HARARE: Robert Mugabe, the hero-turned-despot who ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years until the military forced him out, has died aged 95, the country’s president announced on Friday.
First heralded as a liberator who rid the former British colony Rhodesia of white minority rule, Mugabe used repression and fear to govern until he was finally ousted by his previously loyal generals in November 2017.
The country’s former colonial ruler Britain expressed its condolences but said there were “mixed emotions” after Mugabe’s death.
“Zimbabweans suffered for too long as a result of Mugabe’s autocratic role,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Mugabe died in Singapore, where he had been hospitalised in April, a Zimbabwean diplomat in South Africa said.
The Singaporean foreign ministry confirmed that Mugabe had died at Gleneagles Hospital.
“The ministry is working with the Embassy of Zimbabwe in Singapore on the arrangements for the late Mr Mugabe’s body to be flown back to Zimbabwe,” it said in a statement.
“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,” President Emmerson Mnangagwa tweeted after announcing the news.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa remembered Mugabe as a “liberation fighter” and a “champion of Africa’s cause against colonialism”.
However, the Mugabe years are widely remembered for his crushing of political dissent and policies that ruined the economy.
He swept to power in 1980 elections after a growing insurgency and economic sanctions forced the Rhodesian government to the negotiating table.
In office, he initially won international plaudits for his declared policy of racial reconciliation and for extending improved education and health services to the black majority.
But that faded rapidly as Mugabe cracked down on his opponents. During the 1980s, he led an infamous campaign known as Gukurahundi during which an estimated 20,000 dissidents were killed.
The violent seizure of white-owned farms turned him into an international pariah — though his status as a liberation hero still resonates strongly across Africa.
Published in Dawn, September 7th, 2019