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One religious song by Millie Lou Pace has a powerful verse that says “It’s not the first mile that you will be judged by for you may stumble along the way — it’s the last mile when day is done.”
Inspirational author Shannon Adler said: “Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.”
American author Patti Davis weighs in on leaving a legacy: “That is your legacy on this Earth when you leave this Earth: how many hearts you touched.”
Former United Kingdom prime minister Benjamin Disraeli contends that: “The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example.”
Ecuadorian-born business entrepreneur, pilot and author Steve Saint has this to say: “Your story is the greatest legacy that you will leave to your friends. It’s the longest-lasting legacy you will leave to your heirs.”
The first anniversary of Zimbabwe’s late founding leader, Robert Mugabe’s death on September 6, came and went. The day went by without any form of celebration. How could that be for a liberation icon, who in the prime of his power was venerated by his political acquaintances both at home and among pan-Africans? His first mile had a lot of positives. His emphasis on education has contributed immensely to Zimbabwe being famed as being among the most educated in Africa. His conciliatory note at Independence helped keep Zimbabwe economically stable for the first 15 years of Independence.
Political disturbances of the early 1980s were a dark spot that was to remain with him and followed him to the grave. He had an opportunity to address the matter decisively and bring closure to it. Political expediency led to the decimation of the once vibrant economy starting with war veterans’ compensation in 1997, the adventure into the Democratic Republic of Congo war in 1998, the disorderly land reform, disengagement from the international community and reneging on payments due to international financial institutions and bilateral lenders such as the Paris Club.
The effects were seismic: political persecution of dissenting voices, economic collapse characterised by hyperinflation, emigration of over four million Zimbabweans in search of political asylum and economic refuge, the drying up of international financial support and the collapse of basic service delivery. He failed to deal with the issue of succession, setting up a fierce contestation within his own party, putting the entire nation on tenterhooks.
The result was his unceremonious exit from the political stage in a soft coup. Mugabe’s last mile dimmed his first mile — that is the story he left. He had an opportunity to positively shape his legacy. He did not have control over his home stretch.
I remember writing, on his 92nd birthday celebration, that: “As Mugabe cuts through his 92kg birthday cake, he must think seriously about the legacy he will leave when he finally goes. As things stand now, his legacy is that of turning what was once known as the ‘Jewel of Africa’ into a land of poverty, destitution and hopelessness with no currency to call its own. It is not too late for Mugabe to leave office and save what is left of his tattered legacy.”
The man who took over from Mugabe, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, has this story as a case study on how and how not to build a legacy. Mugabe’s successor’s first mile is on the balance of positives and negatives, a continuation of Mugabe’s last mile. He must consider Adler’s advice; he must write his name into the hearts of Zimbabweans.
He must ponder over the words of Davis; he must count the number of hearts he is positively touching today. He must listen to Disraeli; he needs to decide what legacy of a great name and example he is building with his daily actions — he is daily marking his footprints on history.
Once those footprints are etched in time, they are stubbornly inerasable. He must take note of Steve Saint’s admonition; he must choose the story he wants Zimbabwe’s posterity to tell about him.
In Malawi, a few months ago, they uprooted sign posts carrying the name of a leader who had just been removed from power. Names fondly written in the hearts of a people led well cannot be uprooted. The greatest memorials are built in hearts, not on street signs, stone and mortar.