I’m no British clone, I’m African – Mugabe
19 November 2013, 11:42
Masvingo - Zimbabwe’s long-time President Robert Mugabe says
he doesn’t want anyone to be fooled by his impeccable Western style of dress
and his precise, teacherly use of English: He is African through and through.
“I am not British, I am not a colonial product because I am
a complete Zimbabwean,” he told graduates at Great Zimbabwe University near the
remains of the 13th Century walled city, for which Zimbabwe, the former colony
of Rhodesia, is named.
Addressing the students earlier this month, Mugabe had
typically harsh words for Africa’s former white rulers.
“They think their right is to rob others of their resources,”
he said. But black Africans have the right to their own natural wealth and must
“remain true” to local values after centuries of colonial rule that brought
foreign cultures to the continent, he added.
The ascetic, austere Mugabe is a tough critic of the West,
but he has been described as an anglophile and is known as a stickler for
ceremony and detail.
At the graduation, he wore a sash, robe and mortarboard,
academic regalia used in some of Britain’s most conservative universities.
Mugabe warns, however, that his Western appearance can
deceive. He said the nation’s former British colonisers thought he admired all
things British and had a British “way of thinking”.
After Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, “they said publicly
the problem with Mugabe is that he thinks like us,” said the 89-year-old former
teacher who was handed power as Zimbabwe’s first black leader by heir to the
British throne Prince Charles and the departing British colonial governor in
“How can I think like them?”
“Goodness me! How can I think like them?” said Mugabe. “I
would be a rotten thinker to think like them.”
But he does dress like them, and requires other Zimbabweans
to do so, too. Since 1980, Mugabe has insisted on a strict suit and tie dress
code among ministers and lawmakers in the Harare parliament.
The former guerrilla leader quickly abandoned Chinese-style
Mao jackets in favour of tailored business suits with colour-co-ordinated
neckties, breast pocket handkerchiefs and matching accessories, sometimes
including flowers in the buttonhole of his lapel.
Other post-colonial African presidents have observed Western
dress codes but few as elegantly as Mugabe. President Kamuzu Banda of Malawi,
who died in 1997, appeared in three-piece suits and a homburg hat but always
carried an African chief’s flywhisk, made of lion’s hair.
Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya switched between regular suits and
leopard skin shoulder wraps and headgear and also habitually carried a
flywhisk. Former South African President Nelson Mandela broke the mold,
preferring bright batik-style casual shirts, even on formal occasions.
Until Western travel and banking bans were imposed on Mugabe
and his party leaders to protest human and democratic rights violations about a
decade ago, Mugabe regularly visited the upscale Harrods department store in
London’s Knightsbridge district and Savile Row in Mayfair, the home of
Britain’s best bespoke tailors.
Mugabe’s love-hate relationship with Britain
Now he takes vacations in Malaysia and Hong Kong, Asian
clothing and tailoring hubs, and shops on trips to United Nations meetings in
New York and Geneva which are excluded from the travel bans.
At the annual state opening of parliament, Mugabe rides in a
vintage British convertible Rolls Royce, escorted by police on horseback
wearing colonial-style pith helmets carrying upright lances bearing flags and
The nation’s judges attend the ceremony in scarlet robes,
wearing traditional British wigs of bleached horsehair in the parliament house
originally built as a copy of the British House of Commons legislature at
Most Zimbabweans see no contradiction in Mugabe’s love-hate
relationship with Britain and the West which he stridently criticises and calls
racist at most state functions.
Top personalities mostly follow his sartorial example and
defend the use of large cars in the largely impoverished nation.
“There is status involved here. It is a mark of authority.
How can you be taken seriously and command respect if you are not properly
dressed and if you don’t have a proper car?” said Harare business leader Edward
Mugabe is a keen sports fan and remains patron of Zimbabwe’s
national cricket team though he no longer attends matches at the colonial Cape
Dutch-style Harare Sports Club across the street from his offices.
He once described the quintessentially British sport of
cricket as “a game every young Zimbabwean should learn to play. It is a civilising