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Inside Mugabe’s descent into autocracy

Robert Mugabe - What Happened?

5pm Saturday at BUEI

The title of this disturbing documentary says it all. How did Zimbabwean liberation hero Robert Mugabe turn into one of the world’s most oppressive and hated leaders, an internationally-reviled autocrat?

While director Simon Bright may not have all the answers, his fascinating film does a brilliant job of tracing Mugabe’s journey from inspirational young politician to isolated dictator.

It’s a story that will be familiar to anyone who has ever read George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’. Mugabe starts out with all the right ideals, about democracy and self-determination, only to end up violent and power-crazed.

What’s truly shocking and depressing about this narrative, though, is that it’s non-fiction and that Mugabe remains president of the southern African nation, albeit now old and reportedly very ill.

The film tells both his story and the story of Rhodesia’s transition to become Zimbabwe. Both are of interest to anyone who cares about history, politics and human behaviour.

Zimbabwe came into being, officially, in 1980, when its independence was internationally recognised after colonial and white-minority rule.

Mugabe was an African nationalist, who led the Zimbabwe African National Union from 1975, and was elected as prime minister of the renamed independent country.

The footage of Mugabe’s early years in the public eye is quite something to watch.

Can this determined and charismatic young African, espousing the importance of democracy, really be the same man who will go on to order massacres, rig elections, cause his people to starve and declare: “The gun is mightier than the pen”?

Depressingly, it is. But Bright doesn’t attempt to attribute the monstrous transformation to any single event in Mugabe’s past.

Instead, he simply and clearly tells the complicated life story of a man born in a country where he had no rights who became an almost omnipotent figure.

We learn, for example, that during the struggle for independence, Mugabe was jailed for 11 years by his white supremacist enemies and wasn’t allowed out to bury his dead son.

Once in power, he created a government of unity, giving positions in his cabinet to an opposition leader and a white former Minister.

But it wasn’t long before allegations of horrendous brutality by the Fifth Brigade of the Zimbabwean Army emerged.

A human rights report later determined that thousands of civilians were slaughtered after independence to stem insurrection.

Bright’s interviews with survivors are upsetting. One man recalls dogs walking around carrying pieces of human flesh.

And there is more horror to come as the documentary details Mugabe’s violent intimidation of the media and the treatment meted out, including gang rape, to those who dare to vote for his political enemies.

As one Zimbabwean commentator puts it, the 88-year-old will leave behind a “legacy of genocide and despair” when he finally dies.

As such, don’t expect this film to uplift you but do expect to come away better informed.

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Published April 18, 2012 at 9:12 am (Updated April 18, 2012 at 9:12 am)

Inside Mugabe’s descent into autocracy

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