Mugabe remembered as liberation icon and flawed leader


Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s first post-colonial era prime minister and later president, died overnight Friday. He was 95.

Born in 1924, Robert Gabriel Mugabe looked destined for life in the classroom. But his education brought a taste for the principles of basic human rights – and revolutionary fervour.

He became a key character in the fight against white rule.  On leading Zimbabwe to independence from Britain in 1980, Mugabe was feted as an African liberation hero and champion of racial reconciliation.

During Mugabe’s early years as president Zimbabwe’s economy boomed and he was praised at home for spending money on roads and dams. Tourism and mining flourished and Zimbabwe was a regional breadbasket.  He also expanded schooling black Zimbabweans as a means of helping dismantle the racial discrimination of British colonial days.

The easing of racial tensions and Zimbabwe’s early prosperity compelled many whites who fled Zimbabwe during the war for independence to return home. But the thorny issue of land ownership still remained.

Land reform and Mubage’s thirst to hold on to power would mark a sharp turn in Zimbabwe’s fortunes and in the world’s perception of the African nation.

Faced with a revolt in the mid-1980s in the western province of Matabeleland that he blamed on Nkomo, Mugabe sent in North Korean-trained army units, provoking an international outcry over alleged atrocities against civilians.

Human rights groups say 20,000 people died, most of them from the minority Ndebele tribe from which Nkomo’s partisans were largely drawn. The discovery of mass graves prompted accusations of genocide.

Land reform was always going to be difficult. In the mid-90s black anger at the slow pace of land reform started boiling over and gangs of black Zimbabweans calling themselves war veterans started to overrun white-owned farms.

Mugabe’s response was uncompromising, labeling the invasions a correction of colonial injustices.

“Perhaps we made a mistake by not finishing the war in the trenches,” he said in 2000. “If the settlers had been defeated through the barrel of a gun, perhaps we would not be having the same problems.”

The farm seizures helped ruin one of Africa’s most dynamic economies, with a collapse in agricultural foreign exchange earnings unleashing hyperinflation.

The economy shrank by more than a third from 2000 to 2008.

Citizens finally had enough.

500 billion percent inflation drove people to support the challenge of Western-backed former union leader and long-time political rival Morgan Tsvangirai.

Mugabe won the election but was widely accused of stealing the race through vote fraud and violence. The outcry eventually led to a troubled coalition government after regional mediators intervened.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe (L) casts his vote at a polling booth in a school in Harare on July 31, 2013. Crisis-weary Zimbabweans were voting today in a fiercely contested election dominated by veteran President Robert Mugabe’s bid to extend his 33-year rule and suspicions of vote rigging. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER JOEALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images

Mugabe was re-elected in 2013 in another election marred by alleged irregularities, though he dismissed his critics as sore losers.

He would remain in power until he ultimately ousted by his own armed forces in November 2017.  He fought expulsion from his own ZANU-PF party for nearly a week until parliament started to impeach him after the de facto coup.

His resignation triggered wild celebrations across the country. The then 93-year-old former president described his political downfall as an “unconstitutional and humiliating act of betrayal by his party and people”.

Mr. Mugabe, who frequently denied claims his health was deteriorating, had been in Singapore since November being treated for a still yet undisclosed illness.

The family has not yet announced funeral arrangements but in August family members said Mugabe expressed that he did not want to be buried at the National Heroes’ Acre Monument. He instead wants to be buried next to his mother, Bona, at his rural home in Zvimba, Mashonaland West province.

He also does not want the current Zanu PF government to preside over his funeral.

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