Mugabe Villain or Hero? Alexa Dalby Reviews a New Documentary Film by a Ghanaian-British Film Maker That Examines How and Why Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe Is Both Villified as Well as Admired, Even Adored, by So Many

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TALKING ABOUT ZIMBABWE'S PRESI-dent Robert Mugabe, Roy Agyemang, a Ghanaian British documentary maker, says: "Here's a man who was nominated for a Nobel Peace prize in 1981, given a knighthood in 1994 and yet in the UK, he is a villain. I wanted to find out what was behind the headlines."

Agyemang arrived in Zimbabwe in 2007 to interview the octogenarian. He led the first Western film crew to whom Mugabe had given unprecedented 'access all areas', following the banning of the BBC and CNN.

"I wanted to bring balance to the story. In the film, you hear comments unheard in the Western news media before--people talking favourably about Mugabe. I wanted to get a sense from people on the ground of to what extent does he actually have support?"

Little did Agyemang know then that three years later he would still be there and that his life would change.

Through his Zimbabwean fixer and producer, ex-banker Garikayi Mushambadope, Agyemang got his accreditation to join the presidential entourage. Mugabe seemed well disposed to him--his first wife, Sally, was Ghanaian and he had taught in Ghana. But despite Agyemang's engaging manner, he says his English accent made those closest to Mugabe suspicious and it was two years before he got his interview.

The film that resulted, Mugabe: Villain or Hero?, vividly mixing new material with well-chosen archive footage from independence onwards, had a preview screening in London at the British Film Institute to three standing ovations and is being screened this month in international acting star Danny Glover's Pan-African Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Agyemang doggedly trailed Mugabe through the time of sanctions, an election, hyperinflation and the replacement of the Zimbabwean dollar with a basket of currencies, food shortages and both media and economic wars. So much time passed that he began to doubt if Mugabe knew a film was being made. He filmed him in public addressing ecstatic crowd at congresses and rallies, returning from Libya on Colonel Gadaffi's private jet, welcoming Senegal's President Wade, and at private receptions.

His footage of Mugabe is linked by comments from ministers and ex-ministers, journalists, political commentators, the chairman of the war veterans' association, the governor of the reserve bank and ordinary citizens.

The film views Mugabe first through the prism of his land and wealth redistribution policies--the seizure of white-owned farms that triggered sanctions and suspension from the Commonwealth. Britain had reneged on the Lancaster House agreement. What is wanted, Mugabe said, is "for Britain to come out and say they were wrong. Because they knew they were wrong, they thought of how they could punish this man, this dictator Robert Mugabe."

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Speaking of the need to do the same in other countries, he became a threat to Western interests in Africa. It was, in effect, a 'war' for economic independence with its battles fought to retain control of Zimbabwe's natural resources.

Relations with MDC

The second strand is Mugabe's relationship with the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change), formed in 1999. Its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, the film comments, had a confrontational approach to Mugabe, telling a televised rally: "If you don't want to go peacefully, we will remove you violently".

Some of Mugabe's supporters suspected the MDC of being a Western-funded puppet, Agyemang comments, something MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa denies in the film, and some feared Tsvangirai would reverse the land policy if elected president. Tsvangirai is beaten by the police, which, in an interview, Police Commissioner Auguste Chuhuri does not deny.

The elections, in which neither side got a sufficient majority, are adjudged by independent observers to be free and fair--even the ballot boxes are translucent--but were seen by some as a missed opportunity to remove Mugabe, the film comments. …