Rarely-seen archive fuels debate on years of Mugabe misrule

A new documentary film drawing on rarely-seen archive footage from Zimbabwe, has rekindled a debate about President Robert Mugabe's 30-year descent into misrule.

Simon Bright's 80-minute film, Whatever Happened to Robert Mugabe, premiered in South Africa as his ruling Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) used a regional summit in Johannesburg yesterday to disavow unity government Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, and push for elections as soon as possible.

Opposition leader Mr Tsvangirai, 59, became Prime Minister in 2009 under an agreement brokered by the South African Development Community to end a deadlock caused by Zanu-PF's dissatisfaction at its poor showing in the 2008 election. Zanu-PF told yesterday's summit that the agreement – which envisaged a range of constitutional and electoral reforms in the run up to free elections – was only for two years and has now expired. Some observers say Mr Mugabe, 87, is ailing and Zanu-PF want him well enough to campaign ahead of the next election.

Mr Bright said his film charts the fatherless, Jesuit-educated Mugabe's journey towards becoming Prime Minister of newly-independent Zimbabwe in 1980. It then looks at how a man who was feted by world leaders, including the Queen, ended up being written off as a pariah.

"I come from an activist family,'' said Mr Bright. "I refused to fight in the Rhodesian army and went to England. So when Mugabe came to power, he was a great hero to me, not least because I was able to return to my country. I joined the Agriculture ministry and later made films which were effectively Zanu propaganda.''

Bright's film includes rarely-seen Zanu-PF election broadcasts, including one that shows a car crashing into another as a warning of how badly things can go wrong if you don't vote for Mugabe's party.

Another memorable scene – presented as Africa taking Britain on a merry dance to majority rule – shows Zambia's music-loving President Kenneth Kaunda waltzing with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at the end of the 1979 Commonwealth summit in Lusaka. Mugabe is shown in younger days with his popular first wife, Ghanaian Sally Hayfron, who is considered by many to have been a benign influence until her death in 1992.

Mr Bright said: "The first 15 years [of Mr Mugabe's rule] were a series of magnificent achievements, then towards the end of the 1990s things began to change because Mugabe basically decided to stay in power."

Among those featured in Bright's documentary are Zanu founder Edgar Tekere who died last Tuesday. In his last interview, Mr Tekere said Mr Mugabe was strongly influenced by Sally and that, in her absence, he did not have the strength of character to stand up to liberation war veterans' demands for higher pensions. Their agitation for compensation in 1997 directly led to the occupation of hundreds of commercial farms and the departure of thousands of white Zimbabweans.

But another Mugabe critic, former guerilla leader, Wilfred Mhanda, insisted Mr Mugabe was always determined to hold on to power. Mr Mhanda insists the changing world order and Mr Mugabe's consequent creeping obsolescence in the eyes of the West was the biggest determining factor. "He did not change. Circumstances changed. The world no longer would tolerate his excesses," Mr Mhanda said.