MY PAL MUGABE'
PUBLISHED: 17:59 30 April 2008 | UPDATED: 09:42 23 August 2010
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KENTISH Times and Reporter columnist Bob Ogley has admitted he never could have imagined the turmoil that has devastated Zimbabwe under the tyrannical rule of his former friend Robert Mugabe. The popular historian and author met Mugabe when he was wor
KENTISH Times and Reporter columnist Bob Ogley has admitted he never could have imagined the turmoil that has devastated Zimbabwe under the tyrannical rule of his former 'friend' Robert Mugabe.
The popular historian and author met Mugabe when he was working for a 'white' newspaper in the country, then known as Rhodesia, back in the 1960s.
Today Mugabe's Zanu-PF party is under increasing pressure to relinquish its stranglehold on the country after the results of the March 29 election recount confirmed the tyrant has lost control of parliament in Zimbabwe.
Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party is thought to have won, but a recount is being officially vetted this week to see if Mugabe loses power.
Former journalist Mr Ogley says that his early impressions of the aspiring political activist, who he met while working on the Rhodesia Herald, were far from the commonly-held 'monstrous' conception that most people now associate with the dictator.
He said: "You've got to remember that I'm looking at this from hindsight. We know what a monster he's become.
"He was a very committed freedom fighter who had a crusade, a mission. He came over as very intelligent, very likable and determined. The sort of person you might like to know better.
"I was working for a 'white' newspaper owned by the Argus group of South Africa. It was the last days of the British Empire. There was a colonial feel about everything. We didn't think they were going to have the expertise or experience to run their own country well enough.
There were fears of corruption among the White people. Looking back is an entirely different feeling of what it was like at the time."
During his time in Rhodesia, Mr Ogley attended many meetings between the two nationalist parties, the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu) - for which Mugabe was secretary general to party leader Ndabaningi Sitole - and the Zimbabwe African People's Union (Zapu).
Mr Ogley insists that Mugabe's 'heart was in the right place' initially and that no one could have predicted the years of torment that were to follow his becoming Prime Minister back in 1980.
He said: "He was all for the idea of one man, one vote. Because there were almost eight million Africans and only a few thousand Whites, it would have given him an enormous majority. He just felt it was his country and that was fair.
"I couldn't have imagined anything like what went on to happen. It wasn't exactly failing, there were hiccups. The feeling was that one day in the far, far future Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) would've been given independence. But it didn't evolve like that at all. The federation broke up, Ian Smith took over and declared UDI, severing the country's links with the British Crown, and the whole thing was a fiasco from then on.
"I've been back once, some years ago, and I was pretty appalled then. I hired a car and toured the country with my wife. The amount of people suffering from AIDS or HIV was alarming. I would love to go back. It will never be as it once was. But I want to go back to a country that is not consumed by hatred, as it is at the moment."
This week the US condemned mounting violence and intimidation of voters, election monitors and the opposition by tyrant Mugabe's thugs.