Robert Mugabe, the former Zimbabwe prime minister and president who died September 6 at age 95 in Singapore, had a bittersweet relationship with reggae and Jamaica. Artistes such as Bob Marley and Sizzla performed in the southern African country during his long reign, but in 2012 he disparaged Jamaican men as lazy and intoxicant.
Music producer and sound system operator, Everton “Caveman” Moore, who met Mugabe in 2010, remembers him as an “icon who we as Rasta look up to as someone who stan’ up for black liberation”.
Moore and Sizzla met Mugabe in Harare, the Zimbabwean capital, nine years ago. Sizzla was one of the artistes billed for events marking Mugabe’s 86th birthday in February that year; he performed at a show in Bulawayo.
According to Moore, Mugabe was not the monster he was portrayed to be in the media.
“Him greet wi wid a great vibration an’ remind us dat him visit Jamaica an’ was warmly received. There was no tyrant vibes wey wi hear ’bout, him talk ’bout Bob Marley an’ how him help bring unity inna Africa,” Moore recalled.
Marley performed in Harare in April 1980 as part of Zimbabwe’s independence celebrations. That month, Mugabe was also declared the country’s first prime minister.
During the 1970s, he led African freedom fighters against the white power structure in Rhodesia, a racist, renegade State led by Ian Smith. Mugabe consistently cited Marley’s music as a motivator for his troops in their long struggle for independence.
Along with Samora Machel in Mozambique and South African Steve Biko, Mugabe was considered a hero in Jamaica for their fight against European colonization and apartheid in Africa.
In September 2012, at a function in Harare, Mugabe bemoaned growing laziness among young men in Zimbabwe. He reportedly said his country was in danger of becoming like Jamaica, where women were dominant because men are always “sloshed” due to heavy drinking and marijuana use.
Mugabe was awarded the Order of Jamaica in 1996 when he visited Jamaica. He was removed from power by military force in November 2017, ending a 37-year reign marred by corruption and reports of widespread violence against his political opponents.
Zimbabwe is one of the leading markets for dancehall and reggae in Africa. In addition to Sizzla, Coco Tea, TOK, Fred Locks and Wild Life have also performed there in recent years.
Moore lived in Harare for one year, operating a recording studio provided by Mugabe. There, he produced songs by several homegrown artistes, including Eyahra, Mike Inity and Rasi I.