Controversial former Zimbabwe leader Mugabe dead at 95

Former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe passed away in a Singapore hospital at the age of 95.

“It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing on of Zimbabwe’s founding father and former President, Cde [comrade] Robert Mugabe,” Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa tweeted early Friday.

The former guerrilla leader turned politician had swept to power in the 1980 elections. He served as prime minister in 1980-1987 and then as president in 1987-2017.

“Mugabe was an icon of liberation, a pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people. His contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten. May his soul rest in eternal peace,” said President Mnangagwa.

Born on February 21, 1924 at Kutama Mission northwest of Harare, Mugabe was enrolled at Fort Hare University in South Africa.

After teaching in Ghana, Mugabe returned to Rhodesia where he was detained for his nationalist activities in 1964 and spent the next 10 years in prison camps or jail. Rhodesia was an unrecognized state in southern Africa in 1965-1979, equivalent in territory to modern Zimbabwe.

Jonathan Moyo, a professor and a former minister in Mugabe’s government, said on tweeter: “A dark cloud has enveloped Zimbabwe and beyond. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord!”.

Having dominated Zimbabwe’s politics for nearly four decades, Mugabe was a controversial figure. He was praised as a revolutionary hero of the African liberation struggle who helped free Zimbabwe from British colonialism, imperialism, and white minority rule. Critics accused Mugabe of being a dictator responsible for economic mismanagement, widespread corruption, anti-white racism, human rights abuses, and crimes against humanity.

Mugabe’s calls for racial reconciliation failed to stem growing white emigration, while relations with Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) also deteriorated. In the Gukurahundi of 1982–1985, Mugabe’s Fifth Brigade crushed ZAPU-linked opposition in Matabeleland in a campaign that killed at least 10,000 people, mostly Ndebele civilians.

Internationally, he sent troops into the Second Congo War and chaired the Non-Aligned Movement (1986–89), the Organisation of African Unity (1997–98), and the African Union (2015–16). Pursuing decolonisation, Mugabe emphasised the redistribution of land controlled by white farmers to landless blacks, initially on a “willing seller–willing buyer” basis.

Frustrated at the slow rate of redistribution, from 2000 he encouraged black Zimbabweans to violently seize white-owned farms. Food production was severely impacted, leading to famine, drastic economic decline, and international sanctions. Opposition to Mugabe grew, but he was re-elected in 2002, 2008, and 2013 through campaigns dominated by violence, electoral fraud, and nationalistic appeals to his rural Shona voter base.

In 2017, members of his own party ousted him in a coup, replacing him with former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.