EYEAFRICA TV: Harare, Zimbabwe: Zimbabwe’s ex-president, Robert Mugabe who was ousted in a coup in 2017, has died at age 95. He had ruled the country for 37 years from independence in 1980. His successor has hailed him as ‘an icon of liberation’
During the struggle against white-minority rule, Mr. Mugabe was imprisoned and after independence in 1980, he first ruled as prime minister then as president. Under his rule Zimbabwe became a regional bread basket with high literacy rate. But after the seizure of white-owned farms in the 2000s, the economy went into freefall.
After disputed elections in 2008, he shared power with the opposition for four years. His ousting is partly blamed on political ambitions of his second wife Grace.
Robert Gabriel Mugabe was a Zimbabwean politician who served as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe from 1980 to 1987 and then as President from 1987 to 2017. He chaired the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) group from 1975 to 1980 and led its successor political party, the ZANU – Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF), from 1980 to 2017.
Ideologically an African nationalist, during the 1970s and 1980s he identified as a Marxist–Leninist. He identified as a socialist after the 1990s. His policies have been described as Mugabeism.
Mugabe was born to a poor Shona family in Kutama, Southern Rhodesia. 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. After making anti-government comments, he was convicted of sedition and imprisoned between 1964 and 1974.
On release, he fled to Mozambique, established his leadership of ZANU, and oversaw ZANU’s role in the Rhodesian Bush War, fighting Ian Smith’s predominantly white government. He reluctantly took part in the peace negotiations brokered by the United Kingdom that resulted in the Lancaster House Agreement. The agreement ended the war and resulted in the 1980 general election, at which Mugabe led ZANU-PF to victory.
As Prime Minister of the newly renamed Zimbabwe, Mugabe’s administration expanded healthcare and education and—despite his professed Marxist desire for a socialist society—adhered largely to mainstream, conservative economic policies.
Mugabe’s calls for racial reconciliation failed to stem growing white emigration, while relations with Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) also deteriorated. In the Gukurahundi of 1982–1985, Mugabe’s Fifth Brigade crushed ZAPU-linked opposition in Matabeleland in a campaign that killed at least 10,000 people, mostly Ndebele civilians.
Internationally, he sent troops into the Second Congo War and chaired the Non-Aligned Movement (1986–89), the Organisation of African Unity (1997–98), and the African Union (2015–16). Pursuing decolonization, Mugabe emphasised the redistribution of land controlled by white farmers to landless blacks, initially on a “willing seller–willing buyer” basis.
Frustrated at the slow rate of redistribution, from 2000 he encouraged black Zimbabweans to violently seize white-owned farms. Food production was severely impacted, leading to famine, drastic economic decline, and international sanctions. Opposition to Mugabe grew, but he was re-elected in 2002, 2008, and 2013 through campaigns dominated by violence, electoral fraud, and nationalistic appeals to his rural Shona voter base. In 2017, members of his own party ousted him in a coup, replacing him with former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Having dominated Zimbabwe’s politics for nearly four decades, Mugabe was a controversial figure. He was praised as a revolutionary hero of the African liberation struggle who helped free Zimbabwe from British colonialism, imperialism, and white minority rule. Critics accused Mugabe of being a dictator responsible for economic mismanagement, widespread corruption, anti-white racism, human rights abuses, and crimes against humanity.