Monday 14 October 2019

Tyrant liberated his country with a revolution and then destroyed it

Leader presided over the despoliation of Zimbabwe, once hailed as 'jewel of Africa'

Robert Mugabe. Picture: Reuters
Robert Mugabe. Picture: Reuters

Robert Mugabe, the former president of Zimbabwe, who has died aged 95, began his 37 years in power as a Nobel Peace Prize nominee credited with creating Africa's most successful multiracial state.

By the time he was ousted in 2017, his determination to remain in charge had driven the country to ruin and ensured his place as an international pariah. The determination of his widely detested second wife, Grace, to succeed him had threatened to plunge the country into civil war and led to a military intervention.

Mugabe had risen to prominence as a Marxist guerrilla leader of the rebellion against white minority rule in Rhodesia. Then in 1980 he was elected the first prime minister of the newly independent Zimbabwe. But once in office he presided over the despoliation of the country whose existence he had helped bring about.

Once called the "jewel of Africa" by the president of neighbouring Mozambique, Zimbabwe became the second poorest country in the world, with unemployment and poverty rates of around 80pc and one of the lowest life expectancies on Earth.

Mugabe's admirers in the West were surprised by his transformation from revolutionary hero into tyrant; for though he had made no secret of his one-party ambitions, he had appeared to tolerate the trappings of democracy - elections, a small independent press, trade unions and a more or less independent justice system.

Yet some had always seen a darker side; the writer Peter Godwin described Mugabe as an "African Robespierre" - highly educated and utterly ruthless. His critics were divided over whether to regard him as a Marxist terrorist or an old-fashioned chief who regarded Zimbabwe as his prize; either way, they believed it was only a question of time before he showed his true colours.

Robert Gabriel Mugabe was born on February 21 1924 in the village of Kutama, Mashonaland West province, the son of a carpenter. Mugabe was educated at a Jesuit mission school, where he became the star pupil. Later, he would defend the violence of the guerrilla war against the Rhodesian government by the Catholic concept of the "just war" as well as the Marxist doctrine of "people's struggle".

His first job was a teacher at a mission school in Dadaya. In 1950, sponsored by the Jesuits, Mugabe went to Fort Hare University in South Africa to read Politics, taking a degree after one year.

Mugabe returned to Southern Rhodesia determined to fan the flames of black nationalism. In 1960 he joined the National Democratic Party led by Joshua Nkomo, which aimed to achieve "one man, one vote" through civil disobedience and moral persuasion.

The NDP was banned in December 1961, only to be replaced by the Zimbabwe African People's Union (Zapu) with Mugabe secretary-general under Nkomo. In 1962 riots led to Zapu being banned and Mugabe and other leaders arrested. He was behind bars for three months, and after his release a fiery speech landed him in jail again. Within a month, he had escaped and fled to Tanzania.

Over the next three years there was ferment among the black factions. Mugabe broke with Nkomo, whom he regarded as half-hearted in the pursuit of black aspirations, and joined the Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole to form the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu).

He was jailed in 1964 after more racial tension led to murders by Zanu members and released only in 1974. He led the liberation war against the white-nationalist Rhodesian regime and also became part of the peace process mediated by Britain. This resulted in elections in 1980, where Mugabe's Zanu-PF Party won 57 of the 80 black seats, making him prime minister. His greatest triumph came on April 18 1980 with the birth of the independent Republic of Zimbabwe.

At first, Mugabe was a model of conciliation. He chose to form a coalition with Nkomo and even appointed two white ministers in his cabinet.

Mugabe was hailed as a symbol of racial reconciliation, but his grimmer instincts soon revealed themselves.

His forces brutally suppressed a small-scale rebellion by killing at least 8,000 civilians and torturing or detaining tens of thousands more. Mugabe imposed censorship and expelled Western journalists who revealed the crackdown.

Mugabe also changed the constitution to create a powerful executive presidency.

But by the late 1980s early gains in health and education went dramatically into reverse because of economic mismanagement and corruption.

During the 1990s, the corruption became a public scandal. Mugabe's closest cronies dealt in briefcases of cash and drove tank-like SUVs.

Mugabe was twice married, first in 1961 to Sally Hayfron, a Ghanaian woman. After she died in 1992, he married in 1996 Grace Marufu, a glamorous secretary almost 40 years his junior. Although in later life Mugabe professed to be a strong Catholic, his "beliefs" did not stop him from having a son and a daughter by Grace while Sally was dying from cancer. .

In a bid to shore up the country's finances, he vowed tp seize half the country's white-owned farms.

Zimbabwe's economy into turmoil, from which it never recovered. Within months the Zimbabwean Dollar had halved in value, the stock market had collapsed and inflation had risen to nearly 50pc.

He limped on in power for almost two decades still, by force of intimidation and election rigging. But in November 2017 he lost the support of the military and was succeeded by Emmerson Mnangagwa. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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