Falkirk MSP’s memories of great uncle Matabele Mac

Zimbabwe Prime Minister Robert Mugabe receives his honorary degree from the University of Edinburgh at McEwan Hall in July 1984. To Mr Mugabe's right in picture is Principal Dr John Burnett and behind the Principal, David Steel.
Zimbabwe Prime Minister Robert Mugabe receives his honorary degree from the University of Edinburgh at McEwan Hall in July 1984. To Mr Mugabe's right in picture is Principal Dr John Burnett and behind the Principal, David Steel.

The downfall of 93-year-old Zimbabwean tyrant Robert Mugabe has a special resonance for Falkirk East MSP Angus MacDonald.

His great uncle John M Macdonald from Stornoway - known as Matabele Mac in Africa - was Mayor of Bulawayo (“The place of slaughter”), and an MP in Rhodesia, the country’s name before the end of apartheid and white supremacy.

The old regime championed by former Rhodesian premier Ian Smith was swept away, but the heady days of the new democracy soon gave way to tyranny.

Tribalism was a recurring theme - the Matabele were originally a splinter group of the Zulu nation who trekked across the Drakensberg Mountains in Victorian times.

Zimbabwe, as it was renamed after apartheid, moved from being the granary of Africa to being “an economic basket case” and failed state - in which the former colonial powers were routinely held to blame for every new disaster.

Commenting on social media, Mr MacDonald said: “I am fascinated by current events in Zimbabwe.

“Whilst accepting that ‘white rule’ in Rhodesia was ultimately wrong, it is also fair to say that corruption and Mugabe’s ego was Zimbabwe’s downfall.

“The country has a third chance to get it right under new President Mnangagwa, despite the fact he was responsible for the killing of 20,000 members of the Shona tribe in Matabeleland.

“In fact for many years a state of emergency had been in place in Matabeleland, and that region had been the theatre of mass killings and torture by the Mugabe army’s Fifth Brigade.”

He added: “Paradoxically, Mugabe ended up destroying not only what he had inherited from ‘white rule’, but also what he had built in the early years of the new Zimbabwe.

“Now we have Zimbabwe’s new president Mnangagwa vowing to ‘re-engage’ with the world.

“The Matabele Shona tribe have a saying: ‘You dance to the song that’s playing’.

“I genuinely and truly hope it works out for them this time. Free and open elections will be a start.”