KAMPALA — Robert Mugabe, the founding father of Zimbabwe who ruled the country with an iron fist for more than three decades, has died, according to President Emmerson Mnangagwa. He was 95.
Rumors had swirled around the health of the ex-president, who spent months in a hospital in Singapore earlier this year.
Details of what ailed him were a closely guarded secret.
President Mugabe — who infamously claimed that “only God” could ever remove him from office — was deposed in a coup in 2017, when members of his own party turned against him after he dismissed then vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa to make way for his wife, Grace.
Mnangagwa would go on to become Zimbabwe’s next president.
“It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing on of Zimbabwe’s founding father and former President, Cde Robert Mugabe,” tweeted Mnangagwa on Friday.
“Cde 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.”
Mugabe was born to a poor Shona family in Kutama, Southern Rhodesia.
Following an education at Kutama College and the University of Fort Hare, he worked as a school teacher in Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia, and Ghana.
Angered that Southern Rhodesia was a colony of the British Empire governed by its white minority, Mugabe embraced Marxism and joined African nationalist protests calling for an independent state led by representatives of the black majority.
After making anti-government comments, he was convicted of sedition and imprisoned between 1964 and 1974.
On release, he fled to Mozambique, established his leadership of ZANU, and oversaw ZANU’s role in the Rhodesian Bush War, fighting Ian Smith’s predominantly white government.
He reluctantly took part in the peace negotiations brokered by the United Kingdom that resulted in the Lancaster House Agreement.
The agreement ended the war and resulted in the 1980 general election, at which Mugabe led ZANU-PF to victory. As Prime Minister of the newly renamed Zimbabwe, Mugabe’s administration expanded healthcare and education and—despite his professed Marxist desire for a socialist society—adhered largely to mainstream, conservative economic policies.
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 declined. 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, although 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.
Having dominated Zimbabwe’s politics for nearly four decades, Mugabe was a controversial figure.
He has been praised as a revolutionary hero of the African liberation struggle who helped to free Zimbabwe from British colonialism, imperialism, and white minority rule. Conversely, in governance he has been accused of being a dictator responsible for economic mismanagement, widespread corruption, anti-white racism, human rights abuses, and crimes against humanity.