Robert Mugabe, who ruled Zimbabwe from 1980 to 2017, died yesterday in Singapore after a protracted illness at the age of 95. Tributes have since been flowing from across the world. Robert Mugabe was known for many things. Top among them is his role in securing Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980.
Nigeria yesterday condoled with the government and people of Zimbabwe over the death. A statement signed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Ferdinand Nwonye, described him as a notable icon in the liberation struggle on the continent, and prayed for his soul to rest in peace.
The statement said Africa owed a huge debt of gratitude to this highly intelligent and courageous leader who fought and sacrificed so much to liberate his country and free his people from minority white occupation. “Robert Mugabe was also in the vanguard of the fight to free several countries of Southern Africa from apartheid and colonialism.
“The departed statesman will also be remembered for leading his country to great heights after independence until the economic sanctions imposed by western countries on account of the expropriation of lands occupied by white Zimbabweans, crippled his country economically. He was a true pan-Africanist and true patriot. Africa has indeed lost one of its finest. May his soul rest in peace.”
A former Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, also yesterday paid glowing tributes to Mugabe, describing him as an indomitable fighter who walked on the African soil, fought for the liberation of his country and continent. He noted in a condolence letter addressed to President Emmerson Manangagwa, that Mugabe liberated his country from apartheid and oppressive racialism.
According to the former president, Mugabe was a statesman par excellence and a tireless advocate of the preservation of the mystique of Africa’s moral and cultural values who had selflessly dedicated himself to public service for most of his life, particularly as prime minister of Zimbabwe from 1980 to 1987 and also as president from 1987 to 2017. The United States embassy in Harare condoled with the Mugabe family and the people of Zimbabwe on Twitter, saying they joined the world in reflecting on his legacy in securing Zimbabwe’s independence.
Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta said Kenya would fly all its flags at half-mast during the weekend in honour of Mugabe. He pointed out that the late leader had played a major role in shaping the interests of the African continent and described him as “a man of courage who was never afraid to fight for what he believed in even when it was not popular.” Back home in Zimbabwe, President Emmerson Mnangagwu called his predecessor “an icon of liberation, a pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people.”
Nelson Chamisa, the leader of Zimbabwe’s major opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), sent his condolences to the Mugabe family and Africa on Twitter. He described the late leader as the nation’s founding president and his passing as “a dark moment for the family because a giant among them has fallen.
May the Lord comfort them.” A former Minister of Information Communication Technology, Supa Mandiwanzirawho served under Mugabe said Mugabe was a “monumental giant in our country and Africa’s history.” But not everyone had kind words for the late leader. A spokesman for the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, while expressing the UK’s condolences, said Mugabe represented “a barrier to the future,” adding that under his rule, the people of Zimbabwe suffered greatly as he impoverished their country and sanctioned the use of violence against them.
Speaking to CNN, Peter Hain, a former anti-apartheid campaigner, described Mugabe as one who betrayed the freedom struggle. He also said most Zimbabweans would not mourn the late leader’s passing because he did not tolerate opposition. Mugabe lived a controversial life, but will always be remembered for being at the forefront of the liberation struggle that led to Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain in 1980. Born in a village in Kutama, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) on February 21, 1924 to a carpenter, Robert Mugabe was fortunate enough to receive good education.
He had his early education in Southern Rhodesia, and then moved to South Africa to pursue his studies in English and History in the University of Fort Hare. Mugabe then returned to Rhodesia to teach there for a while before moving to Ghana. There, he got his Economics degree in 1958. He also taught at St. Mary’s Teacher Training College, where he met his first wife, Sarah Heyfron, whom he would marry in 1961. A veteran of Zimbabwe’s independence struggle, Robert Mugabe developed a reputation as an uncompromising opponent of the then colonial rule.
He continued campaigning against white-minority-ruled Southern Rhodesia well into the protracted civil war and was imprisoned for his nationalist activities in 1964 and spent the next 10 years in prison camps or jail. Mugabe played a pivotal role in the fight against the white minority government of Ian Smith.
After his 10 years detention in which his only child died in Ghana and he wasn’t allowed to attend the funeral, he left for Mozambique, where he helped dictate the Zimbabwe African National Union’s (ZANU) role in guerrilla warfare. There were talks that his son’s death enraged him and was the fuel behind his moves but he denied it, claiming that he lost that anger because “suffering had been rewarded with victory.” The external pressure from ZANU and others forced Ian Smith to agree to representative election, which was won by ZANU’s rival UANC. However, the UK and the US refused to lift sanctions, and a conference of all parties was organized at Lancaster House in London.
Mugabe, as leader of the ZANU, attended the talks with Margaret Thatcher. The talks led to a new election in March 1980, and ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front) won 57 out of the 80 seats in the new parliament. Thus, Robert Mugabe became prime minister but the result also gave rise to an uneasy coalition with his Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) rivals, representing the Ndebele. In 1983, he dismissed ZAPU’s Joshua Nkomo from his cabinet, triggering an armed rebellion in Ndebele land.
However, the rebellion was quickly snuffed out by the new Zimbabwe army under Mugabe. A lot of the rebels were killed by the brutal army who were trained along North Korean lines. Not long after this, Mugabe marked his assumption of unchallenged power by abolishing the office of prime minister and declaring himself executive president in 1987.
Not long after he declared himself president, in 1989, he implemented a five year plan that allowed farmers to design their own prices. At the end of the five years, there was obvious growth in the farming, mining and manufacturing sectors. He also built clinics and schools for the blacks. This was also the period he lost his wife, Sarah, which allowed him to marry his mistress, Grace Marufu, who already had two kids for him then but he was unable to marry her because he was a staunch catholic.