By Sij Ncube
HARARE, August 20, 2015 – HATE him or love him, President Robert Mugabe is a great story-teller despite his advanced age and suspected failing health, who usually leaves his audience enthralled and wanting some more.
The latest case in point is at the just-ended Sadc summit where he went down memory lane, recalling the days when he fled the then colonial Rhodesia via Botswana as he escaped persecution for fighting colonialism.
In his handover speech to incoming Sadc chairperson, Botswana President Ian Khama, Mugabe paid tribute to Batswana before saluting founding president Sir Seretse Khama, referring him as one of the pioneering statesmen that established the Frontline States to aid the liberation of the region.
He waxed lyrically about his relationship with Batswana and how Khama senior’s marriage to a white British woman created racial tensions in Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa, much to the delight of his captured audience who laughed their lungs out.
Mugabe claimed Khama senior’s decision to marry a white woman cost the family the Bamangwato chieftainship but was quick to add that “time is cue” as Khama junior has gone to land the presidency of the country.
“Your Father is you,” he told Khama who has in the past crossed swords with the Zimbabwean leader over bad governance.
But critics say Mugabe, is a master manipulator, who used the occasion in Gaborone to attempt to soften Khama who is seen as having divergent opinions views to those of the Zimbabwean leader.
The critics have been quick to point out that it is not the first time Mugabe has played on the children of his old-time fellow nationalists at continental and regional summits when given the podium.
Mugabe has a penchant of working on the sons of his fellow nationalists, critics say, something they claim is tantamount to manipulative machinations aimed at gaining regional and international reverence as he continues defy odds by clinging to power in Zimbabwe at 91 years.
At an African Union gathering Mugabe took on Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Jomo Kenyatta, urging him to disrespect the International Criminal Court of Justice. He delved into African history recalling how Jomo fought against imperialism. But Uhuru went on to ignore him by attending the hearings, coming out with more integrity.
Mugabe also had former South African President Thabo Mbeki in his works during the negotiations of the Global Political Agreement and during the government of national unity where he was the facilitator, frequently referring to his father Govan Mbeki, and a liberation icon in African.
There was a general consensus Thabo Mbeki was biased towards Mugabe during the negoations something which made MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai always angry.
Another example of Mugabe seen manipulating sons of fellow liberation icon includes that of DRC President Joseph Kabila. Mugabe often spoke of how he intervened in the DRC militarily whenever Zimbabwe was on the agenda of Sadc summit chaired by the young Kabila.
But political analyst and popular blogger, Takura Zhangazha, says explaining historical occurrences is not a sign of master manipulation but merely a demonstration of historical knowledge which though admirable may not suit current political contexts.
“With all the leaders that you mention Mugabe probably appears more as a grandfatherly figure who must be deferred to but not always listened to, especially when he narrates his personal historical experiences when there are much more urgent current issues that these younger leaders have to tackle. It is mere semantics with very little politics,” said Zhangazha.
But Rashweat Mukundu, the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, is adamant Mugabe is a master of manipulation and uses his deep historical knowledge of African politics to get his way past current leaders, more so those younger than him.
“This tactic works in silencing the young African leaders yet serves not present or futuristic purpose. President Mugabe is in fact demonstrating that he is a man of the past and he has nothing to share on the present and the future.
“If his historical narratives were linked to how he has developed Zimbabwe in the present then the young leaders would have something to hold onto and cherish. He uses history against his opponents just as he uses the same history to repress citizens of Zimbabwe,” he said.