Nelson Mandela and Robert Mugabe – A tale of two leaders


“This singular move has continued to earn Mandela much respect across the globe. And this is where most African leaders, Mugabe inclusive, get it wrong. It is rather sad that by perpetuating himself in power, Mugabe has rubbished every effort he made in the past towards fighting colonial overlords in his country”.

South African legend and Nobel peace laureate, Nelson Mandela turned 95 last month and expectedly the whole world was agog for this global icon. As he continues his recuperation from a recurring liver ailment, it is equally not surprising that the whole world is praying for his speedy recovery.

Talk of a man who is widely respected, loved and idolized the world over, Nelson Mandela is it! Bordering South Africa, the country of the Madiba, is Zimbabwe which shares similar colonial experience with South Africa.

Inside Zimbabwe is President Robert Mugabe, 89, the country’s ruler since 1980. Based on the outcome of the country’s recent presidential election, Mugabe has gotten his people’s mandate to extend his 33 years’ hold on power.

Mandela and Mugabe represent the link between Africa’s colonial and post -colonial history. Undoubtedly, these two men have defined the history of their respective countries in various ways and, indeed, shared lots in common.

They were both born in the colonial era and actually witnessed the various complications of colonial rule in their respective countries. They both had their earliest education at Christian mission schools and same Fort Hare University in South Africa.

They were both involved in a bitter struggle to end white minority rule in their respective countries. Similarly, they were both imprisoned for various numbers of years (Mandela, 27, Mugabe, 11) by the colonial governments in their separate countries for their anti-colonial activities.

Equally, they both led their respective countries to independence and served as the first post -colonial black leaders of their separate nations. The similarities between these two African leaders are rather endless.

However, despite their similar colonial experiences, the two leaders sharply differ in the manner in which they handled socio-political issues and other related matters in their separate countries after providence bestowed the leadership of their respective nations on them. Upon his release from prison in 1990, Mandela entered into negotiation with South Africa’s ruling white elites for a period of four years before apartheid was finally dealt a final crushing blow in 1994.

As the country’s first black president, Mandela became an apostle of national reconciliation. Irrespective of the ruthlessness of the apartheid regime in his country, Mandela was more interested in uniting the various groups in the country together in order to achieve his dream of a prosperous South Africa.

His encouraged his people to forget the bitterness of the past by forging ahead to build a united South Africa where all would have a sense of belonging irrespective of race and other interrelated dynamics.

On the contrary, while Mandela encouraged dialogue with the apartheid rulers in his country with a view to healing the wounds of the past and reconciling the various groups in the country, Mugabe, on his part, simply continue to launch a relentless attack on the white community in his country. As far as he is concerned, Zimbabwe’s whites are nothing but impostors who must not be given a conducive space to operate.

Unfortunately, Mugabe’s onslaught was not only against the white society in his country as the various black opposition groups, opposed to his prolonged stronghold on power in the country, have had to contend with serious realties of his iron hold on power.

Therefore, while Mandela chose the path of national re-union in his country, Mugabe would have none of that in his ‘kingdom’. The result is that, as South Africa continues to thread along the course of relative peace and socio-political stability, national harmony, socio- economic and political solidity remain a myriad in Zimbabwe. Today, South Africa is, unarguably, a giant of Africa, in many respects.

To deny the country’s leadership position in Africa is to deny the existence of air. It enjoys a relatively buoyant economy while its technological advancement is almost second to none in the continent.

Regrettably, same cannot be said of neigbouring Zimbabwe where a larg chunk of the populace has continued to live in abject poverty as all economic indicators keep pointing to a nation on the brink of socio-economic collapse no thanks to Mugabe’s uncompromising stand against western creditors.

Perhaps, the most intriguing of all the dissimilarities between these two sons of Africa is their respective perception of power. In a continent where majority of the leaders do many despicable things to perpetuate themselves in power, it is instructive that Mandela was contented with ruling for just a five-year term in office as he relinquished power in 1999.

His argument then was that South Africa, being a young democracy, needs a younger and dynamic leadership to steer her ship. That was how Thambo Mbeki succeeded him.

This singular move has continued to earn Mandela much respect across the globe. And this is where most African leaders, Mugabe inclusive, get it wrong. It is rather sad that by perpetuating himself in power, Mugabe has rubbished every effort he made in the past towards fighting colonial overlords in his country.

The assumption that no one else but him could steer the ship of the country, at 89 and after 33 years of being in the saddle, is nothing but a charade as he is no super human.

The tragedy of the African continent is that most of its leaders, especially those who have little or nothing to offer their people, have continued to tow the ignoble path of authoritarianism. Is it not funny that most of the leaders’ whose stay in power have pauperized their people would rather prefer to die in power rather than giving opportunities to others with fresh ideas to rule? For those who argue that Mugabe’s prolonged hold on power is as a result of the love and affection his people have for him, they need to be reminded that Mandela is equally held in high esteem by South Africans across racial divide.

That he is well loved by his people is further reinforced by the several outpouring of unsolicited affection, emotion and care being showered on him as he continues his battle with the liver ailment that has made him bedridden for months.

A good leader should know when to quit. Perhaps, more importantly, a good leader must invest quality time and resources in developing new crop of leaders for the purpose of progress and stability.

This is where Mandela differs remarkably from Mugabe. For the unusual feat of relinquishing power despite constitutional provision that allows him to run for another term of five years, Mandela is today a global icon while his country has continued to make healthy progress in all spheres.

On the other hand, Mugabe, rightly or wrongly, is mostly viewed as a despot ruling over a country grappling with economic decline, political instability, international isolation among others numerous other challenges. At 89, Mugabe needs a break.  Zimbabwe deserves a brand new beginning.

culled from