Mugabe: The Anti-Mandela

Freedom fighters turned politicians often refuse to relinquish power once attained. Nelson Mandela's greatest legacy was his ability to leave office when he felt he had done all he could to lead South Africa out of the darkness and when he felt the country was ready for new leadership.

Robert Mugabe, unfortunately, does not subscribe to this way of thinking.

You can call Mugabe a number of things -- desperate, cruel, dictator, ruthless, a murderer, an oppressor, to name a few -- but don't call him stupid. Africans who understood the man knew he was never going to give up power, he was never going to sit back peacefully and allow others to govern his beloved Zimbabwe.

And here he is -- he is Robert Gabriel Mugabe and he is president of Zimbabwe yet again. The only strange thing is that he won an uncontested election by a 9 to 1 margin... who did the other 10% vote for?

Who is Robert Mugabe and how did he come to hold sway over a country once known as the bread basket of Africa? He was born on February 21, 1924 in Kutama, Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia -- or so it was then called. He first rose to prominence in the 1960s as the secretary general of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). His stated aim was to replace white minority-rule with a one-party Marxist regime. The liberation war ended in 1979, and Mugabe was hailed by most Africans as a hero. He won the general elections of 1980 and then became the first prime minister of Zimbabwe.

His policies have increasingly elicited domestic and international denunciations but none from my country of South Africa, his loyal neighbor. The South African government has remained so tight-lipped on the situation in Zimbabwe that rumors abound that he has information on the ANC that would embarrass the South African government -- if it was ever made public. Perhaps this is an urban legend created in the absence of any real facts, but the continued policy of "quiet diplomacy" has baffled everyone for years.

Mugabe's government, under the guise of "land reform," expropriated thousands of white-owned farms. As the money, food reserves, and basic supplies began to dry up, the government simply printed hundreds of trillions of Zimbabwean dollars, triggering hyperinflation and food shortages throughout the country. Stories abound about how toilet paper became more expensive per sheet than the money printed and of syndicates buying up trillions of Zim Dollars to incinerate for the silver strip in them that was now worth more than the notes. This in turn triggered a mass exodus across the border into South Africa and has been seen as a major cause behind the outbreak of xenophobic violence that has so plagued South Africa for the past six weeks.