HARARE – Watching President Mugabe deliver his speeches at Heroes’ Acre at the burials of Enos Nkala and Kumbirai Kangai, I wondered, rather idly if he ever thought of someone else delivering that kind of speech after he had passed on.
It is by no means mischievous or irreverent to have such thoughts. The man is not immortal.
Even he knows that one day, The Grim Reaper will announce, ghoulishly into his ear: “Come on, you are next.”
All of us mortals dread that moment. There must be only a few who declare they will stand up and respond boldly, if defiantly: “Yes, I am ready!”
Mugabe recalled, in each case, the role these two heroes played in the struggle for our independence.
I knew of Nkala from the beginning of the struggle. You could hardly avoid noticing him for he was loud and given to flamboyant and foul language, particularly in attacks on the settler leaders.
I first met Kangai in Zambia, where he was working for Zanu. In 2007, he and I travelled to Libya in a Zimbabwean delegation to a meeting sponsored by Muammar Gaddafi.
Kangai was the head of the delegation which included many Zanu PF cadres.
I was there to represent The Standard newspaper, of which I was then the deputy editor to Davison Maruziva.
The newspaper had no government ties whatsoever as it was part of The Zimbabwe Independent group. But Maruziva had apparently gone on such similar trips when he worked for Zimpapers.
Listening to Mugabe, though, my thoughts were catapulted to the deaths of George Nyandoro and James Chikerema.
I was even drawn to memories of Ndabaningi Sithole, the founding leader Zanu, after the break with the Joshua Nkomo-led Zapu.
Of all the nationalists of this period, I was closest to Nyandoro and Chikerema, whose initial legwork led to the formation of the Southern Rhodesia African National Congress (SRANC) in 1957, with Nkomo as leader.
I had an almost personal relationship with Sithole, who introduced himself to me when I was editor of The African Parade in Salisbury in the 1960s.
The result of our meeting was the serialisation of BUSI, Sithole’s novel about the life of his mother.
We kept in touch until we had lunch in Kingston, Jamaica in 1975, during the conference of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
Until his death a few years later, I had always wondered what kind of president of Zimbabwe he would have made.
I was always inclined to believe that he would be as different as possible from Nkomo or Mugabe. But we will never know, will we?
Mugabe’s long reign has had many critics. One major criticism has always been his alleged inability to go into dialogue with his opponents ? or to go to the extent of building something solid in that kind of unity.
Some critics have dwelt on his contempt of other leaders.
I could never forget his contemptuous question on Joshua Nkomo, at the height of the Gukurahundi conflagration: “Who is (Joshua) Nkomo, after all?”
He showed more or less the same lack of respect for such nationalist luminaries as Sithole, Chikerema, Nyandoro, Michael Mawema and many others whose role in the struggle received its due measure of praise from others.
Would there be a time when someone totally mesmerised with Mugabe would declare: “He re-created Zimbabwe from scratch!”
Next year, Mugabe will be 90 years old.
There are those who will insist that he is still going strong as ever, as clear-headed and mentally agile as before.
If they still want him in the saddle, then they must believe he is immortal.
Most Zimbabweans will probably respond to that with a sneer.