Robert Mugabe, a hero who turned despot, dies


World, Africa

Ex-Zimbabwe president used repression to govern for 37 years.

In this file photo taken on July 28, 2013, Zimbabwe’s former president Robert Mugabe greets supporters after his address at a rally in Harare. (Photo: AFP)

Harare: Robert Mugabe, the former guerrilla hero turned despot who ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years until the military forced him out, has died aged 95, the country’s president announced on Friday.

First heralded as a liberator who rid the former British colony Rhodesia of white minority rule, Mugabe used repression and fear to govern until he was finally ousted by his previously loyal generals in November 2017.

The country’s former colonial ruler Britain expressed its condolences but said there were “mixed emotions” after Mugabe’s death. “Zimbabweans suffered for too long as a result of Mugabe’s autocratic role,” the foreign ministry said.

Mugabe died at 0240 GMT in Singapore, where he was hospitalised in April, a Zimbabwean diplomat in South Africa said.

The Singaporean foreign ministry confirmed that Mugabe had died at Gleneagles Hospital.

“The Ministry is working with the Embassy of Zimbabwe in Singapore on the arrangements for the late Mr Mugabe’s body to be flown back to Zimbabwe,” it said.

Mugabe was battling ill health, and after his humiliating fall from office, his stamina seeped away rapidly. “Mugabe was an icon of liberation, a pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people. His contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten,” President Emmerson Mnangagwa tweeted after announcing the news.

Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa said that despite “political differences” with Mugabe’s regime, he recognised the “contribution made during his lifetime as a nation’s founding President.”

The Mugabe years are widely remembered for his crushing of political dissent and policies that ruined the economy.

The former political prisoner turned guerrilla leader swept to power in 1980 elections after a growing insurgency and economic sanctions forced the Rhodesian government to the negotiating table.

In office, he initially won international plaudits for his declared policy of racial reconciliation and for extending improved education and health services to the black majority.

But that faded rapidly as Mugabe cracked down on his opponents. During the 1980s, he led an infamous campaign Gukurahundi in which an estimated 20,000 dissidents were killed.