Billed as the definitive account of Robert Mugabe’s life, from director Simon Bright, comes Robert Mugabe… What Happened? – a film that had its World Premiere as the Opening Night film of the Encounters South Africa International Documentary Festival in Cape Town.
The film is said to dramatically illustrate Mugabe's successful liberation and development of the country (Zimbabwe) but also his ruthless and cunning retention of power at all costs.
For the film, several people were interviewed, including Trevor Ncube, Geoff Nyarota, Lovemore Maduku, Simba Makoni and the recently deceased Edgar Tekere in what was sadly his last ever interview.
It may come as a surprise to some that there was a time in Zimbabwe's history when Robert Mugabe was considered quite the heroic figure in continental Africa, after rising to prominence in the 1960s as a Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) leader in guerrilla warfare against white-minority rule in then Rhodesia. For his actions, he spent more than a decade in prison in the 1960s and '70s.
But in recent times, some have questioned the iron-fisted octogenarian's sanity, as he's ruled a government that could effectively be defined as a kleptocracy, ridden with violence against opponents, deadly disease, sky-high rates of unemployment and inflation, as many in the country have found themselves on the brink of starvation, while Mugabe's wife makes insensitive comments like, "I have very narrow feet, so I wear only Ferragamo."
All that said… I don't think I was the only one who let out a quiet cheer when I heard that Mugabe sought to rewrite the country's constitution to allow his government to confiscate white-owned land for redistribution to black farmers without compensation – essentially expropriating thousands of white-owned farms.
The act was of course denounced as racism against Zimbabwe's white minority. But Mugabe and his supporters saw it more as a kind of retaliation against white European imperialism, calling his white critics "born again colonialists;" and, again, some of us cheered, whether openly or covertly, fully aware of the unjust division of land between whites and blacks – a legacy of colonialism and white minority rule in Zimbabwe, and several other countries in the region. It certainly wasn't in support of Mugabe's overall record, but rather support for the rights of the nation's indigenous people to ownership of what is essentially their property.
Thousands of white farmers were told to leave their farmlands, with those refusing to comply, facing consequences, as Mugabe continued to insist that this "land redistribution" would continue, calling for the few remaining white farmers who failed to heed the previous call, to vacate their properties.
It was inevitable that this story would become fodder for some filmmaker's work of narrative fiction or non-fiction – and it came in the form of a British-made documentary aptly titled Mugabe And The White African, which, won the World Feature Grand Jury Price at the 2009 Silverdocs Film Festival, and the Jury Prize at the Hampton Film Festival that same year It also received nominations for the British Independent Film Award, the IDA Distinguished Features Award, and the Cinema Eye Award for Outstanding Achievement in an International Feature Film.
Robert Mugabe… What Happened? on the othe hand, appears to tell the full story, from the very beginning, and not just focus on the recent one, as the other film does.
It has been selected in competition to screen at FESPACO – the 23rd Festival Panafrican du Cinema et de la Television de Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso – next month, as it continues its international travels.
Trailer and poster below: