Zimbabwe’s first post-independence leader, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, has died at the age of 95.
Mugabe died at a hospital in Singapore on Friday, September 6, 2019, after battling ill health.
According to Al Jazeera, he was hospitalized in Singapore for months for an undisclosed ailment, as officials often said he was being treated for a cataract, denying frequent private media reports that he had prostate cancer.
Current President Emmerson Mnangagwa expressed his condolences on Twitter early Friday:
It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing on of Zimbabwe's founding father and former President, Cde Robert Mugabe (1/2)
— President of Zimbabwe (@edmnangagwa) September 6, 2019
Deputy Minister of Information, Publicity & Broadcasting Services, Energy Mutodi, also expressed condolences, calling Mugabe an “African icon” and a “revolutionary.”
Rest In Peace President Robert Mugabe. There is no doubt you were an African icon, a statesman of a rare character and a revolutionary. I wish to pass our condolences on my own behalf & on behalf of the government to His Excellency President ED Mnangagwa & the Mugabe family.
— Hon. Dr Energy Mutodi (PhD) (@energymutodi) September 6, 2019
Mugabe was ousted from power in a military coup in November 2017, before his long-time political colleague and protégé, Mnangagwa, forcefully took over — ending 37 years in office.
Mugabe was born on February 21, 1924, in what was then Southern Rhodesia, a colonial state ruled by the British. Known as an intellectual who fell in love with Marxism, he studied at Fort Hare University in South Africa. He later taught in Ghana, where he was influenced by its founder, President Kwame Nkrumah, before he returned to Southern Rhodesia in 1963. There, he was imprisoned in 1964 for a decade without trial after criticizing the Rhodesian government over its racist policies.
In 1973, while still in prison, he was selected as the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) president and was a leading figure in the contentious civil war that led to independence on April 18, 1980.
Mugabe’s rule was characterized by various episodes of success soon after independence when he made a clarion call to erstwhile warring parties to unite and live peacefully for the good of the nation. However, this olive branch was short-lived after he waged war against those he termed dissidents in Matabeleland (Southern Zimbabwe), resulting in the massacre of thousands of local Ndebele-speaking people.
After years of waiting for Britain to fulfill its terms outlined in the Lancaster House Agreement to fund a land reform program that would redistribute land to black Zimbabweans, the country’s war veterans grew impatient, as there was no progress in this regard.
Under immense pressure from the war vets, Mugabe relented and allowed a chaotic land reform process to occur, leading to violent attacks on commercial farms throughout the country.
Mugabe’s final years in office were characterized by a catastrophic economic collapse, violent land seizures of farms belonging to white commercial farmers, abductions, intimidation and a vicious power struggle.
Mugabe’s own frustration and sense of humiliation over his ousting were clear, and voiced with typical rhetorical force at an extraordinary press conference at his residence in Harare, the capital, days before elections in July 2018.
Nelson Chamisa, leader of the main opposition party in Zimbabwe, the Movement for Democratic Change, tweeted his respect for the late Mugabe, despite the major political differences they shared:
1/3 My condolences to the Mugabe family and Africa for the passing on of Zimbabwe’s founding President.This is a dark moment for the family because a giant among them has fallen. May the Lord comfort them.
— nelson chamisa (@nelsonchamisa) September 6, 2019
Liberation hero or dictator?
The public has been abuzz with various views and thoughts on his passing away.
Magumbo Special tweeted about the complexity of Mugabe's legacy:
I'm conflicted #RIPMugabe you leave a very complicated legacy. Some will forever admire you as a liberation hero, but many who suffered under your harsh rule will only remember a dictator who ruined a country with great potential. You have run your race now time to face your Maker pic.twitter.com/yvQhXA1Hg7
— Magumbo Special👢Shumba's Lioness😎 (@docfarai) September 6, 2019
Netizen Thandekile Moyo, in a tweet to President Mnangagwa, wrote:
Be sincere. You of all people know about #Gukurahundi.
Mugabe was a ruthless mass murderer who ruled for as long as he did because of his killer instinct. He dedicated his life not to emancipation but to his quest for a one party state whose benefits you are reaping. Respect us.
— Thandekile Moyo (@Mamoxn) September 6, 2019
The Gukurahundi refers to the massacres of Ndebele civilians by the Zimbabwe National Army between 1983 and 1987.
Leader of Economic Freedom Fighters in South Africa, Julius Malema, wrote:
I'm saddened by the passing of our martyr & giant of the African Revolution cde President Robert Mugabe. Let's continue the fight & protect his legacy. We must not allow our enemies to tell us how to remember him; we know our heroes.
May his soul rest in revolutionary peace. pic.twitter.com/wpvQm3Waf0
— Julius Sello Malema (@Julius_S_Malema) September 6, 2019
Donald Kipkorir laments how Mugabe could have been great, but became “bewitched by insatiable greed”:
Robert Mugabe could have been Africa’s greatest leader but like most, got bewitched by insatiable greed for riches .. Like many failed leaders who had so much promise, his Advisers were sycophantic cowards who echoed him & supported & participated in his thievery .. #RIPMugabe
— Donald B Kipkorir (@DonaldBKipkorir) September 6, 2019
But others chose to focus on reasons to celebrate his achievements:
He was feted as an African liberation hero and champion of racial reconciliation. Rest well Mugabe #RIPMugabe
— Abubakar As'sidiq (@afkar_9) September 6, 2019
The ailing Mugabe spent his last remaining years shuttling between medical facilities in Singapore and his mansion in Harare.
Mugabe had made it clear to his close family members that he did not want to be buried at the National Heroes’ Acre or to be associated with President Mnangagwa and all those he viewed as his ‘betrayers and tormentors,” according to a close family friend as reported in Bulawayo. “He has said he doesn’t want them to sing and pontificate over his dead body.”