Lib­er­a­tor ruled Zim­babwe with iron fist for decades

The Morning Call - - NATION & WORLD - By Farai Mutsaka and Christo­pher Torchia

HARARE, Zim­babwe — For­mer Zim­bab­wean leader Robert Mu­gabe, an ex-guer­rilla chief who took power when the African coun­try shook off white mi­nor­ity rule and presided for decades while eco­nomic tur­moil and hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions eroded its early prom­ise, died Fri­day in Sin­ga­pore. He was 95.

Mu­gabe en­joyed strong sup­port from Zim­babwe’s peo­ple soon af­ter he be­came the first post-colo­nial leader of what had been British-con­trolled Rhode­sia.

Of­ten vi­o­lent farm seizures from whites who owned huge tracts of land made him a hated fig­ure in the West and a hero in Africa.

His suc­ces­sor, Pres­i­dent Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa, tweeted word Fri­day that an “icon of lib­er­a­tion” had died. Mnan­gagwa, a long­time loy­al­ist un­til Mu­gabe dis­missed him from his Cab­i­net, named Mu­gabe a na­tional hero, Zim­babwe’s high­est post­hu­mous honor.

He said the na­tion would ob­serve an of­fi­cial mourn­ing pe­riod for its late leader, “a great teacher and men­tor” and a “re­mark­able states­man of our cen­tury.”

Sin­ga­pore’s For­eign Min­istry said it was work­ing with Zim­babwe on ar­range­ments to fly Mu­gabe’s body home. In re­cent years, Mu­gabe sought med­i­cal treat­ment at Gle­nea­gles Hos­pi­tal in Sin­ga­pore.

Pres­i­den­tial spokesman Ge­orge Charamba said Mu­gabe was read­mit­ted to the hos­pi­tal com­plain­ing of chest pains. His per­sonal doctor, Dr. Jonathan Matenga, was flown to Sin­ga­pore and was with Mu­gabe when he died, Charamba said.

Mu­gabe’s pop­u­lar­ity be­gan to rise again af­ter Mnan­gagwa failed to de­liver on prom­ises of eco­nomic re­cov­ery and ap­peared to take an even harsher and more re­pres­sive stance against crit­ics. Many be­gan to pub­licly say they missed Mu­gabe.

Forced to re­sign amid pres­sure from the mil­i­tary, his party and the pub­lic in Novem­ber 2017, Mu­gabe was de­fi­ant through­out his long life, rail­ing against the West for what he called its neo-colo­nial­ist at­ti­tude and urg­ing Africans to take con­trol of their re­sources — a pop­ulist mes­sage that was of­ten a hit, even as many na­tions on the con­ti­nent shed the strong­man model and moved to­ward democ­racy.

A tar­get of in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions over the years, Mu­gabe nev­er­the­less en­joyed ac­cep­tance among peers in Africa who chose not to judge him in the same way as Bri­tain, the United States and other West­ern de­trac­tors.

“They are the ones who say they gave Chris­tian­ity to Africa,” Mu­gabe said of the West dur­ing a visit to South Africa in 2016. “We say: ‘We came, we saw and we were con­quered.’ ”

Even as old age took its toll and op­po­si­tion to his rule in­creased, he re­fused to step down un­til the pres­sure be­came un­bear­able in 2017 as his for­mer al­lies in the rul­ing party ac­cused him of grooming his wife, Grace, to take over — ahead of longserv­ing loy­al­ists such as Mnan­gagwa, who was fired in Novem­ber 2017 be­fore re­turn­ing to take over with the help of the mil­i­tary.

Mu­gabe was born on Feb. 21, 1924, in Zvimba, 40 miles west of the cap­i­tal of Harare. As a child, he tended his grand­fa­ther’s cat­tle and goats, fished for bream in muddy wa­ter holes, played soc­cer and “boxed a lot,” as he re­called later.

Mu­gabe lacked the easy charisma of Nel­son Man­dela, the anti-apartheid leader who be­came South Africa’s first black pres­i­dent in 1994 af­ter rec­on­cil­ing with its for­mer white rulers. But he drew ad­mir­ers in some quar­ters for tak­ing a hard line with the West, and he could be dis­arm­ing de­spite his some­times harsh de­meanor.

“The gift of politi­cians is never to stop speak­ing un­til the peo­ple say, ‘Ah, we are tired,’ ” he said at a 2015 news con­fer­ence. “You are now tired. I say thank you.”

XIN­HUA/ZUMA PRESS

The cur­rent pres­i­dent of Zim­babwe called Robert Mu­gabe, above, a “re­mark­able states­man of our cen­tury.”

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