When does one let a little lie about Mugabe slip through?


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When does one ignore what appears to be a little lie?  This is the question I have been battling with since the death of former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe on 6 September.

I had been tracking Mugabe since he was removed from office in November 2017 because his health had suddenly plummeted. He aged by 10 or more years in just a few months.

Gone was the smart, immaculately dressed gentleman who had defied age.  In less than six months, his health had deteriorated so much that he looked just like any tired 94-year-old villager.

The sprightly 93-year-old who could run up the stairs of an airplane as he hopped from one capital to another was gone, replaced by a sad old man who could not even sit straight in a chair, his mouth drooling.

Mugabe had defied all sorts of odds. Now I wanted to see if Mugabe could do just one more thing- live longer than former South African President Nelson Mandela, the man he was often, sometimes unfairly, compared with.

Mugabe had been the darling of the West in Southern Africa until the arrival of Mandela.  He had been showered with 18 doctorate degrees by universities from across the globe. But all that was swept away when Mandela was released from 27-years of imprisonment to lead South Africa.

Mandela became the saint and Mugabe the devil incarnate. One report even said as far as the West was concerned, Mugabe was the third most evil man on earth after Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Osama bin Laden of Al Qaeda.

If Mugabe could just live longer than Mandela, I felt, he would have one up against the former South African leader. He did.  Mugabe lived 59 days longer than Mandela. Sadly he died outside his country, in Singapore, on 6 September, 199 days after his 95th birthday.

His death made headlines across the globe. He was a hero to some and a villain to others. I was still grappling with news of his death, trying to ascertain whether it was true or not, when my name suddenly popped up on my Google alerts.

Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s ‘hero’ who turned ‘villain,’ dies at 95, read the headline.

“He was a hero who turned into a villain,” said Charles Rukuni, a political analyst and publisher of The Insider newsletter, who’s based in Harare, the capital. “He ushered in independence and brought a lot of hope but destroyed everything he built.”

I should have been elated to be quoted by one of the world’s leading news agencies. But I had not talked to anyone about Mugabe’s death, not that day, not even that I could remember especially with the reporter and the news agency in question.

My first inclination was that I should let the little lie just pass. After all my name and publication had appeared in some of the leading newspapers in the world. This was good, free publicity. It also appeared that no harm had been done. But then I started asking myself seriously. Why should I let this lie go unchallenged?

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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