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Mugabe: freedom fighter and friend’

PUBLISHED: 12:27 01 May 2008 | UPDATED: 14:43 25 August 2010

Bob Ogley

 my Uganda driving licence when I was trying to drive home across Africa.

Bob Ogley my Uganda driving licence when I was trying to drive home across Africa.

KENTISH Times columnist Bob Ogley has admitted he never could have imagined the turmoil that has devastated Zimbabwe under the tyrannous rule of his former friend Robert Mugabe.

KENTISH Times columnist Bob Ogley has admitted he never could have imagined the turmoil that has devastated Zimbabwe under the tyrannous rule of his former 'friend' Robert Mugabe.

The Times historian met Mugabe on a number of occasions when he was working for a white newspaper in the country, then known as Rhodesia, in the 1960s.

Currently 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 fallen short of enough votes to avoid a leaders' run-off.

However, 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' image that most people now associate with the dictator.

Ogley said: "He used to come into my office with press releases. He'd often chat to me in the reception area and I learned much about his background."

He added: "You've got to remember that I'm looking at this from hindsight. We know what a monster he's become but then 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 the country was going to have the expertise or experience to run it 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).

Bob 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 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.

"The country wasn't exactly failing just that there were hiccups. There was a feeling was that one day in the far, far future Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) would've been given independence.

"However, it didn't evolve like that at all. The federation broke up, Ian Smith took over and declared UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence), severing the country's links with the British Crown. The whole thing was a fiasco from then on.

"I've been back once, some years ago, and I was pretty appalled. 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 again but it will never be as it once was. 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.

l Read more of Bob's memories of Mugabe in Times Past on pages 16&17.

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