Academic journal article African Studies Review

Robert Mugabe. What Happened?

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Robert Mugabe. What Happened?

Article excerpt

Simon Bright, dir. Robert Mugabe... What Happened? 2011.84 minutes. English and local languages (subtitled in English). U.S. Cinema Guild. $295.00.

Robert Mugabe. . . What Happened?, directed by the U.K.-based Zimbabwean filmmaker Simon Bright, is a documentary chronicling Robert Mugabe's evolution from his peasant Catholic boyhood, through his days as a teacher in Ghana during the country's transition to independence, to the time when he, alongside the trade unionist Joshua Nkomo, became an advocate for the principle of "one-man-one-vote." The film follows Mugabe from the bush, during his freedom-fighting days, to his emergence as Zimbabwe's first president.

The film opens with a quotation from Friedrich Nietzsche cautioning that "he who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster." It moves to the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, whose defaced majesty seems to provide the appropriate metaphor for the narrative: the narrator reflects that "Monomotapa has long passed into history. And the ancestors who haunt these stone dwellings may contemplate in horror the fear unleashed on the land." Indeed, fear has been omnipresent in the long complicated history of Zimbabwe, but our narrator does not dwell on the nature, origin, and aspects of that fear. On the surface, Bright's film seems like a linear chronology of significant events (pleasant and unpleasant) that have marked Zimbabwe's existence, beginning with the bitterly fought struggle between white Rhodesians and black Africans which transformed the former British colony to an independent state under the stewardship of the film's protagonist and villain. But as the film unfolds one begins to detect, somewhere between the lines, its trove of archival material notwithstanding, some answers to the question the filmmaker poses in his title, as well as the direction of his sensibilities and sympathies.

According to Bright's depiction, Robert Mugabe is a monster beyond redemption, and he sets about to illustrate how this former teach er-turnedliberation hero, and subsequently Zimbabwe's first leader, squandered an opportunity to transform this former gem of the British crown from regional breadbasket to a place of despair. But Bright doesn't stop there; he charts Mugabe's trajectory from his early days as the young dapper Afro-Anglophile, flip-flopping between democratic ideals and socialist values, to his current status as head of the pariah of the "international community. …

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