Published On: Fri, Sep 6th, 2019

Robert Mugabe dead: Zimbabwe mourns a complicated figure | World | News

Robert Mugabe, the man who once famously declared “only God will remove me”, died in hospital in Singapore, where he had been receiving treatment since April. The complicated figure began his 37-year reign with overwhelming public support, the very embodiment of the African struggle against colonialism. But as the country faltered, so did Mugabe, ending his reign as a disgraced despot, forced out by the military.

Mugabe was born on February 21, 1924, in what was then called Rhodesia – a British colony, dominated by white minority rule.

After publicly criticising the government in 1964, he was imprisoned for more than a decade without trial.

While in prison, he continued his work toward the liberation of his country, and in 1973 was chosen as president of the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu, later and still now Zanu-PF).

Once released, he led guerrilla raids into the country from Mozambique, and eventually played a key hand in negotiations the formation of the independent Republic of Zimbabwe.

Robert Mugabe

Robert Mugabe: The former long-time ruler of Zimbabwe has died at the age of 95 (Image: Getty)

Mugabe secured an overwhelming victory in the republic’s first election in 1980, and was credited in his early years for broadening access to health and education for the black majority.

But over his decades in power, his policy lost direction, with the implementation of catastrophic land reforms plunging the country into hyperinflation, global isolation, and political chaos.

Security forces kept him and his party, Zanu-PF, in power, mostly through violence and terror.

But eventually, the army turned against him, ousting Mugabe and ushering in Emmerson Mnangagwa – who, once seen as a symbol of hope from the freedom of Mugabe, is quickly becoming feared as a reincarnation of misplaced power.

Robert Mugabe dead

Robert Mugabe dead: He played a key hand in negotiations the formation of the new independent Republic of Zimbabwe (Image: Getty)

What has the public reaction been?

Flint Bedrock, a prominent Zimbabwean musician, summed up the public’s mixed emotions.

He told “In my culture, one does not speak ill of the dead.

“But it’s safe to say having had Mugabe as president for most of my life it’s hard not to feel a bit of sadness.

“Had this day come while he was still president the overwhelming sentiment would have been that of relief and optimism but since he was no longer in office his death can only be viewed as the fall of a national icon, an African giant, a legend.”

Robert Mugabe dead

Robert Mugabe dead: With the late South African president, Nelson Mandela (Image: Getty)

Zimbabwe, so deeply shackled to Mugabe, has been plunged back into deep economic turmoil under his successor, with severe police violence marring public protest.

Mr Bedrock said: “Recent events have led Zimbabweans to wonder whether they would not have been better off with Mugabe still as president.

“Zimbabwe is facing severe economic challenges and the current administration has fallen out of favour with the international community after demonstrating that it is no different if not worse than Mugabe’s regime.”

He added: “The stark reality is that the current regime is even more repressive than that of the late President.”

Warm reactions to Mugabe’s death would not have been so prevalent had the president not been ousted in the 2017 coup.

Robert Mugabe dead

Robert Mugabe dead: Current president Emmerson Mnangagwa (Image: Getty)

Mr Bedrock said: “I remember in 2003 a rumour circulated that Mugabe had died which led to jubilation and euphoria, some people even failed to turn up for work celebrating what was perceived to be the fall of a dictator.”

Now, however, Mugabe will “forever be remembered for his contribution to the liberation struggle.”

President Mnangagwa echoed a similar sentiment after the news of the death, tweeting: “It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing on of Zimbabwe’s founding father and former President, Cde Robert Mugabe…

“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.”

But many took to Twitter to say they failed to remember the dictator with anything but contempt.

BBC news editor John Simpson said: “Just found in my notes that in November 2008 the year-on-year inflation rate in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe was a shade under 90 sextillion per cent.

“Soon afterwards his wife Grace beat up a British photographer who snapped her buying expensive jewellery in Hong Kong.”

Piers Morgan said: “I’m struggling to start my grief at Robert Mugabe’s death.”

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