Robert Mugabe’s village accepts, rather than mourns ouster

Friday November 24 2017

President Robert Mugabe

Young men gather outside a tavern in the childhood village of former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in Kutama on November 23, 2017. Kutama has been a heartland of deeply personal support for Mugabe. PHOTO | MUJAHID SAFODIEN | AFP 

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Residents of a village where Robert Mugabe was born, got married and has a house say he was a great leader — but express sorrowful acceptance rather than anger at his ousting.

Kutama, 90 kilometres outside Harare, has been a heartland of deeply personal support for Mugabe for decades, benefiting from his patronage and much-criticised land reforms.

“When I heard the news of his exit and seeing what was happening in the country, and things not going right, I thought, ‘Well everything has to end, he has to rest,'” Johannes Chikanya, Mugabe’s second cousin and a close childhood friend, said.

“Had it been me, I would have resigned while people still liked me. Now there are problems.”

Mugabe was born in Kutama on February 21, 1924 — with Chikanya born just three months later.

Chikanya fondly remembers how as a child, he used to share a bed and blanket on the floor with Mugabe, and even eat from the same plate as they grew up in the village.

Today Kutama, in contrast to many city streets or even highways, has smooth roads, recently re-surfaced with fresh black tar.

“We are very grateful for what he has done, the way he has looked after us until today. We hope things will continue just as good,” Tobias Sowero, 40, sitting in front of a shop, said.

But in much of the country, years of economic decline under Mugabe have left Zimbabwe’s infrastructure in ruins and almost no private-sector employment as agriculture collapsed and investors fled.

Some Kutama locals benefited from the seizure of white-owned commercial farms that is widely blamed for the economy’s implosion and the sharp decline in production.

“Even if others are complaining that there are no jobs, I’m happy about the land we were given. We are able to farm and look after ourselves,” 22-year-old Theophilus Chimanga said.

“I want to remember him for the land and the freedom he brought.”

Unlike in Harare and second city Bulawayo, there were no wild scenes of street celebrations in Kutama when news broke on Tuesday that Mugabe’s reign was finally over after 37 years.

“No, there were no celebrations here. We just accepted it quietly,” one businessman, who declined to give his name, at the village’s small shopping centre close to Mugabe’s house, said.

In Kutama, in the district of Zvimba, the gates of Mugabe’s usually heavily-guarded house were wide open, though reporters were denied access.