If there has been any strong real-life example to the narrative device of a well-meaning leader fighting against an oppressive government only to become a more oppressive dictator upon rising to power, one need look no further than Robert Mugabe. He was outwardly a nationalistic African revolutionary leader struggling against the entrenched white minority population and leadership of the breakaway British colony of Rhodesia in the 1960s-70s, eventually being elected as Prime Minister and President of the nation, renamed Zimbabwe. Unfortunately his heavy-handed governance and backfiring policies would lead to the 30-year economic breakdown of the country until Mugabe’s 2017 overthrow. Nearly two years after that, Robert Mugabe has passed.
CNN reports that Robert Mugabe, one of the founding figures of modern Zimbabwe in Africa, has died this Friday, September 6, in Singapore where he has been receiving treatment for increasingly frail health. He was 95 years of age at the time of death. Mugabe has been regularly checking into hospitals for various conditions in the later years of his leadership of Zimbabwe, with his extended stays in Singapore being recorded as early as April. The specifics of what ailed him have been kept secret.
Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s Vice President and successor following the 2017 coup as the third President of Zimbabwe, made the formal announcement of his predecessor’s death on social media. “It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing on of Zimbabwe’s founding father and former President, Cde Robert Mugabe,” Mnangagwa wrote Friday on Twitter. Despite Mugabe’s ultimately bleak legacy and his own part in removing him from office, Mnangagwa described the late strongman as a “Pan-Africanist” icon of liberation who both freed and empowered his fellow Zimbabweans in their struggle during the Rhodesian regime.
The sheer disappointing tail end of Robert Mugabe’s time as leader of Zimbabwe for some three decades, compared to his initial international reputation upon becoming Prime Minister in 1980, was appalling. Despite fighting white Rhodesia as a leftist militant, his starting tenure in government was initially centrist and reconciliatory in nature. But the emigration of Zimbabwe’s white population and conflict with other political parties led to Mugabe clamping down on opposition and heaving far right in rule.
The disastrous seizure of white-owned farms that enabled Zimbabwe as a food exporter to Africa led to shortages and economic downturn, which Mugabe intensified by overprinting currency leading to such extreme hyperinflation that the country’s currency is all but worthless, with other nations’ currencies seeing wider use instead. Even worse, Mugabe ensured his multiple re-elections to the Presidency with gross intimidation, to the point that he was all but President of Zimbabwe for life until the 2017 coup.
And yet, in spite of his failures in hindsight, there are still many Zimbabweans who thought well of Mugabe, as Emmerson Mnangagwa said closing off his predecessor’s death announcement, “His contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten. May his soul rest in eternal peace.”
Image from New York Times