I sat in a home on a farm in Zimbabwe a few years after Robert Mugabe became President of that beautiful country. The family tearfully recounted how a year earlier thugs had burst into their home, demanding they hand over their farm. When they refused, their father was shot dead.
It wasn't an unusual occurrence. Mugabe inflamed tribal dissension and his Shona people were drunk with power.
The family were unable to sell their property immediately despite it being highly productive. They were part of a group - the Zimbabwe Farmers Union, buying white-owned farms for settling young black, university trained, farm cadets attempting to rectify the imbalance of black/white farm ownership – an initiative that failed, simply because it was driven by white farmers.
The recent death of Mugabe reminded us what an evil tyrant he was, a merciless dictator who enriched himself and his family at the expense of his people.
Mugabe's legacy is mob rule more brutal than anything Zimbabwe had experienced during the conquest by British imperialist Cecil Rhodes a century earlier. Mugabe turned his spite on the Ndebele minority in the province of Matabeleland. The Ndebele, 25 per cent of Zimbabwe's population, were supporters of Joshua Nkomo, the leader of an opposition party. At least 25,000 were slaughtered using North Korean trained soldiers who raped and butchered their way through the country. Many were shot dead after being forced to dig their own graves.
Mugabe was not simply another tin-pot, African dictator. He was a sociopath who had no scruples, holding power by murdering, torturing, theft, starvation — he had no objection to any of them. He declared he was "Hitler, tenfold". Rape was a favoured tool to retain control. The stories were unthinkably cruel and vicious.
In 2002, journalist Christina Lamb, working for the Telegraph, wrote on the punishment meted out to "Dora", a 12-year-old whose father had made the mistake of voting for a party other than Mugabe's.
"The game we are about to play needs music," the Zimbabwean police constable said to the 12-year-old girl. For four hours the girl's mother and sisters, aged 9 and 7, were
forced to chant praises to Robert Mugabe and watch Dora being gang-raped by five "war
veterans" and the policeman.
"Every time they stopped singing the rapists beat them with shamboks," said Dora, crying
and clenching her hands as she recalled the ordeal happening behind her family hut. "They kept thrusting themselves into me over and over again, saying, 'This is the punishment for those who want to sell this country to Tony Blair and the whites.' When they had finished it hurt so much I couldn't walk."
Dora was raped because her father supported the opposition Movement for Democratic
Change. He was not a party official, just a simple carpenter who had mistakenly believed that he lived in a country where he could vote for whom he liked.
The world looked away. The country became a banana republic where bread, if it could be found, cost millions of local dollars. Inflation hit billions of per cent and Mugabe's ZANU-PF - hand-picked family members and grovelling sycophants, struggled to control their economy.
A once beautiful country, the bread basket of central Africa had become a hell hole. As whites were evicted, food production collapsed. The banking sector also collapsed and unemployment rose to 80 per cent. Black markets thrived. The poor starved to death.
Meanwhile, Mrs Mugabe travelled to Paris, shopping for Gucci items to add to her oversized wardrobe.
When Mugabe took power in 1980, he said, "If yesterday I fought as an enemy, today you have become a friend and ally with the same national interest, loyalty, rights and duties as myself."
Zimbabwe, he pledged, would embrace democratic tolerance. He quickly turned his back on such rhetoric. He was a vile racist, he considered the Jews the source of their economic woes, and he labelled homosexuals "lower than pigs and dogs". His treatment of whites was horrific but he was more brutal towards other tribes. Mugabe didn't care. His atrocities were conducted openly. The world knew but failed to act, relying on a few sanctions that had little impact.
Even when he was overthrown he was allowed to live comfortably and enjoyed special treatment in a Singaporean hospital until his death last Friday.
Now living in Australia, the family who saw their father shot in his home by power-drunk
executioners will close off the horrifying chapter in their lives and hope for better days back in their beloved Zimbabwe.
• Owen Jennings is a former president of Federated Farmers and was an Act Party MP from 1996 to 2002