After leading Zimbabwe for more than three decades, former Zimbabwean president and independence leader Robert Mugabe is likely to be remembered as a two-sided man: the freedom fighter who promised a prosperous nation but became the dictator of a people who live in extreme poverty.
Mugabe died on Friday (6) at the age of 95 – nearly two years after resigning his 37-year position – in a Singapore hospital where he had been treated for at least five months. According to the local press, he was accompanied by his family and wife, Grace. The causes of death were not disclosed.
The death announcement was made by his successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa. “It is with deep regret that I announce the death of Zimbabwe’s founding father and former president, Commander Robert Mugabe,” Mnangagwa said on Twitter.
In November last year, Mnangagwa announced that his predecessor could no longer walk, but did not clarify what the former president’s health problem was.
To the current president, Mugabe’s former right-hand man, the former leader 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 of our continent will never be forgotten. May your soul rest in eternal peace, “he added.
From independence hero to presidency
Mugabe was born on February 21, 1924. In the 1970s, he led a guerrilla war against British rule in the country. In 1979, then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher announced that the United Kingdom would officially recognize the independence of Rhodesia, the name of the country during the colonial period.
Mugabe was elected prime minister the following year and, in 1987, as president, ruling the country for 37 years, before losing power and suffering a coup in November 2017.
Mugabe came to power in 1980, Mugabe channeled efforts with the public promise that he would improve the lives of the country’s citizens. He introduced free primary education and access to basic health care for those on low incomes. However, both measures reached only a small portion of the population.
In 1982, Mugabe’s party (ZANU-PF) and his former ally Joshua Nkomo entered a power struggle. During this period the armed forces, loyal to Robert Mugabe, committed the worst atrocities and human rights violations after the country’s independence. About 20,000 civilians were killed, many burned alive.
In 1987, Nkomo and Mugabe made up and the head of state appointed him vice president of Zimbabwe. After that, Mugabe concentrated economic policies on cereal production. Still, citizens remained without access to food, clean water or other basic needs.
Robert Mugabe is also remembered for a disastrous land reform. He began a process of forced nationalization of farms in the hands of the white population, stating that he intended to redistribute them to the black population. The move, he said, would “reverse the economic imbalances” between whites and blacks.
Mugabe’s family and ZANU-PF’s party elite turned out to be the big beneficiaries of this move, which also left thousands of black workers homeless and homeless.
Zimbabwe soon ceased to be Africa’s granary, as it was known on the continent due to its cereal production, and became a starving country.
The situation worsened since 2000, when the agricultural sector, the country’s backbone, fell into free fall.
Since coming to power, Mugabe has lived for years regardless of national problems. While public hospitals were out of medicine or sanitation equipment, Mugabe organized millionaire parties to celebrate his birthday.
After 37 years in office, Mugabe created a country where more than half of the roughly 16 million citizens still needed humanitarian aid to address hunger and cholera epidemics.
Zimbabwe is currently experiencing its worst economic crisis in a decade, with triple-digit inflation, power cuts and a shortage of essentials and dollars in the market.