Robert Mugabe: The man, his rule and his legacies

Mugabe was widely celebrated for his role in liberating Zimbabwe, however, his rule ended in an uncelebratory manner
Zimbabwe says former President Robert Mugabe to be buried in hometown

Robert Mugabe who died at the age of 95 was regarded by many as a hero of Africa’s independence struggle.

His long rule in Zimbabwe unfortunately descended into tyranny, and years of corruption.

His successor, President Mnangagwa who at some point was Mugabe’s deputy, referred to Mugabe as “an icon of liberation and a pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people”.

Mugabe’s contributions to the history of Zimbabwe and Africa, in general, will never be forgotten.

Mugabe was widely celebrated for his role in fighting the white supremacist regime in his homeland.

But his final years in power were characterised by financial collapse, surges of violent intimidation and a vicious internal power struggle.

READ: Zimbabwe’s ex-president, Robert Mugabe dies aged 95

President Mugabe started quite well in his early years as leader of Zimbabwe following the transition from British colonial rule.

He oversaw heavy investment in Zimbabwe’s social services.

Robert Mugabe: The man, his rule and his legacies
Graph showing the life and political career or now-late former Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe.

Areas including health and education saw dramatic improvements, with the country still enjoying one of the highest literacy rates in Africa.

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During his 37 year rule, he presided over the brutal repression of political opponents, established a culture of immunity for himself and a select few, and his government implemented a series of policies that have had grave consequences on his people.

Throughout his presidency, general elections were characterised by spikes of serious human rights violations and abuses by state security agents and ZANU-PF activists.

In 2008, the perceived aberration of Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) first-round election victory was quickly upturned, forcing Tsvangirai to withdraw from the run-off.

A wave of violence unleashed by the army against those suspected of voting the MDC ensured that Mugabe won by a comfortable margin after the second round of votes were counted.

Whenever Mugabe felt under pressure, he defaulted to condoning human rights violations, publicly defending the actions of his officials and allowing a culture of impunity to thrive.

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Human rights defenders, journalists, those with dissenting views and opposition party activists were locked up on politically motivated charges or under draconian laws.

Much early progress made on economic, social and cultural rights was wiped out by a series of subsequent disastrous government policy decisions.

READ: Zimbabwean President confirms Mugabe’s hospitalisation in Singapore

Operation Murambatsvina – a Shona word for “drive out trash” – which took place in 2005, was one of the most devastating forced evictions in Zimbabwean history.

Robert Mugabe: The man, his rule and his legacies
Graph showing Robert Mugabe’s political rule in Zimbabwe.

The United Nations estimated that 700,000 people had their homes or livelihoods, or both, destroyed, with those affected falling deeper into poverty.

Reforms aimed at redressing the unequal land distribution resulting from 90 years of colonial rule didn’t seem to work out.

Between year 2000 and 2001, an estimated 70,000 black farm workers were assaulted by state sponsored militia and forced to abandon their homes.

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Operation Murambatsvina also provided a pretext for violent targeting of farmworkers and white farmers who had supported the opposition.

While land reforms were clearly needed and resulted in some legitimate large-scale redistribution, they were also used as a system of patronage.

It rewarded Mugabe’s supporters with land while denying it to those considered supporters of opposition parties.

No doubt, Robert Mugabe will be remembered as both a liberation icon and a dictator, as his legacy divides opinions.

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