Jarvis DeBerry — The Times Picayune Nov 18, 2017
You can get an idea of how significant Zimbabwe’s revolution was by listening to black celebrities in the late 1970s and early ’80s. There’s Stevie Wonder singing “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” in 1980: “Peace has come to Zimbabwe / Third World’s right on the one / Now’s the time for celebration / Because we’ve only just begun.” That song is essentially a tribute to Jamaican reggae legend Bob Marley who, in 1979, had recorded a song called “Zimbabwe.” Marley begins, “Every man got a right to decide his own destiny / And in this judgment, there is no partiality / So arm in arms, with arms, we’ll fight this little struggle / ’cause that’s the only way we can overcome our little trouble.”
But my favorite take on the revolution that made Rhodesia Zimbabwe and resulted in Robert Mugabe taking power comes from comedian Richard Pryor. “Black people kicked ass over there!” he says in a 1983 routine. “They happy, too! You walk down the street, they just smiling!” He then speaks as a Zimbabwean: “Hello! Oh, they don’t (bleep) with us no more, no.”
How many years ago was it that the promise of liberation gave way to the reality of despotism? Mugabe, the man who led the revolution, showed himself to be vastly more interested in power than freedom. And people all around the world have had to grapple with the reality that the people who seize power are the people you don’t want to have it, the people who won’t let that power go.
Most of us in the United States are currently processing disappointment with somebody. Public figures we respect are being exposed one after another for doing despicable things. But that disappointment can’t compare to the disappointment of one’s liberation movement going kaput and one’s liberator turning oppressor. What happens to our dreams of freedom if the people who fight to free us turn around and make our lives hell?
On Wednesday, Zimbabwe’s military carried out what they are calling a “correction.” (They’re assiduously avoiding the word “coup.”) They placed the 93-year-old Mugabe and his 52-year-old wife, Grace Mugabe, under house arrest. They’ve vowed not to harm him. In fact, Mugabe, who serves as the chancellor of Zimbabwe Open University, was allowed to hand out degrees to graduates Friday. Some observers suggest Mugabe’s appearance was meant to reemphasize the military’s position that it’s not a “coup.”
Also, a producer of BBC Africa wrote Friday, Zimbabweans respect their elders. In the international community, Natasha Booty writes, “some see (Mugabe) as nothing more than a despot. But while Zimbabweans have been the ones to suffer first-hand, many still feel a lingering respect for the man who delivered them independence.“
Zimbabwe used to be called the “Breadbasket of Africa,” but under Mugabe’s dictatorial reign, it eventually lapsed into widespread poverty and astronomical inflation. In 2008, when a loaf of bread in Harare was selling for 35 million Zimbabwean dollars, Mugabe ordered his government to begin printing a $200 million bill. Journalist Tinashe Mushakavanhu says that in 1980 a Zimbabwean dollar was equal to a U.S. dollar. But in 2009, Mushakavanhu writes, Zimbabweans began using their country’s currency as toilet paper. And there’s nothing to suggest he meant that figuratively.