Mugabe was a former guerrilla chief who took power after the end of white minority rule in 1980 and presided over a country whose early promise was eroded by economic turmoil and human rights violations.
Robert Mugabe, who led Zimbabwe with an iron fist from 1980 to 2017, has died aged 95, the country’s president announced Friday. First heralded as a liberator who rid the former British colony of Rhodesia of white minority rule, Mugabe used repression and fear to hold on to power in Zimbabwe until he was finally ousted by his previously loyal military generals.
“It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing on of Zimbabwe’s founding father and former President… Robert Mugabe,” Emmerson Mnangagwa said in a tweet. “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.”
Mugabe had been battling ill health, and his humiliating fall from office in November 2017, his stamina seeped away rapidly. He was hospitalised in Singapore for months for an undisclosed ailment, Mnangagwa had confirmed earlier this year. No further details were immediately available about the circumstances of his death, or where he died.
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 the 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 as rapidly as he cracked down on opponents, including a campaign known as Gukurahundi that killed an estimated 20,000 dissidents.
The violent seizure of white-owned farms turned Mugabe into an international pariah — though his status as a liberation hero still resonates strongly in most of Africa. Aimed largely at placating angry war veterans who threatened to destabilise his rule, the land reform policy wrecked the crucial agricultural sector, caused foreign investors to flee and helped plunge the country into economic misery.
All along, the Mugabe regime was widely accused of human rights violations and of rigging elections.
The topic of his succession was virtually taboo during Mugabe’s decades-long rule, and a vicious struggle to take over after his death became clear among the ruling elite as he reached his 90s and became visibly frail.