Liberator ruled Zimbabwe with iron fist for decades
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.”
The current president of Zimbabwe called Robert Mugabe, above, a “remarkable statesman of our century.”