Mandela vs Mugabe

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mugabe and mandelaBefore there was Mandela, there was Mugabe being heralded as the statesman of Africa and the model for good governance. Then he was knighted, a high honor for any leader and then came the sanctions.

Mandela the former leader of South Africa whom I’ve read has the second best global brand served as South Africa’s first black President is respected world over but we must not forget that Robert Mugabe leader of Zimbabwe was what Nelson Mandela is now before he fell out of favor.

Mugabe has banked on the belief of the  immortal words of Churchill, “ history will be kind to me”. There was a time in the 1980s and well into the the mid 1990s when Robert Mugabe was lifted up as the model for democracy. He graced the covers of many magazines and was in fact knighted by the Queen of England before he allowed invasion of farms and the killing of white farmers to occur.

Mugabe like Mandela in the beginning pursued reconciliation as a means to address the atrocities of war and to move forward in the new democracy in a post racial fashion. This appeared to work in Zimbabwe as life for ordinary white citizens was exactly what it was in pre-colonial Zimbabwe. Mandela pursued the same policy and tried to curtail violence and move the country forward.

Mugabe pursued a policy of free education for the young people and opened night schools for the older citizens to be able to participate in the new economy. This policy burdened the country with debt but produced one of the most literate societies in Africa.

Southern-Africa_MapMandela was definitely a connector who was able to unite the different tribes of South Africa something that Mugabe has never been able to do. Mugabe was an instigator playing on tribal differences to create disharmony and wage civil war with the Ndebele people in the 1980s in what has been labeled the Gukurahundi massacre.

Mandela is much beloved, his polices maintained the economic status quo but did little to raise a child in Soweto from the ghetto stuck in illiteracy and move them forward into another social and economic class.

Mugabe’s legacy on the other hand also involves changing the structure of most Zimbabwean families as many families were spread out in the diaspora in London, Dallas , Australia, Beijing, Johannesburg, Toronto or wherever they could find refuge from his brutal regime.

Though the land policy is controversial today it is my guess that twenty years from now when Zimbabwe is back to being the bread basket of Southern Africa people will forget the starvation and death of the land redistribution programs of the Mugabe regime but will view it as the end justifying the means. As for South  Africa they will probably look to their northern neighbor and try to learn from Zimbabwe’s mistakes as they institute their own version of land reform. South Africa is a bigger economy with bigger players but ultimately politics are local and  in a global marketplace the consequences of haphazard land reform program will have tremendous impact on the country and continent in more ways that we can imagine right now.

South Africa has a large youth population but their government has not grasped the need for education and job creation in both the Mandela, Mbeki and now Zuma administrations. South Africa’s leaders should have constructed more school and created more wealth empowerment programs that would create jobs for ordinary citizens.

Mandela was not without his challenge in his first term, integrating a section of society which has been traditionally cut of is a tremendous task. There were certain profession during apartheid that were totally off-limits to black South Africans and in post colonial South Africa those sentiments were still widespread. There was the issue of the airline pilots where the white South Africans refused to train the blacks and they had to get their training from Zimbabwe. These issues were real and a reflection of the racial tensions that always exist in the first few years of a democracy.

Years from now it is when history will judge the two leaders perhaps with a new set of eyes because hindsight is always 20/20 and we will be using a different measuring stick.

By Anna Mosi-Oa-Tunya 2013