Literature In The Shadow Of Mugabe’s Gallows


Rifling through a bookstore at an airport, I asked the bookstore guy where to find the “Africa” section.

You know the “Africa” section, right? There is the safari stuff, then the section with piles of books by white ex-soldiers; odes to their old days in one failed southern-African military enterprise or the other. This is that book genre which seems to have a common cover; the one with the rugged white soldier on the cover, in his RF camouflage, FN rifle at the ready, ready to kill him a few blacks.

And then, you find yourself standing mouth agape, in awe at the sheer number of “Mugabe books” there are. Meredith, Godwin, Holland, Wiener, Moorcroft, Norman, Blair. There’s one by Kevin Woods, “In the shadow of Mugabe’s gallows.”

Woods was “jailed for twenty years by Robert Mugabe,” the description says. And, we’re told, “for over five years of his detention he was held in the shadow of Mugabe’s gallows.”

Poor guy, I think to myself. All that punishment for the tiny offence of spying for apartheid South Africa, bombing Zimbabweans to bits, and plotting to kill Mugabe? This Mugabe guy is out of hand!

You see, it has to have that “Mugabe” menace to sell. “Mugabe’s gallows,” or “sentenced to jail by Mugabe” and stuff. Who’d buy it, if it was about some random spy with a shaggy beard?

And so the “Mugabe book” is a genre all on its own, mostly with a similar narrative: Mugabe – from liberator to tyrant, or some such.

Then there is  the most common sub-genre of the “Mugabe” book. This is the “I used to have a farm and life was wonderful and I even had black friends growing up but then Mugabe took my farm and now things are bad” book. You find this one everywhere you look in the “Africa” section of bookstores worldwide.

I saw a YouTube video promoting Peter Godwin’s book, “The Fear: The Last Days of Robert Mugabe” (I know, I know, allow people their hope). Publishers, said the narrator, asked them to promote the book. They had an idea. In a bookstore, they set up a sculpture depicting Mugabe’s head; each time someone listens to a recording of the author reading from the book, the head disintegrates.

The gory display worked, they boast: “The books sold out in twenty-four hours, a 214% increase on pre-display.”

Now, I thought, where would all these “Mugabe book” writers be without Bob the Tyrant? What would they have written about? Flower species of the Nyanga? The mating habits of the Kariba bream? How to skin a rabbit in three easy steps? Would those books be “sold out in twenty-four hours” too? Unlikely.

You can’t totally fault them though. They can only write their experiences, however limited their narrative is, however inspired by lost privilege they are. And our own ‘nationalists’ are apparently too busy at the feeding trough to be bothered by such mundane tasks as putting out their own takes on key moments in our history. More likely, it must be said, putting down their own truths in a book will see them dismissed promptly from said feeding trough.

So, wisely, they just do not bother.

And, so, in the gap, the “I used to have a farm” Mugabe book genre hogs the “Africa” section. Feeding stereotypes has always been good business.

So, who really wants him to go? The many millions of poorer victims of Zanu-PF’s violence and misrule certainly do.

But I bet, as poor old Rita Makarau read out that final vote tally that Saturday back in July 2013, secret fists went up in celebration.

Because, surely, where would this big money industry be if he exited the stage? People would have to find something else to write.

Shady businessmen would suddenly have to find real business to do.

Who wants that?

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