Robert Mugabe, who ruled Zimbabwe for nearly four decades since independence from Britain, has died at the age of 95. The former strongman, who was ousted in a military coup almost two years ago, reportedly passed away in hospital in Singapore, where he had been receiving medical treatment since April.
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.
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.
During his later years in power, Mr Mugabe made several medical trips to Singapore and Mr Mnangagwa said in November last year that he was no longer able to walk.
Officials often said he was being treated for a cataract, denying frequent reports by private local media that he had prostate cancer.
Mr Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe for 38 years until was he deposed in a largely bloodless military coup in November following a power struggle between Grace Mugabe and Mr Mnangagwa, a former vice president and intelligence chief.
Known as “The Crocodile” during Zimbabwe’s early years of independence, Mr Mnangagwa had been expelled from the country as Mrs Mugabe positioned herself to take over her husband’s legacy.
However, he was spirited into the country with the backing of the military who put the Mugabes under house arrest in a takeover.
Mr Mugabe was granted immunity from prosecution and assured of his safety under his resignation deal, a source of frustration to many Zimbabweans who accused him of looting state coffers and destroying the economy during his time in power.
Robert Mugabe turned from being a “brave liberation hero” into a ruthless dictator who squandered Zimbabwe’s potential, Lord Hain said.
The former Africa minister and anti-apartheid campaigner said Mugabe’s legacy will be “very two-sided”, with the early promise of his leadership outweighed by the “corrupt, repressive, dictatorial” approach he adopted.
“He is a tragic case study of a liberation hero who then betrayed every one of the values of the freedom struggle,” the Labour peer said.
“His legacy will be very two-sided.
“On the one hand – brave liberation hero who suffered imprisonment and torture and whom anti-apartheid activists like myself at the time were thrilled to see elected in a landslide in early 1980 with a promise to build a new, non-racial Zimbabwe which respected everybody and brought all races together and somebody who liberated his country from minority, white racist rule under Ian Smith and the old Rhodesia.
“That will be the positive memory.
“But the overwhelmingly negative memory that everybody will have I think is of that liberation hero who was a case study of the leader who betrayed all the values of the freedom struggle and became corrupt, repressive, dictatorial, self-serving and ruthless in eliminating opposition and becoming increasingly interested in enriching himself and impoverishing his own people.”
Lord Hain said Mugabe’s actions had the effect of “transforming a country which had the ability, the skills, the infrastructure to really be a towering African nation into a terribly poor, corrupted, economically bankrupt nation”.
He said: “He had the opportunity to take Zimbabwe to new heights, it was the bread basket of southern Africa, exporting food, feeding other countries.
“He turned it into a net importer of food and reliant on food aid for starving people by dispossessing white farmers – murdering some of them – putting his own cronies in their place, sacking hundreds of black workers on each farm and turning those farms into infertile, barren pieces of wasteland.”