Robert Mugabe… What Happened?

‘What can you do to a hero, or to a father, who has gone wayward? Can you discipline your father?’

President Robert Mugabe rose out of colonial rule as the Mandela of his time, leading the country of Zimbabwe to independence as the father-figure of the nation. Under his government, and throughout the 1980s, the country flourished and grew into a major economic power within the region. Mugabe was courted by the world, even having tea with the queen.

However, this gradually started to change. Any political challenge was crushed with violence, leading to genocides, terror and mass fear of his political party, ZANU (PF). The tight grasp of power led to media control and, now infamously, to land reclamation, the closing of farms and agriculture – labelled as a race issue but driving the country into a downward economic spiral from which is has not recovered.

ROBERT MUGABE… WHAT HAPPENED?  is certainly the first film of its kind. Not only is it a fascinating attempt made to paint a picture of Mugabe as a man, through considered recollections of his intimate characteristics, but also an important history of the country as a whole. A wealth of footage is used effectively to put the Mugabe era into context. There is a startling transformation as the film progresses. The articulate, presentable, charming and even mild Mugabe in his youth, at the beginning of his political career, becomes the raving, almost nonsensical and rambling older man of recent times.

There is a startling transformation as the film progresses. The articulate, presentable, charming and even mild Mugabe becomes a raving, almost nonsensical and rambling, older man

It is surprising that director Simon Bright, in displaying the downfall of his homeland, is so restrained and objective. He lets the interviewees, statistics and figures speak for themselves. While he might have used the opportunity to lead an attack against Mugabe, he gives credit where it is due, and as the title indicates, simply asks, ‘What happened?’

To that, there is no answer and perhap what the film best identifies; despite an in-depth exploration of his history and his actions, Robert Mugabe is still shrouded in an element of mystery. There seems no reason behind his later actions, as evidenced by many of the interviewees giving conflicting statements as to his choices. Perhaps the most important point made is that Robert Mugabe is a man of contradictions.

ROBERT MUGABE… WHAT HAPPENED? will be showing as a special screening at the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse by the Cambridge African Film Festival on Sunday 22nd January, followed by a Q&A with Simon Bright.

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