Leon Hartwell makes a comparison of South Africa’s former President Nelson Mandela and President Robert Mugabe in his article, The Democrat and the Dictator: Comparing Nelson Mandela and Robert Mugabe. Below is an excerpt from his blog.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela and Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe approached the immediate post-liberation periods in their respective countries differently, with important consequences.
For Mandela, violence against the apartheid regime was a “last resort”. When South Africa’s conflict situation came to an end, violence was no longer viewed as a legitimate political tool.
Moreover, given the brutality of the apartheid period, there needed to be some form of healing process. The solution was found in promoting Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s idea of the “Rainbow Nation” as well as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
Mandela’s promotion of the “Rainbow Nation” made South Africans from all walks of life feel included in the new nation building project.
Many people from across the racial and ethnic divide were proud to call him “our President”. Furthermore, although the TRC had certain limitations, it arguably developed a foundation for reconciliation. It brought together almost 22 000 victims and perpetrators who broke the silence of the country’s violent past. No one could ever say that apartheid did not happen.
At first, it seemed that Mugabe would promote national unity and reconciliation. In 1980 Mugabe stated: “If yesterday I fought you as an enemy, today you have become a friend and ally with the same national interests, loyalty, rights and duties as myself…
“It could never be a correct justification that because the whites oppressed us yesterday when they had power, the blacks must oppress them today, because they have power. An evil remains an evil whether practised by white against black or black against white. Our majority rule would easily turn into inhuman rule if we oppressed, persecuted or harassed those who do not look or think like the majority of us”.
Unlike South Africa, Zimbabwe did not have a TRC. Instead, Mugabe’s rule is characterised by a wave of (blanket) amnesty processes. Every time Mugabe’s regime unleased violence against its opponents, it would simply grant amnesty and clemency to culprits.
Furthermore, Mugabe’s idea of reconciliation did not last very long. In the post-independence period, which was supposed to have been a period of normalisation, Mugabe continued to see violence as an important tool to rope in his enemies, both real and imagined. Mugabe even bragged once that he has a “degree in violence”.
As early as 1982, after Mugabe’s regime was criticised for torturing a Member of Parliament, he made it clear that he dislikes legal systems that are against the use of torture in obtaining information.
Mugabe said, “The law of evidence and the criminal procedure we have inherited is a stupid ass. It’s one of those principles born out of the stupidity of some of the procedures of colonial times”.
The climax of Mugabe’s violence was during the Gukurahundi massacres, as it was a systematic attempt to destroy in whole or in part the Ndebele. The Fifth Brigade, which was trained by North Korea and consisted largely of former Zanla fighters (belonging to Zanu PF) directly under the command of Mugabe, massacred close to 20 000 people.
Mugabe once labelled the late Joshua Nkomo, then Zapu leader, a “snake”, creating the impression that Nkomo was dangerous, while dehumanising him in the same way that the extremist Hutu regime in Rwanda would later do to the Tutsi by calling them “cockroaches” in the run up to the 1994 genocide. Mugabe said: “The only way to deal effectively with a snake is to strike and destroy its head”.
Following the massacre, there were several periods of state-sponsored violence in Zimbabwe, which largely corresponds to periods before, during and after elections. In 2000, the Mugabe regime created a new Constitution which they put forward in a referendum. One of the issues in the Constitution made it legal to acquire land without compensation.
Mugabe suffered his first major political defeat. As a result, Mugabe’s henchmen went ahead and forcefully and violently acquired land, presenting the so-called “land-grab” as an issue between wealthy whites and poor, landless black Zimbabweans.
While there were huge inequalities between Zimbabwe’s white and black population, which had to be rectified, the reality is that the land grab was used as a political tool to punish opponents (both black and white) and to reward loyalty.
As early as 1992, Ndabaningi Sithole, the original leader of Zanu PF, and James Chikerema who stood against Mugabe during an election, both lost their lands.
Ministers, judges, political party members, chiefs of the security sector, and so on, have all been duly awarded with farms for their support of Mugabe. More importantly, when the land grab escalated from 1999 onwards, it included a large-scale displacement of approximately 400 000 black farm workers and their family members.
Many of these black farm workers were punished and tortured as they were accused of collaborating with their white “masters” in voting for the MDC-T (which has been dubbed “puppets of the West”).
As time passed, the Zimbabwean state became more militarised, while the security sector increasingly politicised. Black Zimbabweans that were outspoken against Mugabe have been constructed by Zanu PF as “dissidents”, “black-white men wearing the master’s cap”, neo-colonialists and Western “puppets”. In other words, when Mugabe’s regime uses violence against these supposed enemies, the violence is “legitimate” because, who can argue against fighting evil colonialism?
The way that the two leaders used their offices in relation to their own welfare also tells us a lot about their respect (or lack thereof) for good governance.
While it is possible that Mandela’s name has been used by some people to enrich themselves, Mandela himself lived a fairly modest life. In fact, after he became president, Mandela cut his annual ZAR 700 000 (roughly $64 000) salary by approximately 20% because he thought it was “too high”. He also donated a third of his salary to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. After Mandela’s death, it was decided that, in the public interest, his will should be made public.
It was estimated that Mandela, arguably the most respected man on earth, had an estate valued at ZAR 46 million (approximately $416 000).
This is not to say that Mandela’s administration was completely flawless.
For example, he came under heavy criticism for trying to defend Allan Boesak (a prominent liberation hero) who had been accused of embezzlement. Mandela also had a very cosy relationship with the controversial South African businessman, Sol Kerzner, who paid for Mandela’s daughter’s wedding. Some analysts further criticise Mandela for his “tolerance of underachievers” during his time in office.
In stark contrast to Mandela, there is almost no transparency in Zimbabwe with regards to disclosure of Mugabe’s wealth. However, all evidence points to the fact that he has built a kleptocracy.
In 2001, the US Embassy in Zimbabwe allegedly reported to Washington that “the full extent of Mugabe’s assets are unknown, but are rumoured to exceed $1 billion in value, the majority of which are likely invested outside Zimbabwe”. Thirteen years have passed since then, and while it is impossible to give a concrete figure of Mugabe’s current wealth, it might be worth pointing out how his cronies have been benefitting under his watch.
The Anti-Corruption Trust of Southern Africa in 2012 published a report that documented a host of corruption scandals, allegedly and largely committed by Mugabe’s associates, relatives and friends. The report alleges that Mugabe’s reaction to corruption has been indifferent and often, he rewarded individuals who were suspected of corruption.
Coming back to what has been argued earlier: Mandela had been in office for a much shorter period compared to Mugabe, which meant he did not have to depend on extensive bribes and patronage to maintain long-term support.
Arguably, Mandela was also been much more principled. As mentioned earlier, his aim was to focus on democratisation of South Africa and building constitutionalism.
For Mugabe, staying in power has been an important objective, which meant that he needed to reward supporters (while punishing opponents).