Nyarota chronicles Mugabe’s graceless fall

Geoffrey Nyarota

As a journalist’s notepad, Nyarota’s chronicles explore the nature of revolution, the fatalistic tilt of expectation, especially when read against the Marxian view of dialectical tensions that are characteristic of materialism and the disillusionment that has become the low point of the post-colonial nation state.

Elliot Ziwira @The Book Store

It is a writer worth his/her mettle who is able to capture the mood permeating his/her community in such a way that the reader cannot help getting consumed into it all.

Oftentimes, in the hands of a masterful storyteller, an old story becomes anew all over again.
As Wole Soyinka (1973:89), observes “the artist always functioned as the voice of vision in his own time”, which means that the competent writer should record current and topical issues affecting his community, because it is such issues that the reader can easily identify with.

Chinweizu et al (1985:248) also echo the journalistic aspect of the artiste’s role when they say: “Our job as writers is to be articulate and to present to our audience the stresses and joys of our societies as they take place”.

Commenting on Mungoshi, Kanengoni and Chipamaunga have this to say respectively: “I sometimes identified myself with the maze of Mungoshi’s stories.

“The frustration was so real” (Veit-Wild, 1992:73) and: “The author immediately won my admiration for capturing and fluently expressing the spirit of the time.”

There is so much to say about our story, our Zimbabwean story, but each time it is told, one feels that there is so much that really is not said, or may be said in a different way. Sometimes one really needs to infer to get to the bottom of the story – our story, because often the change of the storyteller means the shifting of the storyline, and in some cases the characters have a way of metamorphosing as well.

Without an honest recording of the story as it unfolds, chances are that the distortions that the tale goes through at every turn have a way of altering it altogether, such that when future generations come across the story; our story, it will be difficult for them to relate with it. They may fail to locate themselves in the maze of it all. Such is the nature of revisionist storytelling.

The history of our liberation struggle, for instance, risks distortion if the protagonists – our liberation fighters themselves do not partake in the telling of the story as it unfolded in the trenches, without allowing third parties to hijack it.
Writers should also come aboard and capture the joys and stresses of their communities as they take place.

One such writer, who effectively and timeously captured the Zimbabwean story and chronicles it well is Geoffrey Nyarota, who combines his journalistic and imaginative skills adeptly in his book “The Graceless Fall of Robert Mugabe: The End of a Dictator’s Reign” (2018), published by Penguin Books.

The book is divided into 12 chapters, each with a befitting heading, and opening with an apt quotation drawn from the gist of the episode under spotlight, which makes it easier for the reader to relate with the topic at hand.

Chapter titles like “The Nomadic Intellectual”; “Silencing Divergent Voices”; “From Breadbasket to Basket Case”; “Mujuru’s Death: Accident or Assassination?”; “From ‘Small House’ to First Lady”; “First Lady Dreams of Presidency”; and, “The Rise and Fall of the Crocodile”, do not only whet the reader’s appetite, but they are self-pointing and reflective of the prevailing experiences and mood, which heightens participatory reading for the Zimbabwean audience.

The book captures the euphoria of Independence as the people of colour who had been under the burden of the colonial yoke of subjugation see their hopes and aspirations taking a new trajectory at the behest of their revolutionary sons and daughters.

As a journalist’s notepad, Nyarota’s chronicles explore the nature of revolution, the fatalistic tilt of expectation, especially when read against the Marxian view of dialectical tensions that are characteristic of materialism and the disillusionment that has become the low point of the post-colonial nation state.

Central to the Zimbabwean story of struggle, triumph, momentous joy tempered with scepticism, encumbered hope and socio-economic decline, is former president Robert Mugabe. His rise to power as an intelligent, articulate and committed intellectual nationalist conforms to Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Chinua Achebe’s takes on the role of the intelligentsia in fashioning an ideological vision for the post-colonial nation state of Africa.

Nyarota adeptly purveys the essence of Mugabe’s individual traits in shaping the destiny of the country in the formative years of the struggle, during the liberation struggle, which the writer rather strangely calls the Bush War, and its aftermaths.
He writes: “It was the enigmatic, principled and hardline qualities of Mugabe, as well as his perceived potential to bring the drawn-out guerrilla war to a close, that endeared him to the majority of the black population.”

Mugabe’s return home after five years of exile was “awe-inspiring” and his “homecoming rally on 27 January 1980 attracted a mammoth crowd, of a magnitude never previously witnessed in Salisbury. Journalists, including the foreign press, who had portrayed Mugabe in very negative terms, grudgingly estimated that the crowd had more than 200 000 ecstatic supporters.”

The euphoria was palpable, expectations sky-high, aspirations poised for gargantuan take-off with milk and honey gleaming so invitingly, but doom seemed enjoying bogeying with the people’s dreams.

The seasoned scribe’s pen could not fail to pick on this, as he highlights:
“Although Mugabe had started out as a hero of the liberation struggle against racist white minority rule, he had not reached the end of his reign with that same reputation. Instead, he stepped away as the man who had reduced his country to a husk of its former self, from a shining diamond and breadbasket in 1980 to a country whose people wallowed in poverty, misery and fear.”

There is more to it, in the writer’s view, and indeed, as history suggests. Mugabe was loved and hated in equal measure. To the black people, he was the face and rallying point of the struggle against white supremacy, and to the whites he was a stumbling block in their oppressive machinations.

Described as “an exceptional mind and heart”, with a “reputation for leading a life of solitude, being something of a devoted bookworm”, Mugabe’s intolerance of divergent views largely brought him in constant conflict with his erstwhile comrades. He never really wanted Joshua Nkomo, the late Father Zimbabwe, to steal the limelight from him, as Nyarota alluded.

James Robert Dambaza Chikerema, Mugabe’s maternal uncle, and one of his childhood friends, born a year after him, is on record for bringing to light the former president’s loner dispossession and intolerant nature; as Nyarota informs: “He (Chikerema) said that Robert was somewhat of a bully and sore loser at any of the games that the young herders played out in the pastures. He said that when Robert felt cornered by the other boys, he would drive his cattle to a secluded part of the open grasslands and spend the rest of the day there by himself.”

Even in death, Mugabe could not forgive Chikerema for “betraying” him, in the same way that he could not forgive Ndabaningi Sithole and a horde of others, who at one time crossed his path. As the journalist-artiste notes, he “personally denied Sithole and Chikerema, both of whom were distinguished nationalists, a decent burial at the National Heroes Acre in Harare”.

Quick to retaliate and slow to forgive, Mugabe surrounded himself with bootlicking cronies, who would see no evil, hear no evil, as the gravy train he brought them aboard whistled to a catastrophic end.

In Nyarota’s view the political logjam that the nation state endures, which reduced the once prosperous country to a pariah state has all the trappings of deification, lack of political will, ideological obscurity, individualism and materialism. From the early years of Independence, Mugabe ignored Samora Machel’s words: “Don’t play make-belief Marxism games when you get home. You have no Marxist party yet, so you can’t impose Marxism.”

The writer’s surgical knife sutured the fragile façade that the former president hid behind for close to four decades, culminating in the military intervention code named Operation Restore Legacy in November 2017 that immortalised the words, “We are only targeting criminals around (Mugabe) who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice,” by Major-General Sibusiso Moyo.

With corruption being the order of the day, and Mugabe turning a blind eye to it, a fact that Nyarota highlights through his exposure of Willowgate and other scandals, the nation state hobbled towards the edge, as individuals positioned themselves for the big haul, with the former First Lady Grace seemingly holding the magic wand.

“The yawning chasm between the Mugabes and the majority of the country’s citizens had steadily become too wide to bridge,” Geoffrey Nyarota writes.

“Then the president and his spouse had orchestrated the humiliating dismissal of Vice President Mnangagwa. In these circumstances it is no surprise that the people of Zimbabwe had needed little motivation to turn out in their hundreds of thousands to protest against the Mugabe regime on 18 November (2017).”

The book also sheds light on such thorny issues like Gukurahundi, the controversy surrounding Retired-General Solomon Mujuru’s death, the Ian Smith propped up, but largely hearsay inspired claim that General Josiah Magama Tongogara was “killed by his people” among other seemingly glaringly, but hidden skeletons in the corridors of power. Nyarota’s conclusions on the issues are neither biased nor authoritative, but give a sober starting point for further probing, for without conclusive evidence, hearsay cannot amount to fact.

Notwithstanding its limitations in offering new dimensions in the Zimbabwean story, as much of what is captured is already in the public domain, Nyarota’s “The Graceless Fall of Robert Mugabe: The End of a Dictator’s Reign” (2018) is an authentic record of events that culminated in the collapse of a once vibrant economy, mainly because of intolerance to divergent views, corruption, selfish ambition and deification. It is a reflective notepad for future leaders of our great nation.

Read on the background of the inauguration of President Mnangagwa as the leader of the Second Republic of Zimbabwe, there is so much hope for the nation state, as the golden future time beckons ever so powerfully.

Source: Herald