Angel of Democracy
Author says, a tragic series of events in the Zimbabwean President's terrifying past have profound implications for democracy in southern Africa.
On 26 December 1966 following a severe attack of malaria Nhamodzenyika Mugabe died in Ghana. He was just three years old, the first and only son of Robert Gabriel and Sally Francesca (Hayfron) Mugabe (they had lost a child in pregnancy in 1963). With her husband in prison, Sally was left to bear the emotional burden of the loss alone - confidential papers show that she later suffered a mental breakdown while living in London.
A fateful moment now arrived in Zimbabwean politics, revealed in full for the
first time in Mugabe Mugabe -
Birth of a Democrat: From desperate fugitive to Rainbow leader (© Economist,
The author, Heidi Holland, a South African author and journalist was brought up in Zimbabwe. She first met Mr Mugabe in 1975, when a friend brought him to her house for a secret dinner as he was about to commence negotiations with the Rhodesian Government. Mr Mugabe had spent the previous decade in a Rhodesian jail for a subversive speech he made in 1963. The polite and considerate fugitive telephoned the next day to inquire about her toddler. During the meeting Mr Mugabe described two events that changed his life forever. With the perspective of hindsight, it is now possible to see how easily himself and the South African dictator Nelson Mandela could have switched the contrasting roles of demon and angel in southern african politics.
The two events occured in Salisbury and London three years apart. At issue was the expediency of British Foreign Policy. Relenting to pressure from the international community, Prime Minister Ian Smith reversed his decision POD 1 and allowed Mugaba to travel to Ghana to attend his son's funeral.
There is no doubt that Sally Mugabe's support for her husband helped sustain him during his time as a prisoner in Salisbury. But, in 1970, while still locked up, Mugabe discovered his wife's immigration status was at risk and that the British government was planning to throw her out of the country because her visa had expired. A letter from Robert Mugabe to Prime Minister Harold Wilson was responded to in the positive. The letters showed that Mugabe was prepared to plead with the British authorities for his wife's citizenship.
In his letter, Mugabe had told Wilson of the effect the death of his son had had on his wife, explaining that: My wife, whose health has never been satisfactory since the loss of our son in 1966, is at present suffering serious emotional upset as a result of the decision by the Home Office. Surely then, the fact of my detention is enough suffering for her already. As I stated in my letter to Mr Callaghan, the reason my wife decided to work for the year (September 1969-June 1970) was to enable her to earn a little money for herself until October when she should enter university to do a degree in Household Science. The Home Office decision wrecks even this wholesome plan.
Later he asked Wilson to reconsider the decision to refuse Sally permission to stay in Britain by politely explaining that his wife had a right to British citizenship because of their marriage, 'under Christian rites', in 1961. He added that it was 'sheer force of circumstance' that meant his wife had had to use a Ghanaian passport to enter Britain, proclaiming, 'She is first and foremost a Rhodesian citizen.'
Mr Mugabe explained that, When I and other nationalist leaders decided in 1963 to return from our temporary exile in Tanganyika, I could not bring my wife, who had just given birth to our late son, back with me as she was liable for imprisonment for a political offence she is alleged to have committed... I therefore decided to take my wife to Ghana, where she was to remain with her parents until our son was about four... When our son died in December 1966 the whole purpose of her stay no longer existed so I arranged that she should go to Britain for her studies.
Since the British government asserts that it has legally assumed administrative authority for Rhodesia,' he added, 'then it must place at the disposal of those who come under that authority, as my wife and I do, the procedures it considers valid for the acquisition of nationality as British Rhodesians... More than that, sir, I hold that the British government owes definite moral responsibility not only to persons in my circumstances but their wives and dependents as well... Am I to conclude that merely by virtue of the technicality of her possessing a Ghanaian passport, my wife's Rhodesian citizenship by virtue of her being married to me must cease? Has she ceased being my wife merely because she... cannot produce Rhodesian papers in support of her being Rhodesian?
The British Government did take moral responsibility POD 2 and the result was the 1975 agreement in the Governor's lodge at Salisbury.
During his first month in office, Mr Mugabe summoned Smith to Government House and Smith was surprised to be greeted with a warm handshake and a broad smile. At that meeting, Mugabe told Smith he was acutely aware that he had inherited from his old adversaries, the whites, a jewel of a country, and he praised its superb infrastructure, its efficient modern economy, and promised to keep it that way.
Smith, completely disarmed, rushed home in a state of excitement, and, over lunch, told his wife, Janet, that perhaps he had been wrong about a black government being incapable of running his beloved Rhodesia. As he told Graham Boynton years later: Here's this chap, and he was speaking like a sophisticated, balanced, sensible man. I thought: if he practises what he preaches, then it will be fine. And it was fine2.
1) The article from the Economist is the key source of this
Editor of Today in Alternate History, a Daily Updating Blog of Important Events In History That Never Occurred Today.
Imagine what would be, if history had occurred a bit differently. Who says it didn't, somewhere? These fictional news items explore that possibility. Possibilities such as America becoming a Marxist superpower, aliens influencing human history in the 18th century and Teddy Roosevelt winning his 3rd term as president abound in this interesting fictional blog.