Robert Mugabe; from Liberator to Opressor

27th November 2017

“Robert Mugabe, the African Jekyll Hyde?”

On the 18th of November 2017; millions on Zimbabweans around the globe gathered to celebrate the end of an era. What seemed like an eternity finally came to an end as Robert Mubage finally stepped down as the president of Zimbabwe. But what kind of legacy has he left behind?

The Liberator

The former president wasn’t always Africa’s figurehead of totalitarianism. Before the oppressor, came the emancipator, a man who was passionate about the freedom of his country and people. His rise to the political platform began in the 1960s, where he and the likes of Joshua Nkomo dedicated themselves to the cause of ridding the country of colonial rule. Actions which not only displeased the elite minority but consequently led to him being jailed for over 10 years.

Robert Mugabe

It was during his time in prison that Mugabe moulded his political agenda. He emerged as the leader of the Zimbabwean African National Union party (ZANU). Shortly after his release, with a more refined ideology, he exiled to Mozambique to join the Zimbabwe African Liberation Army. Who combatted against the colonial government in the battle of Chimurenga (Rhodesian Bush war) between 1964- 1979. Thousands died during this struggle that led to the first democratic elections to be had in Zimbabwe. Eradicating the rule of Ian Smith and placing Robert Mugabe as president.

In addition to his conquering colonialism, Mugabe was celebrated for his health and education initiatives. The economy flourished as the export of manufacturing and agricultural products grew. Zimbabwe was once known as the ‘bread basket’ of Africa and the portrait of postcolonial Africa. However, It is this same bravery and short-lived stability that Mugabe and his party have lorded over the people of Zimbabwe for decades. Utilising it as a tool for maintaining control for 37 years. Coupling this with the constant propaganda about the West and their intentions is what propelled his almost eternal reign.

Robert Mugabe

Political Oppression

His political career has always been one clouded in violence and exertions of unnecessary control. The tribal division between Matebele and Mashona land was one of the first instances. Disagreements between Nkomo and Mugabe; the most prominent leaders of the time placed the country on the brink of civil war. Which soon found its release in the Gugurahundi Genocide where an unnamed number of Ndebele people were massacred by their Shona counterparts. Nkomo fled the country out of fear of his safety, only returning to serve as deputy president when his party joined Mugabe’a to form ZANU-PF.

Nkomo died a pacified death in 1999. His passing and that of many other politicians, who posed a threat to Mugabe’s lease on power have been questioned by many Zimbabwean nationals. The more recent example being the mysterious death of military chief general Solomon Mujuru in 2011. The former military officer had been reprimanded for attempting to oust Mugabe back in 2008.

Social Oppression

Mugabe’s fierce tendencies also played a role in suppressing the rights of his people. His government has long been accused of systematically violating the confines of the declaration of human rights. Critics of Mugabe’s regime have been subject to arrests, harassment, and intimidation when voicing their views. Currently, the whereabouts of activist Itai Dzamara, a noteworthy critic of Mugabe’s government, are still unknown. We can infer that intimidation has been an important factor in keeping Zimbabweans subservient to the tyrannical regime.

Robert Mugabe

As a result of his maltreatment of the system, Zimbabwean nationals have suffered on many aspects. With an unemployment rate of  95%, propelled by the poor performance of the manufacturing industry has left most living well below the poverty line. The country also has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in Southern Africa, and the increasing  HIV rates have also been a cause for global concern.

Economic Oppression 

The country’s economy has also suffered in this struggle retain power. His mismanagement of agriculture spurred on by the 1992 ‘Land Acquisition Act’ brought the country to its knees. The act enabled Mugabe to carry out a vicious appropriation of white-owned farms, whose tobacco production was the backbone of Zimbabwe’s steady economy. Most of the land was redistributed to inexperienced farmers, on the basis of their allegiance to Mugabe and his ZANU party. As it stands the former President is among one of the largest landowners in Zimbabwe, with his assets rumored at over $1Billion in value.


Robert Mugabe

The fiscal situation took a turn as the key source of export revenue faltered, sending a wave of inflation rippling through the economy. In 2009 the Zimbabwean dollar completely crumbled, the country has faced many instances of economic collapse and currently doesn’t have its own currency. Additionally, the effect of Western sanctions, reacting to Mugabe’s reforms can equally be blamed for the country’s inability to recover.

I don’t dispute any of Mugabe’s accomplishments in bringing about a liberal Zimbabwe, free of colonial rule. However, considering the latter his; misconduct, violence, and readiness to dispirit his countrymen have completely overshadowed these accreditations. The breaking point for most was foreseeing the exchange of power from the hands of Mugabe to that of his wife, a more despised figure in the country. Every generation will remember how the glory of their beloved country faded under the shadow of a deluded dictator.

Which Mugabe will you choose to remember?

Written by Sukoluhle Hadebe

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1 Comment

  1. Mara

    Thank you very much for such a candid, enlightning writing. I was happy just reading such balanced perspective, but your option is so open for leaving a reply, I just have to comment.

    I thought I was going to owe him an apology -maybe I do.