The controversial former President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe was confirmed dead on 5 September 2019, after a lengthy stay in a Singapore hospital. As one of the men who led his nation to independence from the British through then-liberation party Zanu PF, Mugabe’s legacy proved to be problematic following three decades of authoritarian rule.
Robert Mugabe obituary: Ex-Zimbabwe leader dead at 95
Mugabe was born to a poor Shona family in Kutama, Southern Rhodesia on 21 February 1924. Following an education at Kutama College and the University of Fort Hare, he worked as a school teacher in Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia, and Ghana.
Angered that Southern Rhodesia was a colony of the British Empire governed by its white minority, Mugabe embraced Marxism and joined African nationalist protests calling for an independent state led by representatives of the black majority. He was imprisoned for 10 years between 1964 – 1974 for anti-government activism.
Robert Mugabe’s political career
However, just six years after his release, Robert Mugabe won Zimbabwe’s first general election. It would be 37 years before he’d be unseated. However, his road to a thoroughly involuntary retirement was dogged by controversy.
He ruled with an iron fist, crushing any opposition that dared challenge his rule. In the 1980s, Mugabe’s Fifth Brigade crushed ZAPU-linked opposition in Matabeleland in a campaign that killed at least 10,000 people, mostly Ndebele civilians. Then, at the turn of the century, his disastrous land reform policies took hold of Zimbabwe.
Land reform in Zimbabwe
Initially, Robert Mugabe sought a “willing-seller / buyer” model – but that all went out the window in the year 2000, as he began encouraging black citizens to seize land owned by white farmers. Agriculture and food production died a death, leading to widespread famine and entrenching poverty in Zimbabwean society.
He was heavily accused of fixing the 2008 general election, where it was believed that Morgan Tsvangirai had secured a majority of the vote to oust the despot. However, alleged election fraud tactics kept him in office, where he would remain for another nine years. In that time, inflation exceeded 100 000% and a loaf of bread cost a third of the average daily wage.
It was in this period that 800 billion dollar notes were circulated, in order for Zimbabweans to stay afloat above the rising inflation rates. In 2017, a few years after another re-election, some of Robert Mugabe’s own colleages decided that enough was enough. Tanks rolled into Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, at the behest of Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The deputy president – who would go on to replace “Uncle Bob” – orchestrated a coup against the dictator, utilising his influence over the country’s military to help put the pressure on Mugabe.
the former president eventually stepped down in November 2017. Fears that Robert was trying to groom his wife Grace – infamous in her own right – to succeed him proved to be the final straw for other party members
The legacy of Robert Mugabe
Since then, his retirement had been a leisurely one. He spent a bit of time campaigning for Zanu PF in the 2018 Elections, ensuring that his successor would get the chance to follow in his footsteps. However, trips to Singapore – purely for medical reasons – became more frequent: Before his death, his last visit spanned three months.
For Zimbabwe, his death will cause some conflicting emotions. For the rest of the world, sympathy may come in short supply. Throughout his career, Robert Mugabe always showed a fierce decisiveness in his approach to leadership – an attitude which crossed the line on many, many occasions.