Death of Mugabe: Nationalist, Liberator, Tyrant


Zimbabwe’s National Stadium boasts 60,000 seats, and Robert Mugabe’s funeral renders the stadium 75% empty. A fitting end, perhaps, for a man who evoked much criticism during his lifetime.

Mugabe was born in South Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1924, just months after it had become a British colony, resulting in the subjugation of the black majority population. He studied at the University College of Fort Hare in South Africa. His graduation in 1951 made him unique as education did not exceed grammar school for the majority of his fellow countrymen.  As a self- declared Marxist, Mugabe supported the Ghanaian government’s aim to create equality in education.

In 1960, Mugabe returned to a South Rhodesia. Here, tens of thousands of black families were displaced, in a horrific display of colonial racism that angered Mugabe’s core ethos of equality.

When one traces the early career of Mugabe, one sees a man of great potential geared to empower black communities.  Indeed, when he formed the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) with Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole in 1963, this was his goal. He spent ten years in prison for “subversive speech”, and then led the Patriotic Front in the civil war to fight against the white-ruled government.

In 1980, Mugabe’s party (now ZANU-PF) became the elected government. He initially improved life for black Zimbabweans, increasing earnings and opportunities. White people, in their masses, left Zimbabwe.

Yet his hunger for power became evident. He converted Zimbabwe into a one-party state, becoming its first executive president in1987. The economy was in decline, leading to much civil unrest. White farmers were ousted from their farm and inexperienced individuals stepped in. This act, combined with a drought, led to food shortages.

In the 1980s, the Gukurahundi massacres killed more than 20,000 civilians of the Ndebele community (who largely supported Mugabe’s rival). Mugabe denied being guilty at the time, but it is now believed he was culpable. He cut media freedom, beat and harassed the opposition, and his mass demolitions rendered tens of thousands of people homeless. In 2007, Zimbabwe had the highest rate of inflation in the world and most people had little access to basic necessities. Nonetheless, he was endorsed by his party for the 2008 elections.

His final political moment was one of failure when he resigned in 2017. Mugabe exemplifies how intelligence and determination can deteriorate into corruption and violence under the power grapple of politics.

President Mnangagwa claims to have plans to boost the damaged economy. However, he is seen as cunning, and was linked with some of the worst atrocities of ZANU- PF.

One young woman, Itai Chikwenga, echoed the respect for Mugabe some people still hold: “Bread is now 10 dollars. Robert Mugabe would have said “enough is enough, make it one dollar.” And it would have been one dollar.” she says, taking her seat in a vacuous stadium whilst anti-Mugabe protests rage on throughout Zimbabwe.

Image by Yann Macherez via Creative Commons

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