OPINION: Dear Sir Robert.
(No that’s too formal. If you want to know a man, to get under his skin, to understand him, it doesn’t help to use a title. A title elevates him, makes him remote. And besides, he’s not Sir Robert any more. His honorary knighthood was annulled in 2008, the only wonder about that being that it was granted in the first place. But then again, hindsight is famously sharp. So…)
Dear President Mugabe
(No it still doesn’t strike the right note. A man and his office are not the same thing, even if he has held that office for 30 or so years (and the office of prime minister for seven years before that. “Zimbabwe,” he might well exclaim, “That’s me.” But I don’t want to talk to Zimbabwe. I want to talk to a man. I want to talk organism to organism. So…)
(Yes, I think that’s right. It treats him as what he is, a scrap of flesh to which a name’s been pinned for identification. A frail and vulnerable mammal. A naked ape, like every one of us. Robert Gabriel Mugabe.)
You were born, Rob, in 1924. You’re 91 years old. The media are forbidden to show footage of you stumbling, but everyone knows you’re frail and that you’ve been to Singapore for medical treatment unavailable to your compatriots.
So, although you’ve made a habit of denying awkward truths, Rob, even you must acknowledge that you don’t have long to go now. Dusk is coming in across the fields.
And in view of that, old crocodile features, I’d just like to ask you one thing: are you happy? Are you pleased with the way things have gone? Or, if you had your time again, Rob, would you do things differently?
These are honest questions, Rob, because you puzzle me. You’ve become, you see, a textbook tyrant, a corrupt megalomaniac, a bastard.
And I’m curious how it happened. It’s not as if you’re some illiterate warlord who Uzied his way up the ladder and then set about plundering as much as possible before someone Uzied him back down. That story’s as old as our species.
Indeed it is close to being the main story of our species. But it isn’t your story, Rob. You’re no illiterate warlord.
You were, by all accounts, a studious child. Your best friends were books. You were given a good education.
And you clearly cherished it because you became a teacher. Few teachers are tyrants in embryo, whatever the kids might say. Most teachers just want to do good.
Of course you were born into injustice. The white minority governed the black majority. You stood up against that injustice and were imprisoned for a decade. Is that where you turned? Did that embitter you?
If so, it wouldn’t be surprising. It would even be forgivable.
But since you assumed power most of your crimes have not been committed against those who imprisoned you. They’ve been committed against your fellow citizens. You’re up to the elbows in blood, and nearly all of it’s black blood.
The blood of political opponents and their supporters. The blood of people who threatened your power.
Once you’d spilled blood, of course, there was no going back. And look at you now, in consequence.
At an age when you should be basking in affection you are reviled. And you are clinging desperately to office because you are afraid of what might happen if you lose it.
You trust no-one because you have forfeited any right to loyalty, or friendship or trust.
You are thus imprisoned by the paranoia that afflicts all tyrants. You never know who might be holding the dagger. It’s a nice ironic form of justice.
You’ve stashed millions of dollars overseas, dollars stolen from a country you’ve helped to impoverish. But you can’t enjoy those dollars. The end of your life is as hollow as a drum.
And my point, Rob, my puzzlement, is how did you let it happen?
You, a good bright kid. A kid who read books. Did you never read about the perils of power, Rob? Did you never read, say, Macbeth?
Seduced by power, Macbeth went from hero to tyrant, from loved to loathed, from good to bad. And you’ve followed his path exactly. Exactly.
Could you not see what was happening to you? And if you could, were you powerless to prevent it, even a clever and educated man like yourself?
Were the corny temptations of power just too great to resist? If so, it doesn’t say much for free will. It doesn’t bode well for the rest of us.
Or were you just a closet bastard from the outset? I’d love to know, Rob. Before you die. In office and unloved.