Robert Gabriel Mugabe (21 February 1924 – 6 September 2019) was a Zimbabwean revolutionary and politician who served as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe from 1980 to 1987 and then as President from 1987 to 2017. He led Zimbabwe since independence in 1980-2017, remaining as its political leader through his tight control of the government bureaucracy and the armed forces.
Robert Mugabe was born 21 February 1924 at Katuma Jesuit Mission in Southern Rhodesia to a carpenter father and devoutly Catholic mother. In 1934 Mugabe’s father, Gabriel Mugabe, deserted his family leaving them in poverty; Mugabe would not see him for another ten years. While living at the mission Mugabe was educated and earned his primary school teaching certification in 1941.
In 1949 Mugabe received a scholarship to the all-black college at Fort Hare in South Africa‘s Cape Province where he met other future African leaders such as Julius Nyerere and Kenneth Kaunda. By the time of his graduation in 1951 with a Bachelor’s Degree in History and English, Mugabe had already become fascinated with politics and joined South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC). Mugabe taught in Northern Rhodesia between 1955 and 1958 and later in Ghana (1958-1960) before returning home to Southern Rhodesia in 1960.
Mugabe joined the National Democratic Party, an anti-colonial political group that in 1963 was banned when it became the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) under Joshua Nkomo and demanded an end to colonial rule. Mugabe then joined the rival Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) led by Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole which also called for independence and was subsequently banned.
In 1964 Mugabe was arrested for subversive speech and spent the next 11 years in a Salisbury prison. While in prison Mugabe, in 1974, was elected to lead ZANU. He emerged from prison in 1975 as the most powerful independence leader in Rhodesia. When Ian Smith, the Prime Minister of Rhodesia made no power-sharing concessions to the black majority, Mugabe and other leaders began a guerilla war against the Smith regime.
On March 3, 1978, Smith did negotiate with Bishop Abel Muzorewa, Ndabaningi Sithole, and other moderate leaders, reaching an accord which would allow the first open elections. Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo, both now waging separate guerilla wars, refused to participate in the elections and continued their fight against the government. Ominously, Mugabe and Nkomo’s forces often fought each other even as they tried to overthrow the Smith government.
Finally, in February 1980 a cease-fire was negotiated. Smith, Mugabe, and Nkomo agreed to a new constitution for a new Republic of Zimbabwe. On March 4, 1980, the first all-race election was held in Zimbabwe. Mugabe’s ZANU won 57 of 80 seats in the new parliament with twenty designated “white seats” all going to Ian Smith’s Rhodesian Front Party.
Once in office, Mugabe began moving to consolidate his power. He fired Joshua Nkomo from his cabinet, initiating a new guerilla war between 1982 and 1985. Mugabe’s forces crushed his opponents and generated the first charges of genocide with an estimated 20,000 civilians dying in the fighting. Mugabe also moved against Rhodesian Front, seizing the farms of opponents and dividing the lands among his followers.
Although the first decade of Mugabe’s rule led to better nutrition and less poverty among the African majority, by the early 1990s, as his economic policies hurt the general population and increased the potential for political opposition, he increasingly turned to repressive measures to control the nation.
In 1998 and 2000 food riots over food shortages and high prices on government-controlled commodities broke out in major Zimbabwean cities. By this point opposition to Mugabe was growing both within Zimbabwe and around the world. With the army and police remaining loyal and having developed a political system which rewarded his most loyal followers, Mugabe managed to maintain control of the nation.
In 2008 elections, on March 29, 2008, Robert Mugabe lost political support to his opponent Morgan Tsvangirai. In the mandatory run-off, Mugabe won the disputed and violent election. Under international pressure, Mugabe and Tsvangirai formed a united government where Mugabe remains as President and Tsvangirai held the position of Prime Minister.
Coup d’état and resignation
Robert Mugabe’s rule was brought to an end by Zimbabwe’s armed forces on November 15, 2017. He had been in power since 1980.
On 6 November 2017, Mugabe sacked his first vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa. This fuelled speculation that he intended to name Grace his successor. Grace was very unpopular with the ZANU-PF old guard. On 15 November 2017, the Zimbabwe National Army placed Mugabe under house arrest as part of what it described as an action against “criminals” in Mugabe’s circle.
On 19 November, he was sacked as leader of ZANU-PF, and Mnangagwa was appointed in his place. The party also gave Mugabe an ultimatum: resign by noon the following day, or it would introduce an impeachment resolution against him. In a nationally televised speech that night, Mugabe refused to say that he would resign. In response, ZANU-PF deputies introduced an impeachment resolution on 21 November 2017, which was seconded by the MDC-T. The constitution stipulated that removing a president from office required a two-thirds majority of both the House of Assembly and Senate in a joint sitting. However, with both major parties supporting the motion, Mugabe’s impeachment and removal appeared all but certain.
As per the constitution, both chambers met in joint session to debate the resolution. The debate took place at a conference center since Parliament House was not large enough for a joint sitting. Hours after the debate began, the Speaker of the House of Assembly read a letter from Mugabe announcing that he had resigned, effective immediately. Mugabe and his wife negotiated a deal before his resignation, under which he and his kin are exempted from prosecution, his business interests will remain untouched, and he is set to receive a payment of at least $10 million. In July 2018, the Zimbabwe Supreme Court ruled that Mugabe had resigned voluntarily, despite some of the ex-president’s subsequent comments.
Robert Mugabe Illness & Death
Mugabe was hospitalized in April 2019, making the last of several trips to Singapore for medical treatment, as he had done late in his presidency and in the months following its end. He died on 6 September 2019, at the age of 95.
Robert Mugabe’s Ideology
- Mugabe embraced African nationalism and anti-colonialism during the 1960s. Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni characterized “Mugabeism” as a populist movement that was “marked by ideological simplicity, emptiness, vagueness, imprecision, and multi-class character”, further noting that it was “a broad church”.
- He also characterized it as a form of “left-nationalism”, which consistently railed against imperialism and colonialism.
- He also argued that it was a form of nativism, which was permeated by a strong “cult of victimization” in which a binary view was propagated where Africa was a “victim” and the West was its “tormentor”. He suggested that it had been influenced by a wide range of ideologies, among them forms of Marxism like Stalinism and Maoism, as well as African nationalist ideologies like Nkrumaism, Ujamaa, Garveyism, Négritude, Pan-Africanism, and African neo-traditionalism.
- Mugabeism sought to deal with the problem of white settler racism by engaging in a project of anti-white racism that sought to deny white Zimbabweans citizenship by constantly referring to them as “amabhunu/Boers”, thus enabling their removal from their land.
Robert Mugabe’s Net Worth
Prior to his demise, Robert Mugabe’s estimated net worth was $20 million.