Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean independence icon turned authoritarian leader, has died aged 95.
Mr Mugabe had been receiving treatment in a hospital in Singapore since April. He was ousted in a military coup in 2017 after 37 years in power.
The former president was praised for broadening access to health and education for the black majority. But later years were marked by violent repression of his political opponents and Zimbabwe’s economic ruin. His successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, expressed his “utmost sadness”, calling Mr Mugabe “an icon of liberation”.
It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing on of Zimbabwe's founding father and former President, Cde Robert Mugabe (1/2)
— President of Zimbabwe (@edmnangagwa) September 6, 2019
Mugabe was born on 21 February 1924 in what was then Rhodesia – a British colony, run by its white minority. After criticising the government of Rhodesia in 1964 he was imprisoned for more than a decade without trial.
In 1973, while still in prison, he was chosen as president of the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu), of which he was a founding member.
Once released, he headed to Mozambique, from where he directed guerrilla raids into Rhodesia but he was also seen as a skilled negotiator. Political agreements to end the crisis resulted in the new independent Republic of Zimbabwe.
With his high profile in the independence movement, Mr Mugabe secured an overwhelming victory in the republic’s first election in 1980.
But over his decades in power, international perceptions soured. Mr Mugabe assumed the reputation of a “strongman” leader – all-powerful, ruling by threats and violence – and an increasing number of critics labelled him a dictator.
He died far from home, bitter, lonely, and humiliated – an epic life, with the shabbiest of endings. Robert Mugabe embodied Africa’s struggle against colonialism – in all its fury and its failings. He was a courageous politician, imprisoned for daring to defy white-minority rule.
The country he finally led to independence was one of the continent’s most promising, and for years Zimbabwe more or less flourished. But when the economy faltered, Mr Mugabe lost his nerve. He implemented a catastrophic land reform programme. Zimbabwe quickly slid into hyperinflation, isolation, and political chaos.
The security forces kept Mr Mugabe and his party, Zanu-PF, in power – mostly through terror. But eventually even the army turned against him, and pushed him out.
Few nations have ever been so bound, so shackled, to one man. For decades, Mugabe was Zimbabwe: a ruthless, bitter, sometimes charming man – who helped ruin the land he loved.