Zimbabwe’s former President Robert Mugabe dies
Harare, Sep 6 (UNI)
Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean independence icon turned authoritarian leader, has died aged 95. He was ousted in a military coup in 2017 after 37 years in power.
A BBC News report said on Friday that Mr Mugabe had been receiving treatment in a hospital in Singapore since April. The former president was praised for broadening access to health and education for the black majority.
But later years were marked by violent repression of his political opponents and Zimbabwe’s economic ruin.
His successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, expressed his “utmost sadness”, calling Mr Mugabe “an icon of liberation”. Mr Mnangagwa had been Mr Mugabe’s deputy before replacing him.
Mr Mugabe was born on 21 February 1924 in what was then Rhodesia – a British colony, run by its white minority.
He was imprisoned for more than a decade without trial after criticising the government of Rhodesia in 1964.
In 1973, while still in prison, he was chosen as president of the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu), of which he was a founding member.
Once released, he headed to Mozambique, from where he directed guerrilla raids into Rhodesia. But he was also seen as a skilled negotiator.
Political agreements to end the crisis resulted in the new independent Republic of Zimbabwe. With his high profile in the independence movement, Mr Mugabe secured an overwhelming victory in the republic’s first election in 1980.
He abolished the office in 1987, becoming president instead – a post he would retain through both electoral success and the use of violence for decades to come.
But over his decades in power, international perceptions soured, with an increasing number of critics portraying Mr Mugabe as a dictator.
In 2000, facing serious political opposition for the first time, he seized white-owned farms to resettle black farmers, causing economic disruption but boosting his popularity among supporters.
Around the same time, pro-Mugabe militias used violence to influence political outcomes. In 2008, when he lost the first round of the presidential election, attacks on the opposition resulted in his rival pulling out of the contest.
He famously declared that only god could remove him from office. He was forced into sharing power in 2009 amid economic collapse, installing rival Morgan Tsvangirai as prime minister.
But in 2017, amid concerns that he was grooming his wife Grace as his successor, the army – his long-time ally – turned against the president and forced him to step down.
Deputy Information Minister Energy Mutodi, of Mr Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party, told the BBC the party was “very much saddened” by his death.
“As a government, we are very much with the family members of the Mugabe family,” he said.
“He was a principled man: he could not change easily over his beliefs. He’s a man who believed himself, he’s a man who believed in what he did and he is a man who was very assertive in whatever he said. This was a good man.”
Not everyone agreed, however.
Zimbabwean Senator David Coltart, who was once labelled “an enemy of the state” by Mr Mugabe, said his legacy had been marred by his adherence to violence as a political tool.
“He was always committed to violence, going all the way back to the 1960s… he was no Martin Luther King,” he told the BBC World Service. “He never changed in that regard.”
But he acknowledged that there was another side to Robert Mugabe, who had “had a great passion for education… [and] mellowed in his later years”.
“There’s a lot of affection towards him, because we must never forget that he was the person primarily responsible for ending oppressive white minority rule,” the senator said.
The government of neighbouring South Africa tweeted its condolences, labelling Mr Mugabe “a fearless pan-Africanist liberation fighter”.
Mr Mugabe is likely to be remembered for his early achievements, the BBC’s Shingai Nyoka reports from the capital, Harare.
In his later years, people called him all sorts of names, but now is probably the time when Zimbabweans will think back to his 37 years in power, she says.
There’s a local saying that whoever dies becomes a hero, and we’re likely to see that now, our correspondent adds.