Robert Mugabe, a hero of Africa’s independence struggle whose long rule in Zimbabwe descended into tyranny, corruption and incompetence, has died at the age of 95, president Emmerson Mnangagwa has said.
Mnangagwa said in a statement on Friday 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. May his soul rest in eternal peace.”
The passing of the former president, who ruled Zimbabwe for close to four decades before being ousted in a military takeover in November 2017, marks the definitive end of an era in the history of the former British colony.
Mugabe is believed to have died in Singapore, where he made frequent visits to receive medical care in recent months as his health deteriorated. As far back as November 2018, Mnangagwa, who took over from him as president, told members of the ruling Zanu-PF party that Mugabe could no longer walk.
Though once widely celebrated for his role in fighting the white supremacist regime in his homeland, Mugabe had long become a deeply divisive figure in his own country and across the continent.
His final years in power were characterised by financial collapse, surges of violent intimidation and a vicious internal power struggle pitting his wife Grace, 41 years younger, against Mnangagwa, his former righthand man.
Mnangagwa, a Zanu-PF stalwart, took power with military support when his rival appeared on the point of consolidating her position as the declining dictator’s preferred successor. Mugabe reluctantly resigned following vast demonstrations of support from civilians and implicit threats from the army. The news of his decision prompted widespread rejoicing.
In the decades since Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain in 1980, power had concentrated in Mugabe’s hands. Before Mnangagwa took over, an entire generation of Zimbabweans have known no other leader.
Mugabe was granted the status of a respected father of the nation and a generous pension – a strategy that has infuriated his many opponents and upset many of the victims of his regime.
His frustration and sense of humiliation over his ousting were clear, however, and voiced with typical rhetorical force at an extraordinary press conference in the grounds of his residence in Harare, the capital, days before elections in July.
Mugabe, flanked by his wife, suggested he would vote for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, a party he had brutally suppressed before co-opting it in 2008 to form a supposed unity government that he still dominated.
Until the end he retained friends on the African continent but increasingly became an international pariah. Mugabe was stripped of an honorary knighthood by the British government in 2008.
Educated at Catholic missionary schools, Mugabe became a teacher in Ghana then returned to Rhodesia in 1960 to fight white minority rule. He was jailed for 10 years and fled to neighbouring Mozambique, where he became one of the leaders of the guerrilla forces fighting Ian Smith’s regime.