Sorrow and admiration in Mugabe’s home village

Robert Mugabe's village home where he was buried

ZVIMBA – Residents in the Zimbabwean village where Robert Mugabe was born, got married and has a house say he was a great leader — but they express sorrowful acceptance rather than anger at his ousting.

Kutama, 55 miles (90 kilometres) west of the capital Harare, has been a heartland of deeply personal support for Mugabe for decades, benefiting from his patronage and much-criticised land reforms.

“When I heard the news (of his exit) and seeing what was now happening in the country, and things not going right, I thought, ‘Well everything has to end, he has to rest’,” Johannes Chikanya, Mugabe’s second cousin and a close childhood friend, told AFP.

“Had it been me, I would have resigned while people still liked me,” Chikanya said. “Now there are problems.”

Mugabe was born in Kutama on February 21, 1924 — with Chikanya born just three months later.

Chikanya fondly remembers how as a child he used to share a bed and blanket on the floor with Mugabe, and even eat from the same plate as they grew up together in the village.

Today Kutama is home to several thousand and, in contrast to many city streets or even highways, it has smooth new roads recently re-surfaced with black tar.

– ‘So grateful’ –

Some locals in Kutama benefited from Mugabe's seizure of white-owned commercial farms
Some locals in Kutama benefited from Mugabe’s seizure of white-owned commercial farms

“We are so grateful for what he has done, the way he has looked after us until today. We hope things will continue just as good,” said Tobias Sowero, 40, sitting in front of a shop.

But in much of the country, years of economic decline under Mugabe have left Zimbabwe’s infrastructure in ruins and almost no private-sector employment as agriculture collapsed and investors fled.

Some locals in Kutama benefitted from the Mugabe government’s seizure of white-owned commercial farms that is widely blamed for the economy’s implosion and the sharp decline in production.

“Even if others are complaining that there are no jobs, I’m happy about the land we were given. We are able to farm and look after ourselves,” said 22-year-old Theophilus Chimanga.

“I want to remember him for the land and the freedom he brought.”

Unlike in Harare and second city Bulawayo, there were no wild street parties in Kutama when news broke on Tuesday that Mugabe’s reign was finally over after 37 years.

“No, there were no celebrations here, we just accepted it quietly,” said one businessman, who declined to give his name, at the village’s small shopping centre close to Mugabe’s house.

In Kutama, in the district of Zvimba, the gates of Mugabe’s usually heavily-guarded house were wide open, though AFP was denied access.

– Lavish wedding –

In 1996, the village hosted Mugabe’s wedding to his second wife Grace, whose presidential ambitions triggered the sudden intervention from the military chiefs who were determined to block her rise.

The wedding at a nearby Catholic church was attended by Nelson Mandela with Joaquim Chissano, then president of Mozambique, serving as best man.

A lavish party, complete with beer brought in by the truckload, was held for thousands of guests in marquees erected outside Mugabe’s thatched-roof property.

Johannes Chikanya, a 93-year-old Zimbabwean, grew up with Mugabe in Kutama
Johannes Chikanya, a 93-year-old Zimbabwean, grew up with Mugabe in Kutama

Marjorie Masuwa, a 54-year-old shopkeeper, told AFP that she feared for the future under Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was inaugurated as president on Friday.

“When I heard that (Mugabe) had stepped down, I didn’t get emotional, but allow me to say that he was loving. I just wish the one who is replacing him is the same,” she said.

“I urge him to seek advice from Mugabe, and to please not to give land back to the whites.” – AFP