HOW could such a revered liberation icon turn into a hard – hearted and cold – blooded monster after leading his country to victory and offering reconciliation to his foes, especially the white community of Zimbabwe?

Is Mugabe a creation of forces beyond himself or has there been something sinister lurking behind the strong and revered liberator who wanted nothing but freedom for his people? Is Mugabe a creation of forces he could not run away from? Why did the rest of the world and Africa watch helplessly while Zimbabwe was turning into starvation and butcher land, with more than three million of its nationals fleeing the country, political opponents incarcerated and tortured or assassinated?

Dinner with Mugabe purports to offer the answers. I use the term “purports” because there are gaps that the author does not really explain clearly. Holland explores the social and political environment that moulded Mugabe.

Much as the book is about the turning of Mugabe into a monster of disastrous proportions, the author does not out rightly admit she wrote the book out of anger and seeks revenge through the might of the pen. Holland is a white Zimbabwean (read Rhodesian) who, like her surgeon husband fled Zimbabwe to South Africa. Her own husband became victim of Mugabe’s brutality after he disseminated information on his findings of horrible torture of the white military officers who were accused of blowing up Zimbabwe’s air force planes.

Holland dwells more on Mugabe’s unfortunate background. He is portrayed as a monster whose psychological imbalance is said to have its roots in the fact that he grew up a lonely child who was abandoned by his father. Holland after every few pages returns to the theme of Mugabe having grown up as a child doted on by his mother who inculcated in him the notion that he was specially chosen by God to lead the nation. Mugabe’s mother is portrayed as a religious zealot.

The book is also short of openly saying Mugabe’s Fifth Brigade massacred more than 20,000 Matebele people in the 1980s because Mugabe was punishing them for his father who abandoned his mother and married an Ndebele woman.

Holland repeatedly interviewed many people close to Mugabe over the course of his political years including those who have known him all his years. These included Zimbabwean sociology professor George Kahari who asserted that Mugabe developed a pathological hatred of his father when he deserted his mother and that his dependence on his mother is enough to explain Mugabe’s homophobia.

These were ingredients for tyranny which many failed to read and stop while they still could. But if Mugabe is such a murderous monster whose national intelligence services’ tentacles reach everywhere how honest and forthright would Holland’s interviewees be? Their answers and descriptions of Mugabe are not convincing.

In parts Holland is honest enough to put the record straight. She admits that despite the war having been fought, the whites were never told the truth about its causes. “They did not ask the right questions and nobody gave them the right answers, they had no interest in knowing. They were told it was a fight against Marxist communists and terrorists in order to safeguard Western Christian civilization. That is what they believed”, she writes. “Nobody told them that their ancestors had grabbed the land and killed people in the process.

Their psychological backwardness and lack of factual knowledge were a major part of the problems that gave rise to the war and that later arose to torment them again more recently over control of the land. But they never learnt. They thought all their rights and supremacy came with the colour of their skin”, pg132. After this I find it a contradiction that Holland later writes, “In fact, it was the unforgiving part of Mugabe that allowed the land grab and spoilt things not only for whites but for all those affected by the damaging policy”, pg 223.

Interestingly, despite portraying Mugabe as a monster Holland reveals that the West as well as the rest of Africa played a part in his creation. The new Labour government under Tony Blair incensed Mugabe when Clare Short the British minister in charge for foreign aid wrote a letter saying that the Labour government felt no obligation towards financing land reform. Mugabe is said to have developed a great dislike for the British after this.

It is thought to have opened the door for Mugabe to order farm invasions. Edgar Tekere dismisses this assertion by arguing that Mugabe was placed in an unenviable situation when war veterans questioned him on whose side he was on: the war veterans or white farmers?

The truth however, is that things began to go awry in 2000 when Mugabe was defeated in a national referendum on a new constitution. “Exploiting his vulnerability”, Holland writes, “The National Liberation War Association, a group of self – proclaimed ex – guerrillas, pressured Mugabe into giving its members cash, free medical care and education – then land. Suddenly, the government began forcibly redistributing commercial farms and ranches owned by whites.” Holland admits that “Armed thugs terrorised, assaulted and in some cases murdered the farmers”.

The Lancaster House agreement made the purchase of white – owned farms difficult during the first ten years after independence. Secondly, the Organization of African Unity, forerunner of African Union had implored Mugabe to desist from radical land reforms on grounds that it would prejudice progress towards black rule in South Africa.

Unbelievably, Dennis Norman one of Mugabe’s white ministers who later fell out with him is recorded as having remarked: “...at the time he was feeling let down by the Labour government in England, he was starting to lose influence and prestige at home. Not only was he well aware that the next generation was getting restive, but he’d also lost some of his aura when Nelson Mandela was released from prison in South Africa.

That hit him hard because he’d always been the kingpin in SADC for example, and then the spotlight shifted pointedly to Mandela. ...often saw his acute sensitivity to the intrusion of Mandela”, pg118.

Admittedly Mugabe has been an enigma to many, particularly the West. Perhaps he himself will need to write his autobiography to explain himself. Though I suppose characteristic of him he will reply, “You British stooge and the British can hang a million times!”

Dinner with Mugabe is a good read although it is hard to agree with everything in it, particularly if you are from the struggle background. PF