Not many African leaders captivated the world as much as former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe. Depending on one’s political persuasion, Mugabe was either a hero or a villain.
Admired for his oratory prowess and deep conviction about the subservient role of blacks in global affairs, Mugabe was one of a few African leaders able to captivate an audience with his ability to eloquently articulate global issues from a southern perspective.
Born on 24 February 1924 in Zimbabwe’s Zvimba district, Mugabe was champion of the political and economic liberation of Africans.
He was never one to be easily intimidated by the repercussions of standing up against or questioning Western hegemony.
Because of that, both himself and Zimbabwe have had to endure Western economic sanctions since 2003.
He was one of the outspoken proponents of the reform of the international financial system, which imposes stringent conditions on development support to Africa.
He insisted that the United States-dominated World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are unbalanced and selective in their approaches and should be reformed so that they are attuned to the developmental needs of Africa and the rest of the developing world.
Mugabe offered a message of hope and unity to millions of his compatriots when he became the first black prime minister of newly independent Zimbabwe on 18 April 1980.
During the early years of his rule, he did not disappoint on his promise of improving the living stands of Zimbabweans, with one of his achievements being his ability to deliver a free education system in the 1980s and 1990s that was the envy of many of Zimbabwe’s neighbours and far afield.
Under his rule, Zimbabwe remained one of the countries with high literacy rates in Sub-Saharan Africa, averaging above 90 percent of the population over the greater part of the past 30 years.
Zimbabwe’s health delivery system was one of the best in Africa during the country’s first decade of independence, before it started crumbling during the latter part of his 37-year rule due to a combination of lack of budgetary support and corruption.
However, most of his achievements during the early part of rule were blighted by a number of bad decisions.
Observers say a critical turning point for the Zimbabwean leader was the January 1992 death of his first wife, Sally, seen by many as the only person capable of restraining him.
Sarah Francesca Hayfron, popularly known as Sally, was a Ghanaian woman whom Mugabe met when he taught in the West African country. They married in April 1961.
About four years after Sally’s death, Mugabe officialised his union with his girlfriend, Grace Marufu, with whom he had an affair while his first wife was fighting a kidney ailment that later claimed her life.
The couple wedded in August 1996 but already had three children together, the first of whom was born while Sally was still alive.
Things were never the same after that for the man who was once a darling of Zimbabweans.
The former president earned the ire of the West when he ordered white farmers off their properties in 2000 under a land reform programme that he argued was necessary in order to address the historical inequalities in the ownership of natural resources.
The programme was aimed at over 300 000 families getting land but was not properly implemented, resulting in food shortages and the closure of firms that relied on throughput from agriculture for their raw materials.
The country’s fortunes hit rock bottom in 2008 when inflation breached 230 billion percent and foodstuffs disappeared from shops.
Faced with an economic crisis and the prospects of losing elections, Mugabe became more and more despotic and clashed any opposition.
The final straw was when he turned on his own lieutenants and fired his long-time confidante, Emmerson Mnangagwa, in November 2017. Mnangagwa was, at the time, Zimbabwe’s vice president.
The fallout led to a military coup that toppled Mugabe during the same month.
Mugabe died in Singapore on Friday, 6 September 2019, aged 95, and is expected to be buried at a private ceremony in his home village next week.