The struggle, the rise and the fall of Robert Mugabe

Born on February 21, 1924, into a Catholic family at Kutama Mission northwest of Harare, Robert Mugabe was described as a loner and a studious child, known to carry a book even while tending cattle in the bush.

After his carpenter father left the family when he was 10, the young Mugabe concentrated on his studies, qualifying as a schoolteacher at the age of 17.
An intellectual who initially embraced Marxism, enrolled at Fort Hare University in South Africa, meeting many of Southern Africa’s future black nationalist leaders.

After teaching in Ghana, where he was influenced by founder president Kwame Nkrumah, Mugabe returned to what was then Rhodesia, where he was detained for his nationalist activities in 1964 and spent the next 10 years in prison camps or jail.

During his incarceration, he gained three degrees through correspondence, but the years in prison were wrenching.

Mugabe’s four-year-old son by his first wife, Ghanaian-born Sally Francesca Hayfron, died while he was behind bars. Rhodesian leader Ian Smith denied him leave to attend the funeral.

The former political prisoner turned guerrilla leader swept to power in the 1980 elections after a growing rebellion and economic sanctions forced the white minority colonial government to the negotiating table.

He once famously said that he’d rule his country until he turned 100, and many expected him to die in office. But growing discontent about the southern African country’s fractured leadership and other problems prompted a military intervention, impeachment proceedings by the parliament and large street demonstrations for his removal.

The announcement of Mugabe’s November 21, 2017 resignation after he initially ignored escalating calls to quit triggered wild celebrations in the streets of the capital, Harare.

Mugabe’s decline in his last years as president was partly linked to the political ambitions of his wife, Grace, a brash, divisive figure whose ruling party faction eventually lost out in a power struggle with supporters of Mnangagwa, who was close to the military.

Despite Zimbabwe’s decline during his rule, Mugabe remained defiant, railing against the West for what he called its neo-colonialist attitude and urging Africans to take control of their resources, a populist message that was often a hit even as many nations on the continent shed the strongman model and moved toward democracy.

Mugabe enjoyed acceptance among peers in Africa who chose not to judge him in the same way as Britain, the United States and other Western detractors.

Both the ouster and the presence of heavy military vehicles on the streets of Harare fueled talk of a coup in Zimbabwe — which in turn fueled denials by the military and ruling party.

“Contrary to international reports, the gallant Zimbabwean Army has not staged a COUP,” the ZANU PF party’s youth league said on Twitter, in a message retweeted by the main party. It added, “There is n COUP in Zimbabwe. Neither is there crisis. The army is simply effecting a National Democratic Project and it’s doing so with peaceful aplomb.”

Toward the end of his rule, he served as rotating chairman of the 54-nation African Union and the 15-nation Southern African Development Community; his criticism of the International Criminal Court was welcomed by regional leaders who also thought it was being unfairly used to target Africans.

After Mugabe’s fall from office in November 2017, his renowned physical stamina seemed to dwindle.

Robert Mugabe died in Singapore where he made frequent visits to receive medical care in recent months as his health deteriorated. As far back as November 2018, President Mnangagwa, who took over from him as president, told members of the ruling party Zanu-PF that Mugabe could no longer walk.

He died on September 6, 2019 aged 95, leaving behind a wife (Grace Mugabe) and four children, one daughter and three sons

Robert Mugabe, Zimba
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Lawrence Baraza is a prolific writer with competencies in Digital Media, Print, and Broadcast. Baraza is also a Communication Practitioner currently spearheading Digital content on Metropol TV's Digital Desk.

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