In 1981, when Albert Mugabe, younger brother to former president Robert Mugabe died, their uncle, Paul Matibiri, reportedly warned the then prime minister that if he was as selfish in leading the country as he was in wanting to be the only one deciding the funeral and burial arrangements, he would ruin Zimbabwe.
This, according to a close relative of the Matibiri family — which Mugabe belongs to — was one of the early signs that the long-time ruler, who was forced to resign last week after a week of protracted resistance against the people, was going to be a disaster to the country.
“I witnessed it when Paul warned Mugabe that if he continued to be selfish in ruling Zimbabwe, it would not work,” said the former Zanu PF leader’s relative who refused to be named.
During later years, Mugabe’s uncle James Chikerema was to issue warnings of Mugabe’s selfishness, that, according to him, dated back to their boyhood days, but by then the country had already started to trek down the path of destruction that eventually led to the once promising Zimbabwe becoming a pariah.
That is part of Mugabe’s story in his own home area in Kutama, Zvimba.
His own people — or at least those who were open enough to speak to The Standard — believe the man was so egoistic that he abandoned his clan and whole country for the love of remaining in power.
During his last days as president, Mugabe, who presided over the economic demise of the country, had all but done everything to cast himself as an icon of African economic independence despite having failed in his own country.
This is perhaps the same story that those in Zvimba can tell about how they feel Mugabe preferred to alienate himself from his kith and kin in his pursuit for national glory.
Interestingly, many of them were still scared of Mugabe and the wall he built around himself using security apparatus and they chose not to speak, preferring off- the-record interviews four days after his dramatic fall.
They were still to soak it in that the giant had indeed fallen and that no harm was to come their way for speaking openly about one of who ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist.
“It is like a dream that we are not going to see that long motorcade speeding down the road with menacing bodyguards,” said one villager near Kutama, Mugabe’s village.
“It is a relief for us that our area is not going to be associated with leadership failure anymore,” said another villager.
For some in areas like Murombedzi, a growth point some kilometres from Mugabe’s homestead, it was business as usual.
They were dancing to Jah Prayzah’s Kutonga Kwaro, a song that has become an apparent reference to the reign of the new president Emmerson Mnangagwa, a one-time ally of Mugabe who after being fired, came back to claim the throne after a military intervention.
Bars were teeming with revellers, all of them in a celebratory mood and openly rejoicing over the end of the Mugabe era, a scenario that would have been unthinkable a few weeks back considering the strong presence of state security agents in the 93-year-old’s backyard.
“Yes, we are happy that Mugabe has gone without any blood being shed. We respect him as our own and it would have been unfair had he been forced out of power with bloodshed. The good thing is that he got out in a dignified way,” said Shepherd Nyandoro.
Perhaps, as it seemed, Mugabe had divorced himself from his own people so much that they no longer saw him as their own, and in the end, all they had was fear rather than respect for him.
“We lived in fear. We could not say anything against Mugabe or Zanu PF. I would have voted for Mugabe in 2018, out of fear,” said a reveller at Murombedzi.
A sign that the cloud of fear was still hanging over the area, the news crew was warned not to proceed further towards Mugabe’s mansion in the area.
“Stop here, do not go any further, the place is restricted,” warned a villager.
Even the man who identified himself as Mauto, a relative of Mugabe and had passionate stories about the former president, confirmed the aged former leader’s inaccessibility to his own people.
“We rarely saw him in person, especially in the later years, but back then, although he never fully mingled with the people, we could see him,” he said.
“I think he was too old to handle the leadership and we hope he comes back home to his people and we can chat with him on an open fire like all village elders do.”
After tendering his resignation, Mugabe was immediately granted immunity and guaranteed of his safety by the new administration, which means he can stay in the country, and perhaps have one last chance to reconnect with his kinsmen.
Some said they were sceptical and feared nothing much would change and as they glued their eyes to the television to watch Mnangagwa’s inauguration speech, they remained hopeless.
“It is still Zanu PF and as long as it is the same party, it will continue on the same path of economic chaos and as much as Mnangagwa’s speech was brilliant, we have had these throughout Mugabe’s tenure and they never translated into action.
“What is needed is a complete change of government, or at least a change of ways of doing things in government,” said Tawanda Chipiko.
“Perhaps an inclusive arrangement where all political players will contribute will help us because as much as we are supposed to have elections, “I think what we need right now is to join hands and improve the economy.”
Far from the sentiments of his own people, the area around Kutama looks more developed, well- groomed, with most homesteads having electricity — a rare thing in rural areas — and a fine tar leads to Mugabe’s homestead.
What is clear, however, is the poverty that has become synonymous with Zimbabwean life.
As Mugabe ponders his life as a private citizen, it appears life goes on here in Zvimba, and, just like other Zimbabweans elsewhere, it appears hopes are now on the new government to deliver real economic transformation.