The Grammy Award for Album of the Year went to Billy Joel’s 52nd Street; Dallas was the most popular soapie and Ted Turner founded the first all-news TV network, CNN. Ronald Reagan became US President.
The year was 1980, when Comrade Robert Gabriel Mugabe became Prime Minister of Zimbabwe after decades of the white minority rule of Ian Smith.
The suave and well-spoken Mugabe sadly stayed way too long. It was probably only when his peer, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, visited that he finally got the hint.
Otherwise, praises and titles of “Your Excellency” this and “Your Excellency” that would have numbed the 93-year old to what was going on around him.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) dithered while Comrade RGM flipped his own heroics into a scandal and Zanu-PF contemplated its navel instead of finding his successor.
It was when he displayed an inclination to cannibalise fellow military veterans to make way for his own wife that everybody woke up.
Zanu-PF’s case of political sleepwalking is not the only one in SADC.
Whereas it is early yet to size up Emmerson Mnangagwa, this is the man who was speaker of parliament the last time an impeachment was attempted in 2000. He dismissed it as being “frivolous”, extending Uncle Bob’s tenure.
This gave us hyperinflation, the Marange diamonds catastrophe, over-indebtedness and a destabilised SADC. Think of where Zimbabwe could have been – even with a conservative economic growth rate of 3% since 2000.
For one, the giants of African business who are of Zimbabwean origin would have stayed there and made the country the rightful hub of SADC. Take Strive Masiyiwa, for example. After founding Econet Wireless in 1993, he built it into a multibillion-dollar empire with operations in 15 countries. Wikipedia lists London as his hometown, thanks to Comrade RGM.
Not that South Africa is complaining, but Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira is an asset to the Springboks and not his country of birth. CEO of Old Mutual emerging markets Peter Moyo; Sifiso Dabengwa; Trevor Ncube – this is a tiny sample of exceptionally talented Zimbabweans who are plying their trade elsewhere, mainly because of the 37-year long reign, which might still not have ended had the military not intervened.
Zimbabweans of all ages and professions are marooned in other countries, sometimes enduring inhumane Afro-phobic treatment at the hands of fellow Africans, because they were not able to stay in Zimbabwe.
During the days of hyperinflation, it was not the amusing trillion-dollar notes that punctuated the economic meltdown of Zimbabwe.
The mismanagement of the economy destroyed the livelihoods of pensioners, who found at retirement that their life savings and investments over more than 30 years of hard work had evaporated. This left them unable to afford bread, let alone enjoy their deserved retirement.
Imagine retiring, weak and unable to work any longer, only to be forced to toil some more for survival in an unworkable economy because of hyperinflation – caused by your liberation struggle hero.
There is more that could be said about the damage of Comrade RGM’s rule. Consider the series of massacres of Ndebele civilians in the 1980s, the Gukurahundi, and Operation Murambatsvina of 2005. All these happened while we watched and feted Comrade RGM as an icon.
President Mugabe is gone, yet we look on as questionable leadership ravages Burundi, Sudan, South Sudan, Togo, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa, among others. This has forced economic refugees to perish in the Mediterranean Sea in pursuit of a better life in Europe.
Now, except for Rwanda reportedly offering some refuge, we are doing nothing more than tweet about slavery in Libya.
We will wait; send ineffectual envoys to compile reports about sovereign states. Then we will accuse some colonial forces of destabilising us – ignoring the fact that they do so with our permission – before negotiating immunity from prosecution for despots.
It is not a curse or foreign interference any longer; it is us.