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Film review: Robert Mugabe... What happened?


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 Robert Mugabe is an enigma to his people, and the rest of the world. The Zimbabwean President who famously declared himself to be the ‘Hitler of Africa’ was once a hero and a role model to his people, and for fifteen years, he was.

Robert Mugabe

Simon Bright’s film, Robert Mugabe… What happened? attempts to pin-point the variables that have led Mugabe on the path to the destruction of his name, his politics, and his people, who he once fought so hard to protect.

Right from the onset, it is evident that Robert Mugabe… What happened? is the Zimbabwean director’s gift to the people of his country. With the clever use of parallel narratives, he educates his audience about the personal and political journey of President Robert Mugabe. This device gives equal weight to the depiction of Mugabe’s rise and his fall.

With the use of first-hand accounts and archived footage, the film takes its audience on a chronological time travel through Mugabe’s existence, from his early childhood; through to the man he is today.

By humanising Mugabe, the film goes some way to answering the question Robert Mugabe… What happened? In the media, Mugabe is often portrayed as almost a species of his own. During the latter years of his presidency, he has received heavy criticism from the press.

One of the many criticisms was on his controversial land-reform programme which resulted in human rights violations. The press have also highlighted that most of Mugabe’s politics is fuelled by his hatred toward the white race. By looking at the other side of the story, Bright reminds his audience that Mugabe is a human being, a man, a son, a father, a husband and most importantly, a victim of his generation.

The film also uses elements of comedy to tell its story, whether or not this was intentional, it illustrated a lot about Mugabe’s character and the way the western world addressed it. Laughs came as interviewees described Mugabe as a terrorist in one scene, with footage of him being knighted by Queen Elizabeth being showed directly after it.

Bright and his crew endangered their lives in order to make the film. The film was made without the permission of the Zimbabwean government.

For me, the film was interesting and informative, which is great because, I think that Bright’s intention for risking his life was to engage and inform. The use of authentic folk and contemporary Zimbabwean music drew my focus back in when it started to drift. My only criticism is that the film didn’t quite convey just how much damage and destruction Mugabe has caused to the nation of Zimbabwe.

Yes there were scenes of violence and brutality, but  in this post 9/11 world, today’s audiences are too desensitised to brutality on screen, and perhaps more or longer scenes of violence would have emphasised the struggle and pain that the people of Zimbabwe who are opposed to Mugabe are currently under.

That being said, Robert Mugabe… What happened? is a fascinating and haunting documentation of a man who has got away with murder, many times over. It tells Mugabe’s story honestly and truthfully and it is one of the best documentary film that I have seen this year so far.

For more information about the film its future screenings visit the site:

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