By Nwafor Sunday
Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s first post-independence leader, has died at the age of 95. He died after battling ill health, a family source told journalists. Mr Mugabe was ousted from power in a military coup in November 2017, ending his three-decade reign.
As independent Zimbabwe’s first prime minister, and later its president, Robert Mugabe promised democracy and reconciliation.
But the hope that accompanied independence in 1980 dissolved into violence, corruption, and economic disaster.
President Mugabe became an outspoken critic of the West, most notably the United Kingdom, the former colonial power, which he denounced as an “enemy country”.
Despite his brutal treatment of political opponents and his economic mismanagement of a once prosperous country, he continued to attract the support of other African leaders.
Robert Gabriel Mugabe was born in what was then Rhodesia on 21 February 1924, the son of a carpenter and one of the majority Shona-speaking people. Educated at Roman Catholic mission schools, he qualified as a teacher.
Winning a scholarship to Fort Hare University in South Africa, he took the first of his seven academic degrees before teaching in Ghana, where he was greatly influenced by the pan-Africanist ideas of Ghana’s post-independence leader Kwame Nkrumah. His first wife Sally was Ghanaian.
In 1960, Mugabe returned to Rhodesia. At first, he worked for the African nationalist cause with Joshua Nkomo, before breaking away to become a founder member of the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu).
In 1964, after making a speech in which he called Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith and his government “cowboys”, Mugabe was arrested and detained without trial for a decade.
His baby son died while he was still in prison and he was refused permission to attend the funeral.
In 1973, while still in detention, he was chosen as president of Zanu. After his release, he went to Mozambique and directed guerrilla raids into Rhodesia. His Zanu organisation formed a loose alliance with Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu).
During the tortuous negotiations on independence for Rhodesia, he was seen as the most militant of the black leaders and the most uncompromising in his demands.
On a 1976 visit to London, he declared that the only solution to the Rhodesian problem would come out of the barrel of a gun.
But his negotiating skills earned him the respect of many of his former critics. The press hailed him as “the thinking man’s guerrilla”.
The Lancaster House agreement of 1979 set up a constitution for the new Republic of Zimbabwe, as Rhodesia was to be called, and set February 1980 for the first elections to the new government.
Fighting the election on a separate platform from Nkomo, Mugabe scored an overwhelming and, to most outside observers, unexpected victory. Zanu secured a comfortable majority, although the polls were marred by accusations of vote-rigging and intimidation from both sides
A self-confessed Marxist, Mugabe’s victory initially had many white people packing their bags ready to leave Rhodesia, while his supporters danced in the streets.
However, the moderate, conciliatory tone of his early statements reassured many of his opponents. He promised a broad-based government, with no victimisation and no nationalisation of private property. His theme, he told them, would be reconciliation.
Later that year he outlined his economic policy, which mixed private enterprise with public investment.
With the prime minister frequently advocating one-party rule, the rift between Mugabe and Nkomo widened.
After the discovery of a huge cache of arms at Zapu-owned properties, Nkomo, recently demoted in a cabinet reshuffle, was dismissed from government.
While paying lip service to democracy, Mugabe gradually stifled political opposition. The mid-1980s saw the massacre of thousands of ethnic Ndebeles seen as Nkomo’s supporters in his home region of Matabeleland.
Mugabe was implicated in the killings, committed by the Zimbabwean army’s North Korean-trained 5th Brigade, but never brought to trial.
Under intense pressure, Nkomo agreed for his Zapu to be merged with – or taken over by – Zanu to become the virtually unchallenged Zanu-PF.
After abolishing the office of the prime minister, Mugabe became president in 1987 and was elected for a third term in 1996.
The same year, he married Grace Marufu, after his first wife had died from cancer. Mugabe already had two children with Grace, 40 years his junior. A third was born when the president was 73.
He did have some success in building a non-racial society, but in 1992 introduced the Land Acquisition Act, permitting the confiscation of land without appeal.
The plan was to redistribute land at the expense of more than 4,500 white farmers, who still owned the bulk of the country’s best land.
In early 2000, with his presidency under serious threat from the newly formed Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), led by former trade union leader Morgan Tsvangirai, Mugabe lashed out against the farmers, seen as MDC backers.
His supporters, the so-called “war veterans”, occupied white-owned farms and a number of farmers and their black workers were killed, BBC said.