Skip to main content

Zimbabwe: Mugabe a fallen African hero

  • Story Highlights
  • Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe was considered a hero across Africa
  • Mugabe was viewed as a liberation hero much like Nelson Mandela
  • He has recently received strident criticism from Botswana, Tanzania and Angola
  • Next Article in World »
By CNN's David McKenzie
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

(CNN) -- As the situation continues to deteriorate in Zimbabwe, the international community and African nations have grown more vocal in their condemnation of President Robert Mugabe's regime. However, as our indepth look at the situation explains there was once much support across the continent for him.

How do the leaders of other southern African nations traditionally regard Mugabe? Why are they now getting tough?

For many years Mugabe was viewed as a liberation hero much like South Africa's Nelson Mandela is still.

In 1980 he became the first black president of Zimbabwe in a deeply divided country. At the time, many saw him as a uniter and not a divider. Many of his early speeches mirror the rhetoric of the non-racial messages of the ANC in early post-apartheid South Africa. And even when Mugabe drew strong criticism in the 2000 for evicting white Zimbabwean farmers, he still found support or silent assent from his Southern African counterparts. Many analysts feel this was because of his liberation credentials. Photo See pictures of the violence »

In recent weeks though, it seems that Mugabe has gone too far. He has received strident criticism from Botswana, Tanzania and even Angola, all previously staunch supporters of the Mugabe regime. Some feel it is because Mugabe has gone too far by ignoring all calls by the African Union and SADC to postpone the deeply controversial runoff elections.

How much does Mugabe's role as the man who many see as liberating Zimbabwe from colonialism traditionally affect the attitude of southern African leaders?

Mugabe's image of a freedom fighter strongly effects how people have viewed him. Zimbabwe provided key support to the ANC liberation struggle in the Apartheid years and many saw Mugabe as standing up for Africa when he stands up against England.

It has been his trump card until now.

Does Mandela, like Mugabe a liberation hero of southern Africa, have a role to play in persuading Mugabe to backdown?

Mandela is the elder statesmen in Africa and for many the strongest moral authority on the continent. He has called the Zimbabwe regime a "tragic failure of leadership." Mugabe's regime has not buckled under international pressure, with the Deputy Information minister telling CNN that Morgan Tsvangirai is a "cry baby" and that if he "can't stand the heat, he should get out of the kitchen." With rhetoric like that it is unlikely that Mugabe will listen even to Mandela.

Do southern African leaders fear that sudden upheaval in Zimbabwe might spill over into their own countries, and cause a refugee crisis?

South African's government has called Zimbabwean refugees "economic migrants" who are crossing borders to get work. This, to a certain extent is true, with Zimbabweans crossing over the border long before the current crisis. However, there are more than a million Zimbabweans living in South Africa. With inflation over 2 million percent and buying products difficult, (it being difficult to find food, medicines and other basics) many have no choice but to live outside of the country and try to send money back.

If the violence in Zimbabwe was to spread beyond the scope we have already seen, there is a real fear of a refugee crisis in Southern Africa.

Is this fear heightened by the recent anti-immigrant violence in South Africa?

Many Zimbabweans you speak to living in South Africa do fear further attacks. The xenophobic violence certainly was a wake up call for the South African government. But the threat of destitution and political violence is seen by most Zimbabweans as higher than the threat of violence outside of their homeland.

What is the attitude of other southern African leaders to Morgan Tsvangirai and the Movement for Democratic change? Would they oppose his election?

For a long time southern African leaders have held their cards close to their chest as to whether they support Morgan Tsvangirai or not, but it seems that their attitude towards him is becoming more positive as it is increasingly clear that Mugabe is leading his country towards disaster and Tsvangirai is not only the most popular leader in Zimbabwe but also the only real alternative to Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party.


Looking forward...

Prime Minister Raila Odinga of Kenya and others have called for international peacekeepers in Zimbabwe, however this is a very unlikely scenario given that the violence has not spread to a civil war scenario and if leaders in Africa were slow to criticize Mugabe, they certainly would be slow to go for any kind of military intervention.

All About ZimbabweRobert MugabeMorgan Tsvangirai

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print