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Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe dies, leaving behind a ‘very complicated legacy’

Then-president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, listens as professor Alpha Oumar Konare, chairman of the Commission of the African Union, addresses attendees at the opening ceremony of the 10th Ordinary Session of the Assembly during the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, January 31, 2008. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Lock via Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0.

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:

Deputy Minister of Information, Publicity & Broadcasting Services, Energy Mutodi, also expressed condolences, calling Mugabe an “African icon” and a “revolutionary.”

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.

Robert Mugabe in the Netherlands, June 1982 via Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0.

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:

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:

Netizen Thandekile Moyo, in a tweet to President Mnangagwa, wrote:

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:

Donald Kipkorir laments how Mugabe could have been great, but became “bewitched by insatiable greed”:

But others chose to focus on reasons to celebrate his achievements:

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.”

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