By Heidi Holland Tuesday June 24 2008
In exclusive interviews with brutal dictator, Heidi Holland gets inside the head of a lonely and bitter man abandoned by his father. Robert Mugabe has been cut off from his feelings ever since his carpenter father abandoned the family when Robert was a shy 10-year-old. Had his mother, Bona, been emotionally robust, he might have weathered the crushing abandonment. But she was (can you tell the writer is biased?) fanatically religious, having arrived at the Catholic mission station near Harare, where Mugabe and his siblings grew up, with hopes of becoming a nun. Although she had struggled with faith-based issues throughout her married life, Bona fell apart after the death of Robert's much-loved older brother, Michael, in 1934. "That was a terrible blow," Zimbabwe's octogenarian president told me, in a rare interview at State House, Harare, last December.
"It was poisoning, and Father Jerome O'Hea (the village's Irish headmaster, who became Mugabe's surrogate father) was very sad. He thought this boy was a genius. He was very bright, very bright intellectually. And also very athletic, which I wasn't. It was a sad loss."
Kutama was a centre of worship and opportunity but a demanding challenge for those children fortunate enough to win a place at St Francis Xavier, the top boys' school in the country.
He taught Kutama's illiterate tribespeople to regard the entire outside world (Highly doubtful) as an evil place that would engulf them unless they sought guidance through constant prayer. Mugabe told me: "In those days, the Catholics were living saints, or at least the church thought it could make them living saints. We lived in Christian villages. We were not allowed to go out... You could go out on a mission to see your granny, but you had to be back by 5pm." His mother, who was made to wear high-necked, ankle-length dresses under Father Loubière's regime, took all the church's teachings to heart.
"Our mother explained that Father O'Hea had told her that Robert was going to be an important somebody, a leader," said Donato. "Our mother believed Father O'Hea had brought this message from God; she took it very seriously. When the food was short she would say: 'Give it to Robert.' We laughed at him because he was so serious, until he became cross. Then our mother told us to leave him alone." Father O'Hea went out of his way to help the shy Mugabe child he described as having "unusual gravitas".
She left him in no doubt that he was to be the achiever who rose above everyone else; the (Divine Right of Kings?) leader chosen by God Himself. To become one of the most educated Africans in the country from the humblest of beginnings -- with no electric light to switch on at home and read by, seldom enough food to eat, and little support except from those whose ambitions robbed him of childish things -- was a triumph of discipline over adversity in the classic Jesuit style.