Jean-Jacques Cornish

We did not believe Robert Mugabe would quit

by Jean-Jacques Cornish

There were many of us who did not believe – whatever the reliable wire services were reporting – that Robert Mugabe was going to step down as Zimbabwe’s President yesterday.

Interestingly, we were invariably those who have met and spoken to the 93 year old.

Robert Mugabe is probably the most stubborn man I have met.

In the days when his political star shone bright, he could afford to be.

In our first interview in Maputo 41 years ago, he said his  Mozambique host Samora Machel has taught him the invaluable lesson to retain white farmers and entrepreneurs.

In power 15 years later, to ward off a threat from a burgeoning opposition he launched land grab that turned his country from the regional bread basked into the continental basket case.

At the Lancaster Conference in London in 1979 he had his host Lord Carrington, the British Foreign Secretary over a barrel.

Every time deadlock loomed, Mugabe would pack his papers and lead his team out.

He knew there could be no settlement without him.

On the few occasions I spoke to him in Harare, Mugabe knew he had the whip hand with overwhelming support from the military and the ruling party.

This enabled him to insult and belittle British premier Tony Blair, Botswana’s President Ian Khama and anyone else he perceived as a dangerous opponent.

Many years have passed and the glaring defiance has evidently dimmed.

He has repeatedly overplayed his hand. And, more fatally, he has allowed his South African-born typist wife to play hers.

Approaching his 94th birthday, the longest serving head-of-government on the planet has obviously not grasped the reality that his actions, and those of his wife, have stripped him of friends, allies and supporters.

Mugabe will be impeached this week.

The ruling ZANU PF will make sure of it.

So will Zimbabwe’s military, desperate to avoid having the African Union officially characterise its actions as a coup which would automatically red-card the country.

What Mugabe will not be be able to do is effect a dignified exit.

And he will find it infinitely more difficult to achieve the shelter he is seeking in Singapore for himself and his wife, who has been expelled from Zanu PF.

Some find this sad.

The majority, however, are saying what Zimbabweans finally dare to go to the streets to declare: good riddance.

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Jean-Jacques Cornish is a journalist and broadcaster who has been involved in the media all his adult life.

Starting as a reporter on his hometown newspaper, he moved briefly to then Rhodesia before returning to South Africa to become a parliamentary correspondent with the South African Press Association. He was sent to London as Sapa’s London editor and also served as special correspondent to the United Nations. He joined the then Argus group in London as political correspondent.

Returning to South Africa after 12 years abroad, he was assistant editor on the Pretoria News for a decade before becoming editor of the Star and SA Times for five years.

Since 1999 he’s been an independent journalist writing and broadcasting – mainly about Africa – for Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape
Talk, Radio France International, PressTV, Radio Live New Zealand, Business Day, Mail & Guardian, the BBC, Agence France Press,
Business in Africa, Leadership, India Today, the South African Institute for International Affairs and the Institute for Security Studies.

He has hosted current affairs talk shows on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk. He appears as an African affairs pundit on SABC Africa and CNBC Africa.
He lectured in contemporary studies to journalism students at the Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Pretoria.

He speaks on African affairs to corporate and other audiences.
He has been officially invited as a journalist to more than 30 countries. He was the winner of the 2007 SADC award for radio journalism.

He’s been a member of the EISA team observing elections in Somaliland, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Egypt and Tunsiai.

In October 2009 he headed a group of 39 African journalists to the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Peoples’ Republic of China.

In January 2010 he joined a rescue and paramedical team to earthquake struck Haiti.

He is immediate past president of the Alliance Francaise of Pretoria.

Jean-Jacques is a director of Giant Media. The company was given access to Nelson Mandela in his retirement years until 2009.
He is co-producer of the hour-long documentary Mandela at 90 that was broadcast on BBC in January 2009.