Born on the 21st of February 1924 Robert Gabriel Mugabe’s life before his return from Ghana in May 1960 at the age of 36 remains largely unknown. What is known about these first 36 years of his life is largely derived from interviews with the few people who knew him before he became a public figure. It also seems strange to me that those who knew him in those early years only recounted his educational pursuits and erudition. Very few of them give an insight into his temperament, hobbies, love life and other such personal details. One would think such thorough research is warranted to understand how he became the man he is. Was he a bully in primary school? What kind of books did he read in the high school library? Why didn’t he have any friends? Details about Mugabe’s formative years are still scarce if not classified.
If one were to study Mugabe’s ascendancy to power right from the point he set foot on Rhodesian soil in May 1960 up to the birth of Zimbabwe in April 1980 (exactly 20 years) an interesting parallel can be observed being in tandem with his retention of power from independence till today (36 years). One thing I find interesting is the fact that Mugabe jumped onto the political bandwagon at the tender age of 36 years which might explain why he unexpectedly showed admiration and respect for Nelson Chamisa during the GNU era. Was it because he saw a part of himself in the young Chamisa who also happened to be in his thirties when he joined the political limelight?
A closer look at the young Mugabe’s road to State House will reveal a consistent trend. His rise to power was not because of his popularity (no one knew him) but on his brand: the well-educated demagogue. It is important to remember that ZANU just like the MDC was formed by a group of intellectuals who were somewhat elitist in their outlook. The leadership boardrooms only had room for the educated elite and this pattern is still prevalent in the present day ZANU-PF as evidenced by the level of education Politburo members possess. Those few technocrat who invited Mugabe to join active politics did in fact impose him on the grassroots members of the party. They were mesmerized by this oratory prowess and they felt he was the most qualified to speak on their behalf by placing him as the Secretary of Publicity. What this educated cabal failed to do was look at his leadership qualities and competence rather than just looking at their immediate need for him. He was always put in positions of leadership that entailed talking to and convincing the masses to join the armed struggle. That was the job they intended for him and nothing else but Mugabe had other ideas. He wanted to be the Commander-in-Chief of the ZANLA forces because he knew that would guarantee him a place in the State House.
He quietly gained power through coercion and patronage until he sealed the deal with barbaric acts of violence. This has always been Mugabe’s strategy and it has always, and I mean ALWAYS, worked. In the last 36 years Mugabe has retained power by first charming his way with everyone, then insulting them before finally beating or killing them. I call them “Mugabe’s 3 steps to power” – charm, insult then beat. It essence Mugabe has never changed, never ever! The young Mugabe who returned to Zimbabwe 56 years ago is the same Mugabe we have now.