The long-serving president Robert Mugabe breathes into his 93rd year of life on Tuesday next week.
Locally and internationally, Mugabe remains the most reviled leader in the world. Yet when he came to power 37 years ago he was widely hailed as one of the most progressive leaders of post-colonial Africa. His administration expanded the education and health sector for Zimbabwe’s people.
Reacting to the opposition onslaught on his regime in 2001, Mugabe is reported to have warned hi enemies; “No matter what force you have, this is my territory and that which is mine I cling to unto death.”
With a chain of university degrees, some of them earned while in prison, Mugabe’s reign of terror and plunder in Zimbabwe confounds many. Only recently South African opposition firebrand leader Julius Malema joined the long list of world leaders asking Mugabe to relinguish power. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party leader was quoted saying that Mugabe was too old to even control a spade adding, “Grandpa it’s enough!”
However, few of his critics have attempted to delve deeper into what makes such a vicious leader.
One of the most outstanding efforts to unravel the enigmatic Mugabe is Dinner with Mugabe: The Untold Story of a Freedom Fighter Who Became a Tyrant. It is a psychobiography book by Heidi Holland a former journalist based in Zimbabwe and South Africa from the 1970s.
William Shultz defined psychobiography as the analysis of historically significant lives through use of psychological theory and research. Its aim is to understand persons and to uncover the private motives behind public acts.
In writing Dinner with Mugabe, Holland said she hoped to construct a portrait of Robert Mugabe the man because the prevailing image of him being a monster is not helpful in understanding the decline and fall of Zimbabwe.
She traces the “life” President’s childhood in Kutama village where he was born and brought as a special child pampered by his catechist mother, Bona. Then she delves into his school life, teaching and first marriage in Ghana before returning to join the liberation struggle at home.
The book derives its title from a time in 1975, when Holland, then a pro-liberation journalist hosted Mugabe in house for dinner. He had just been released from prison and was on a secret flight to join the guerilla fighters in Mozambique.
She blames virtually everybody around Mugabe’s life for the tyrant he has become and the misery that his regime has wrought on the country. From poor parentage to his catholic upbringing to undue flattery by his mentors and negative influence by his wives.
Bona had a special liking for her third-born son after the first-born, Micheal, died and her husband deserted them to look for a job and remarry far away in Bulawayo. She brought him up as a child anointed by God and destined for greater things.
Father Jerome O’Hea, their priest, aggravated matters with his flattery that “Robert would be a very important somebody.” Bona, who was a catechist, took it as a message straight from God.
According to his brother, Donato (Donald), Robert hated his father and remained cross with him he would never help them with schooling. And after Michael’s death he became his mother’s favourite.
Thus Mugabe grew up with a bloated sense pride and entitlement often reclusive and choosing to read alone rather than play or socialize with other children. His peers taunted him often as a coward or a “mother’s boy”.
Ironically, Mugabe who would never countenance lose of power was a reluctant entrant to the freedom struggle and political leadership of Zimbabwe. He was cajoled to join the struggle while he was teaching in Ghana. His Ghanian first wife, Sally, is presumed to have coaxed him into politics.
But once he ascended to State House he held on to the reigns viciously. He brooked no dissent and brutally crushed opposition elements. An example is the infamous Gukurahundi massacre in which over 20,000 civilians suspected of insurgency were butchered in Matabeleland and their bodies damped in mining shafts.
Dinner with Mugabe posits that the nonagenarian president could be suffering from a paranoid or narcissistic personality disorders arising from his erroneous upbringing, imprisonment and cannibalism of his guerilla movement while in Mozambique.