Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s Founding Leader And Anti-Colonial Icon, Dead At 95

Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s Founding Leader And Anti-Colonial Icon, Dead At 95

Robert Mugabe
Former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe died in a Singapore hospital on Sep. 6, 2019 at 95 years old. He is pictured here delivering a speech during celebrations to mark his 92nd birthday celebrations in Masvingo, Feb, 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

Robert Mugabe, the founding leader and longtime former Zimbabwe president who embodied Africa’s struggle against colonialism, died today at 95.

Mugabe was in power for 37 years before he was forced to step down by the military in November 2017 following nationwide mass protests.

His death was announced on Twitter by the man who took over from him as president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, formerly Mugabe’s right-hand man.

Mugabe died in a hospital in Singapore where he had been receiving treatment for an unconfirmed illness since April, according to the BBC.

His forced stepping-down from power two years ago was met with celebration in his country. Mugabe was blamed for taking the country into economic ruin. However, he was not always despised by his people. Mugabe was pivotal to Zimbabwe gaining independence from Great Britain in 1980.

Robert Mugabe – liberator and destroyer

Mugabe was born on Feb. 21, 1924 in what was then called Rhodesia, a British colony under white minority rule.

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After criticizing that government in 1964 he was imprisoned for more than a decade without trial.

Nine years later, while still in prison, Mugabe was chosen as president of the Zimbabwe African National Union, the dominant Black liberation movement.

The former political prisoner helped Zimbabwe to claim its independence and took power in the 1980 elections after a growing rebellion and economic sanctions forced the white minority colonial government to the negotiating table, AlJazeera reported.

Education was important to Mugabe. He was the world’s most educated president with seven degrees including two master’s degrees in law and economics.

In the early years of his rule, Mugabe was credited with broadening access to health and education for the Black majority, but he was also blamed for the collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy.

With an increasingly ruthless Mugabe at the helm, the country once known as the breadbasket of southern Africa suffered from widespread unemployment, hyperinflation and hunger.

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In June 2008, hyperinflation reached epic proportions with the annual rate of price growth at 11.2 million percent, leading to the abandonment of the Zimbabwean dollar. Many blame Mugabe and his policies for the economic deterioration in the country.

“I’m sad that Mugabe has died with the economy,” Agnes Humure, a 37-year-old shopkeeper in Harare told the New York Times. “I personally don’t know who is going to wake it up.”

As a result of his mixed exploits, different generations of Zimbabweans will view his legacy from opposing perspectives.

“Young Zimbabweans will remember him as a tyrant who squandered their futures and destroyed their countries,” Earnest Mudzengi, a political analyst based in Harare, told Al Jazeera.

“Many older Zimbabweans will look back in history and will remember him as a revolutionary fighter. They will also remember him for the early years of independence the massive social programs like expansion in the education sector and the building of clinics in rural areas,” he added.  

While his star had faded in Zimbabwe, Mugabe is still admired as a cult figure in many other parts of Africa.

The former Zimbabwe president received standing ovations at African gatherings, where fellow leaders praised him as the last of the great liberation leaders.

Mugabe has a hero status for many in Zimbabwe and Africa as one of the most important and influential freedom fighters of his generation.

At first, he was praised internationally for building schools and hospitals, but his brutal crackdown against opposition parties, a series of controversial elections and the violent eviction of thousands of white farmers in 2000 saw him branded a dictator who was desperately clinging to power.

He redistributed land from 6,000 white farmers to 245,000 Black farmers. That land reform policy led to sanctions that crashed Zimbabwe’s economy.

Mugabe became an outspoken critic of the West, and the U.K. in particular. He referred to the former colonial power as an “enemy country”.

Two years after finally ending his reign as the leader of Zimbabwe, Mugabe will be remembered in death by many as the founding father of a new Zimbabwe.