Robert Mugabe. . .What Happened?
“Robert Mugabe. . .What Happened?” is a longitudinal study by articulate, charming director/filmmaker Simon Bright, who has spent many years in the country, of the longtime president of financially hectic Zimbabwe, is a daring recap of the life and times of President Robert Mugabe, going back to his earliest revolutionary beginnings, with original archival material that is fairly staggering, smuggled out in many cases, long-buried, cataloged and forgotten, hidden for fear of death–given how dangerous negative footage of Mugabe has become over the years since the once-rich resources state transitioned from British Southern Rhodesia in 1980 to what it is now. Today Zimbabwe is a robber-baron fiefdom of Mugabe and his favorites. The farms that were for years the fertile breadbasket of Africa have been ravaged and depleted by squalid mismanagement forced on them by government’s ousting and massacre of most White farm owners and their loyal assigns. Anyone who could flee has long fled.
My own experience there was one of constant concern that the food situation even for visitors, not to mention locals, was dire. Lassitude engendered by hopelessness was a daily accompaniment. Food was scarce. Commodities of all kinds are black market or absent. Successive waves of devaluation of the Zim dollar, alternating with inflation from overprinting of worthless paper money, have defeated efforts by the citizenry to climb out of devastating poverty. One beer cost the purchaser in the realm of several billion Zim dollars. Investment in the country’s infrastructure is out of the question. Printing billions of ultimately worthless dollars does nothing more than further bankrupt this formerly fertile land to the north of the Union of South Africa. Endemic corruption and self-acclaim by an increasingly nonresponsive leader have plunged the nation into a downward spiral that is alleviated only, in the film, by the surprising elegance and suave gentility of this brutal hegemon to outsiders. His manner, speech and training to outsiders remain genteel, ever British and correct, while his rule over his people retains the feral obliviousness and life-defying coarseness of many such corrupt self-promoters throughout the continent. A constant surprise is the remarkably brave finds and clips of important political and business leaders, who are beyond articulate and analytical as to the endless sins of regime and its volatile leader. As with so many territories in Africa, the populace cannot wait for the death of the president, hoping for the nebulous better country candidate, if and when that prayed-for wish materializes. The film is riveting, painfully hard to take, and an important documentation of the past 35-some years in this now-forlorn and unforgivably dangerous land.
In English, Ndebele and Shona, with English subtitles.