"Many Zimbabweans Celebrate Privately and Quietly the Death of a Tyrant"

In an interview, Zimbabwean Expert Fungisai Sithole Explaining what Mugabe's Death Means to the Country
Analysis12.09.2019Fungisai Sithole
Robert Mugabe
Former Zimbabwe President and dictator, Robert MugabePicture Alliance/IPA

Robert Mugabe, former President of Zimbabwe, passed away at the age of 95. He is credited by many for having brought independence to his country and the end of the white minority regime that governed the then-Rhodesia. However, when he was overthrown in November 2017 by a military coup, people danced with joy on the street. In an interview with Freiheit.org, Fungisai Sithole explains what Mugabe is leaving behind and how things could continue for Zimbabwe.

What is the reaction of the Zimbabwean people on the death of Robert Mugabe?

The reaction is mixed and ambivalent. He was in power for 37 years. Not many people in this demographically young country remember anyone else ever having been President until his fall. Culturally, it is considered impolite and socially unacceptable to speak ill of the dead and this greatly influences people’s public reactions. I think that many Zimbabweans privately and quietly celebrate the death of a tyrant - who presided over so much death, destruction and pain. He died in Singapore, by the way, where there is electricity, clean drinking water and excellent health care: none of which are available to his fellow Zimbabweans.

What immediate consequences will his death have politically in Zimbabwe and beyond?

There won’t be big political consequences after his death. The big changes all took place in the aftermath of the 2017 coup. Unfortunately many of those changes amounted to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic that is the SS ZANU-PF, Mugabe’s old party, and entrenching the military junta which calls the shots. The stolen elections of 2018 and the concomitant violence against civil society and ordinary citizens were right out of Mugabe’s playbook, as are the current human rights abuses and economic decline. So what this really tells us is that to some extent Mugabe was a symptom, not the disease.

What ‘legacy‘ does Robert Mugabe leave behind and what lies ahead for Zimbabwe?

The effusive eulogies by other African leaders sound awfully hollow to Zimbabweans - to those in the country and to the three million Zimbabweans (out of a population of 15 million) who have had to become economic migrants or political refugees thanks to Mr Mugabe’s ruinous and cruel regime. But he didn’t manage to destroy civil society and the hardworking people of Zimbabwe - though he tried. And neither will those people manage who are now claiming the mantle of Mugabe’s legacy for themselves, like the current President and his government.