By Debdeep Mukherjee
On Friday, incumbent Zimbabwean president Emmerson Mnangagwa announced on Twitter that former president Robert Gabriel Mugabe has died in Singapore following months of ill-health. Mugabe ruled the south African nation with an iron-fist for 37 years from 1980 to 2017 when he was forced to demit office and make way for Mnangagwa with army’s support.
Mugabe’s legacy is highly divided. While some regard him as a revolutionary leader who brought freedom to Zimbabwe and reprieve from Ian Smith’s racist regime, others view him as someone who colonized and impoverished his own country while his second wife Grace, shopped luxury items worth billions of dollars.
Mugabe spent ten years in jail fighting for independence of Zimbabwe. He is known to be a Marxist-Leninist but what many don’t know is that he was also influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s idea of non-violence during his college days though he later joined the Zimbabwe African National Union’s armed struggle. The white-majority rule propagated by Ian Smith banned the organization and all other such groups which advocated majority rule.
Mugabe believed in educating himself. He worked as a college faculty for some years in Ghana and while in jail, got degrees through correspondence. His English was regarded to be flawless and eloquent even by his staunch critics.
After the bloody Bush War and years of resistance, Smith had to resign which led to the Lancaster House agreement and transfer of power to a black majority rule though Mugabe felt betrayed as all his interests were not accounted for.
The transfer of white-owned land to blacks attracted condemnation from majority of western countries but it made Mugabe a hero among his own people. Whites fled Zimbabwe in large numbers soon after he came to power.
Among his good programmes, the scheme to impart free primary education and half the fees of secondary education deserves praise but these were shortlived.
Though he preached reconciliation between the whites and blacks initially, his promises faded away with the brutal clampdown on opposition forces in Matabeleland by the army’s North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade. In the months of torture that followed, some international figures quote the killings of around 20,000 guerillas.
Rape, torture, mass beatings and ruthless silencing of opposition was common.
By the mid-1980s, Mugabe crushed his main rivals and consolidated control of the state. He advocated a one-party system and aligned himself closely to communist Cuba, China, and the Soviet Union. There was hardly any political opposition, just the remnants of a disgruntled white ruling class that had started migrating. Finally in 1987, Mugabe became the president after abolishing the post of prime minister and granted himself sweeping powers.
The elections which he presided were marred with widespread allegations of rigging and intimidation of political opponents. His regime is also known to be highly corrupt, looting state treasure at the cost of public poverty. Regular oppression of political opponents and journalists invited outrage against his government in international forums.
In 2008, when his Zanu-PF lost control of parliament, Mugabe responded by rigging the presidential election and stifled the voice of democracy.
Mugabe wanted to be remembered as an African nationalist but presided over the rapid economic decline and global diplomatic isolation of his own country.
Despite having a high literacy rate and abundance of minerals, today 80% of Zimbabweans are unemployed and in abrupt poverty.
Mugabe’s hatred for LGBTQ is widely known. His racist policies brought downfall of Zimbabwean cricket and forced many cricketers to seek asylum in foreign countries.
Mugabe’s government allowed massive corruption and mismanagement apart from a disastrous downward spiral of the economy, which saw both industry and commercial agriculture collapse. The economy is still struggling to recover, even after two years of his ouster.
Hence, it is to be seen whether the young Zimbabweans regard Mugabe as their founding father or despite him for running a tyrannical rule for nearly four decades.
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