'Stalinist' Mugabe won't go without a fight

MugabeRetirement, illness, death, coups, flight, defeat — all have been mooted as causes of Robert Mugabe's imminent departure and all have been wrong. Some optimists even convince themselves that he will withdraw voluntarily. But the old rogue is not going anywhere except in a box or at the end of a gun.

He dare not because he has much blood on his hands and cannot trust anyone. Also he has an unabated lust for power. In his eyes elections are a charade put on to appease the West, to be ignored when the results are inconvenient. He will leave only when convinced it is his last remaining option.

Even the talks are fake. Mugabe is playing for time while trying to placate African leaders whose support is  waning. He is just going through the motions. Meanwhile he has opened Parliament; outlined policies, attacked the West, added to his vast wealth and perchance built another spectacularly tasteless retirement home.

Not bad for a leader so discredited it took his vote riggers two months to get his tally up to 43 per cent.

But still Zimbabweans cling to hope. And audacity is rising. Far and away the most startling development in recent weeks has been the jeering of Mugabe amid all the pomp and ceremony of the opening of Parliament. Emboldened by the election the previous day of their candidate for the Speaker's chair, opposition loyalists heckled as Mugabe delivered his absurd address.

It made him seem a shrunken figure ripe for the satire of a latter-day Chaplin. He had arrived in a vintage Rolls Royce.

A million Zimbabweans driven from their hopes by thugs, despair or hunger watched from distant shacks and cheered. But they know his cunning. Already the loathed dictator has tried to restore his majority by persuading Arthur Matamabara, the quisling leader of a breakaway MDC faction, to take his side.

Matamabara signed a deal that gave him importance but not power, but it was overturned by principled members of his faction. Morgan Tsvangarai was not so easily swayed.

Undeterred, the government has arrested several opposition MPs on trumped up charges. Soon a by-election must be held and already the constituency has been declared a no-go area. The fix is in.

Encouragingly, this devious demagogue has lost his grip on the continent he once dominated. African trades unions have staged protests, workers have refused to unload ships bearing Chinese arms, legitimately elected presidents from Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia have broken ranks to condemn him.

The mighty President of Liberia voiced her concerns and pointed out that 'Africa is not poor, merely poorly managed'. Moreover Thabo Mbeki has been ousted as leader of the ANC, and his replacement is much less accommodating. Yet the booing took the matter further for the insult was direct.

Mugabe will fight to the bitter end, and is prepared to take an entire nation down with him. Already Zimbabwe has paid a terrible price for his clinging to office. When his position has been under threat he has always been vile and violent.

For a few years, between the Zapu massacre and the suppression of the MDC, he was unchallenged and able to masquerade as a caring leader. He was protected by security forces who were enriched with diamonds from a war in the Congo fought for that very purpose. He did not need to snarl or rig.

But the oppressor remained within. A friendless bookworm as a child, he has always been full of hate ...

Mugabe is not to be underestimated. He is adept at dictating the terms of every argument and at shifting blame to others. In the past it has been the colonialists and now it is his last cabinet.

But he is worried because Africa is deserting him. Eventually local intellectuals and genuine liberators realised that he was malign. Hs own people detested him. The white man's foe was no friend of the common man. He is a force of destruction unleashed upon a tolerant nation

Not that it is over. Dictators do not leave with a shrug. Sensing isolation, scared of being humiliated, and still uttering vapid rhetoric about 'insidious foreign hands' hell-bent on destroying 'my Zimbabwe', he has lowered himself to talking to his opponents. Optimists say everything has been agreed except the distribution of power. But that was the only serious issue.

Mugabe will not concede anything until he has been cornered. He has always been the same: cunning, callous, spiteful, dictatorial, ugly.

Everything is a tactic. Mugabe complains about 'counter-revolutionaries', protests about supposed sanctions, condemns the opposition party as a stooge of anti-colonial forces and raises the land issue in a last ditch attempt to appeal to African sentiment. He wants to distract attention from the suffering he has caused. He knows people are starving but does not care.

It is all a lie. Zimbabwe has become a feudal country by government decree. Despite his rhetoric Mugabe is not a liberator but a Stalinist sustained by a lust for power. He believes not in country but in State, cares not about his people but himself.

He knew the farm invasions would cause shortages and knew also that international agencies would rush in with aid. Ministers laughed about it. Food could be used as a weapon in elections, a weapon almost as valuable as the duped and drugged youths paid to torture opponents.

No good will come of the talks. Any agreement will be broken. Zanu has been consumed by Mugabe's evil. It is not sensible to trust a snake, let alone an entire den of vipers.

Peter RoebuckPeter Roebuck is a writer for the The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, amongst other publications, and a commentator on the ABC. He also helped found the the LBW Trust, which helps young Zimbabweans attend university.

Topic tags: peter roebuck, robert mugabe, zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangarai, Arthur Matamabara



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