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.
“It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing on of Zimbabwe’s founding father and former President, Cde Robert Mugabe,” tweeted President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is in Cape Town for the World Economic Forum.
“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.”
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.
Mugabe, who took power after white minority rule ended in 1980, blamed Zimbabwe’s economic problems on international sanctions and once said he wanted to rule for life.
But growing discontent about the southern African country’s fractured leadership and other problems prompted a military intervention, impeachment proceedings by the parliament and large street demonstrations for his removal.
The announcement of Mugabe’s November 21, 2017 resignation after he initially ignored escalating calls to quit triggered wild celebrations in the streets of the capital, Harare.
Well into the night, cars honked and people danced and sang in a spectacle of free expression that would have been impossible during his years in power and reflected hopes for a better future.
On February 21, 2018, Mugabe marked his first birthday since his resignation in near solitude, far from the lavish affair of past years.
While the government that removed him with military assistance had declared his birthday as a national holiday, his successor and former deputy Mnangagwa did not mention him in a televised speech on the day.
From ‘brave liberation hero’ to ‘corrupt dictator’
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.”
The life and times of Robert Mugabe
1924: Robert Gabriel Mugabe is born in Kutama, north-west of then Rhodesia’s capital, Harare.
1963: Mr Mugabe and allies from the Zimbabwe African National Union are sent to prison. He remains there for 11 years.
1975: He leaves for Mozambique, where he leads the armed struggle against the rebel regime until 1979.
1979: Following British-brokered peace talks which establish the independent state of Zimbabwe, Mr Mugabe returns home from exile.
1980: He becomes head of the government of Zimbabwe.
1983-1985: An estimated 10,000 people, the vast majority of them civilians, are killed when the then prime minister sends guerrillas into the country’s west to hunt down dissidents.
1988: He becomes the country’s president.
2000: Mr Mugabe supports the seizure of white-owned farms. The same year, Zimbabwe is suspended from the Commonwealth after Mr Mugabe is denounced for vote-rigging his re-election. He quits the Commonwealth of his own volition a year later.
2017: The leader is ousted in a sudden coup, ending his 37 years in power.