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Mandela and Mugabe: A Study in Contrasts

Mandela and Mugabe

[Robert Mugabe and Nelson Mandela]

Nelson Mandela has been hospitalized for more than a week and South Africans are on edge.

Robert Mugabe has controversially announced a quick July 31 date for elections in Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans are on edge.

Of course South Africans are on edge because they fear losing their beloved Madiba, the man to whom they still look as their lodestar and as the embodiment of their ideals if not South Africa’s current realities, and whose legacy politicians will constantly invoke and fight to claim in the years to come. Zimbabweans are on edge because they remember the 2008 election process, the violence that accompanied it, and the realization that Mugabe doesn’t plan to go anywhere. He sees himself as President For Life and he seems to think that he is immortal.

So once again the region is embroiled in Mugabe-inspired controversy. Anonymous Africa hacked the ANC’s website, blaming South Africa’s ruling party for complicity in enabling Mugabe’s bloody rule.

Even Mandela’s final resting place inspires debate and disagreement.

The two men will forever be placed together in history, Mugabe suffering by the comparison. There is an irony attendant with this juxtaposition. It is hard to recall, but Mugabe was once a liberation hero, and he and Mandela shared an aura. Indeed, once Mugabe was the elder statesman, and he has long resented being usurped by the long-imprisoned ANC leader. Yet usurped he has been. Mandela has been sanctified while Mugabe has been vilified. Both still are focal points in their country, one as an inspiration, the other a malignancy.

I’m heading to South Africa and (airport authorities willing) Zimbabwe after a week in London. As always, I look forward to doing some writing about southern African politics on location, to seeing how Zimbabwe is preparing for the elections, and to getting back to familiar surroundings in South Africa (likely mostly Joburg and Cape Town). I’ll post as often as possible (internet connections willing).



Derek Catsam

Derek Catsam is a Professor of history and Kathlyn Cosper Dunagan Professor in the Humanities at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. He is also Senior Research Associate at Rhodes University. Derek writes about race and politics in the United States and Africa, sports, and terrorism. He is currently working on books on bus boycotts in the United States and South Africa in the 1940s and 1950s and on the 1981 South African Springbok rugby team's tour to the US. He is the author of three books, dozens of scholarly articles and reviews, and has published widely on current affairs in African, American, and European publications. He has lived, worked, and travelled extensively throughout southern Africa. He writes about politics, sports, travel, pop culture, and just about anything else that comes to mind.

Areas of Focus:
Africa; Zimbabwe; South Africa; Apartheid