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A Predictable Tragedy

Robert Mugabe and the Collapse of Zimbabwe

By Daniel Compagnon

Publication Year: 2011

When the southern African country of Rhodesia was reborn as Zimbabwe in 1980, democracy advocates celebrated the defeat of a white supremacist regime and the end of colonial rule. Zimbabwean crowds cheered their new prime minister, freedom fighter Robert Mugabe, with little idea of the misery he would bring them. Under his leadership for the next 30 years, Zimbabwe slid from self-sufficiency into poverty and astronomical inflation. The government once praised for its magnanimity and ethnic tolerance was denounced by leaders like South African Nobel Prize-winner Desmond Tutu. Millions of refugees fled the country. How did the heroic Mugabe become a hated autocrat, and why were so many outside of Zimbabwe blind to his bloody misdeeds for so long?

In A Predictable Tragedy: Robert Mugabe and the Collapse of Zimbabwe Daniel Compagnon reveals that while the conditions and perceptions of Zimbabwe had changed, its leader had not. From the beginning of his political career, Mugabe was a cold tactician with no regard for human rights. Through eyewitness accounts and unflinching analysis, Compagnon describes how Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) built a one-party state under an ideological cloak of anti-imperialism. To maintain absolute authority, Mugabe undermined one-time ally Joshua Nkomo, terrorized dissenters, stoked the fires of tribalism, covered up the massacre of thousands in Matabeleland, and siphoned off public money to his minions—all well before the late 1990s, when his attempts at radical land redistribution finally drew negative international attention.

A Predictable Tragedy vividly captures the neopatrimonial and authoritarian nature of Mugabe's rule that shattered Zimbabwe's early promises of democracy and offers lessons critical to understanding Africa's predicament and its prospects for the future.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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pp. 1-7

When the Zimbabwean flag was raised officially in the early hours of 18 April 1980, symbolizing the dawn of a new era and the end of a bitter liberation war, who could have imagined then that the crowds cheering their hero—Robert Mugabe—would come to hate him some thirty years...

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1. Authoritarian Control of the Political Arena

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pp. 8-45

Contrary to a view commonly held in the media and by some observers— that there was a sudden turn of events in 2000, supposedly reversing a previous trend toward democratization—the political system set in place at independence and throughout the 1980s was authoritarian in...

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2. Violence as the Cornerstone of Mugabe's Strategy of Political Survival

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pp. 46-79

Violence was crucial for ZANU-PF to secure victory in both the parliamentary elections in June 2000 and the presidential election in March 2002, and once again in the 2008 presidential run-off (although systematic rigging also played a determining role, especially in presidential...

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3. Militant Civil Society and the Emergence of a Credible Opposition

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pp. 80-117

Although some opposition parties existed prior to 1999, none succeeded in breaching the ZANU-PF monopoly. Indeed, the Movement for Democratic Change is ‘‘the first substantive opposition party to emerge [in Zimbabwe] in the last 20 years.’’1 However, the positive legacy...

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4. The Media Battlefield: From Skirmishes to Full-Fledged War

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pp. 118-140

A feeling of freedom flourished when, at Independence, the ZANU-PF government announced its determination to remove the Rhodesian Front regime’s strict state controls on the media. ‘‘Not only will the media be genuinely free in an independent Zimbabwe; they will also be...

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5. The Judiciary: From Resistance to Subjugation

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pp. 141-165

Since Independence the judiciary has often been under attack, including the harassment of individual Supreme Court and High Court judges, some of which was documented by human rights NGOs such as the CCJP and LRF.1 In fact, Mugabe’s regime never really accepted the principle...

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6. The Land ''Reform'' Charade and the Tragedy of Famine

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pp. 166-190

‘‘Land reform’’ is an inappropriate name for a political strategy that has little to do with rural development or the black peasants’ alleged hunger for land. Reclaiming the land has been a mobilization slogan ever since the liberation war,1 and it is now a political weapon against the regime’s

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7. The State Bourgeoisie and the Plunder of the Economy

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pp. 191-220

It is difficult to reconcile Stephen Chan’s recollection of the simple lifestyle in 1980 of Teurai Ropa (Joyce Mujuru) and her husband Rex Nhongo (General Solomon Mujuru)1 and their current position as prominent businesspeople.2 In their own way they exemplify the success...

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8. The International Community and the Crisis in Zimbabwe

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pp. 221-253

The deepening crisis in Zimbabwe became an international issue as early as 2000, both within the region and in terms of Europe/Africa relations. Not only were some of the white farmers who were victims of violence foreigners, with their plight attracting sympathy in the Western press and...

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Conclusion: Chaos Averted or Merely Postponed?

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pp. 254-270

Whether 2008 was a pivotal moment of change for Zimbabwe, signaling the end of the crisis opened by the February 2000 referendum, remains undecided more than one year after the coalition government between ZANU-PF and the two MDCs was sworn in. ...

List of Acronyms

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pp. 271-275


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pp. 277-328


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pp. 329-333

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p. 335

This book would never had been written without Diana Mitchell’s friendship and support to my research activities in Zimbabwe, her and Brian’s wonderful hospitality, and her careful editing of the draft at various stages of completion. Although I bear responsibility for the ideas...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812200041
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812242676

Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 794700571
MUSE Marc Record: Download for A Predictable Tragedy

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Subject Headings

  • Mugabe, Robert Gabriel, 1924-.
  • Zimbabwe -- Social conditions -- 1980-.
  • Zimbabwe -- Economic conditions -- 1980-.
  • Geschichte 1980-2009. -- swd.
  • Zimbabwe -- Politics and government -- 1980-.
  • Zimbabwe -- History -- 1980-.
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