Robert Mugabe, former president of Zimbabwe, has died, according to current president Emmerson Mnangagwa on Friday. He was 95. Mugabe was hospitalized in Singapore for several months this year and according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs he died at Gleneagles Hospital in the morning. Mugabe was considered the founding father of Zimbabwe.
Robert Gabriel Mugabe was born in 1924 in Kutama, Zimbabwe, when the country was a British colony called Southern Rhodesia. Mugabe’s first career was as a teacher. He taught and studied in various sub-Saharan countries in Africa. He embraced Marxism. He later returned to Rhodesia, which within a few years thereafter declared independence from the United Kingdom, but still under white rule.
Mugabe co-founded the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) to oppose the white minority rule, but was arrested in 1963 and was imprisoned until 1974. After his release, Mugabe led a militant guerrilla movement against Ian Smith‘s government; successful, Mugabe was hailed a national hero. He was also praised in the West.
Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe, serving as its first prime minister, 1980–1987; then as president, 1987–2017; for 37 years. He supported education, healthcare, and peasant farming, and a few years into his tenure, Zimbabwe had a strong economy and rising literacy rates and, according to CNN, was called the “breadbasket” of southern Africa But during these early years, Mugabe also became known for his violent treatment of opponents; the Gukurahundi massacres saw thousands if not tens of thousands of ethnic Ndebele killed.
When Mugabe assumed the presidency in 1987, he also became head of the armed forces and had successfully consolidated consolidated power over Zimbabwe. In the 1990s, he instituted a policy of confiscating land from white farm-owners and redistributing it. Some of those seizing the land were ostensibly veterans of the war and they would sometimes kill the farmers and the black laborers who worked there. Agricultural production decreased sharply and inflation inversely rocketed.
In 2000, a new threat to Mugabe’s rule emerged in the form of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Mugabe won a presidential election over Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC, but amid reports of violence and fraud, neither the European Union nor the United States would endorse the result. At the next elections in 2008, the MDC won a majority in the House of Assembly and both Mugabe and Tsvangirai claimed victory in the presidential vote, which again was marred by allegations of fraud and tampering. Refusing to give up power, Mugabe agreed to power-sharing in which Tsvangirai became prime minister. “Only God who appointed me will remove me — not the MDC, not the British,” he declared.
The following election in 2013 saw a substantial victory for Mugabe, and despite Tsvangirai’s allegations of widespread fraud, Mugabe ended the power-sharing. Soon after, however, rumors circulated he was preparing his wife — four decades his junior — to become his successor. Grace Mugabe was already unpopular for her penchant of flaunting an extravagant lifestyle in a country which was becoming increasingly poor.
After Mugabe fired his vice president, ahead of the 2018 elections, the army moved on November 15, 2017, having first placed Mugabe under house arrest. Nevertheless, Mugabe was able to negotiate immunity from prosecution, full diplomatic status and a fully staffed state-funded 25-room home, known as the “Blue House”, in exchange for his official resignation on November 21.
“It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing on of Zimbabwe’s founding father and former President, Cde [comrade] Robert Mugabe. […] Cde Mugabe was an icon of liberation, a pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people. His contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten. May his soul rest in eternal peace”, wrote President Mnangagwa.
Vladimir Putin, president of Russia, said in a statement: “Many important dates in Zimbabwe’s modern history are tied to the name of Robert Mugabe. He made a great personal contribution to the battle for your country’s independence, to the building of Zimbabwean State institutions.”
“For my generation, Mr Robert Mugabe should be remembered for what he was to us. He was a dictator. He was ruthless. He is the author of the current economic and political challenges we’re facing as a nation”, said Ashton Bumhira, director of Youth Forum Zimbabwe.