenced by Marxism and by his own self-righteous view, the dark side soon took over and “Comrade Bob” and the Mugabe regime became infamous for repressing their political opponents via beatings, torture and murder. Worse of all, Robert Mugabe was responsible via his North Korean-trained 5th Brigade for the mass murder of circa 20,000 of Joshua Nkomo-supporting opponents in Matabeleland during 1980s. While admittedly a lot less than the millions of murders and starvation deaths that Hitler, Stalin or Mao were responsible for, it was evil nonetheless.

Mugabe also became infamous also for gerrymandering elections, and for his regime’s land grabs from white farmers with little compensation, while all the time blaming the colonial west for his nation’s woes.  It was the subsequent failure of these farms that was a major cause of Zimbabwe’s financial crisis. Some of this land went directly to his own supporters leading to allegations of widespread corruption. The result of this economic mismanagement led to Weimar Republic-like hyper inflation, and 90% unemployment in Zimbabwe.

Having led his nation to wrack and ruin – along with his regime’s persecution and murders of his own people, the philtrum-moustachioed “Comrade Bob” Mugabe and his hated second wife Grace became fair game for the cartoonists like Sifoso Yalo. Courtesy: Sifoso Yalo via Twitter and BBC

Eventually, after four decades of economic suffering and repression, the people, his allies (the then Zuma-led government of South Africa refused to support him) and especially his underlings – had had enough. When Mugabe tried to secure his succession to his unpopular second wife Grace to the Presidency by firing his then deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe was evicted from power in a military coup. Mnangagwa took over as President.

Having been removed from office, by tacit consent of the new regime, the couple continued to live in luxurious seclusion in Harare – save for their usual expensive shopping trips abroad (Grace Mugabe was infamous for her lavish lifestyle) which were made with full diplomatic status. Latterly, these foreign visits were more for Mugabe’s medical treatment than for shopping, and it was during one of these medical trips to Singapore that Robert Mugabe eventually died.

At this point, we give our condolences to Robert Mugabe’s family. However, we will NOT give our salute to Robert Mugabe as this would also imply our approval of him and his actions. And this we cannot do.

On a much sadder note

There was a Southern African connection to the late comedy actress Sheila Steafel, as she was born in Johannesburg. Sadly Sheila has passed away at the age of 84. Steafel made her name in the 1960s appearing on the satirical magazine show The Frost Report and in the 1970s and 1980s in Dave Allen at Large and on The Kenny Everett Television Show.  While comedy foil roles on television and radio were her staple, Sheila Steafel also appeared in more serious films and TV shows including some science fiction films including Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 AD (1966) and Quatermass and the Pit (1967). Here final role was in February 2018 when she appeared in the daytime comedy drama Shakespeare & Hathaway: Private Investigators.  We give our salute to Sheila and our condolences to her family and friends.

US Comedy Actress Valerie Harper has also died at the age of 80. She was most famous for her 1970s comedy role Rhoda which was a spin-off from the Mary Tyler Moore show. This wise-cracking awarding role as a Jewish American girl living in New York gave her fame.  Harper continued to appear on TV and film and in theatre winning a Tony for her performance as Tallulah Bankhead in the play Looped. We give our salute to Valerie and our condolences to her family and friends.

Update on 30 September 2019: We also give our respects to the family and friends of the late former French President Jacques Chirac who has died at the age of 86 and who served in office from 1995 to 2007.  While not always very popular, Chirac managed to win his second term because the alternative in the final run off was the far right National Front candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen.

We would also belatedly like to mark the passing of singer, dancer and actress, Carol Channing, who passed away in January and which we inexcusably missed.  Her raspy voice and her bubbly nature were obvious in her roles in stage productions like Hello. Dolly! on Broadway and in films like Thoroughly Modern Milly (1967). We salute her and give our condolences to her family and friends.