HARARE, Zimbabwe – Robert Mugabe, has died. He is remembered and known as the guerrilla leader who led Zimbabwe to independence in 1980 and ruled with clear authority – until a ‘friendly, pro-Mugabe salvation’ move by military leader Emmerson Mnangagwa ended his almost four decade rule in 2017. He was 95.
In announcing the longtime leader’s death on Friday, Zimbabwe’s incumbent president, Emmerson Mnangagwa praised Mugabe as an “icon of liberation”.
The moves by Mnangagwa to ‘save’ the revolution from a deteriorated Mugabe were based on, what are said to have been, the “conniving of Mugabe’s significantly younger second wife, Grace”, who had apparently convinced the aged Mugabe to hand power to her upon his death.
“His contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten. May his soul rest in eternal peace”, said Mnangagwa.
Mugabe had always been a strong proponent of education for Zimbabweans and Africans on the whole. He saw education and overcoming the ideological and psychological legacy of British colonialism and imperialism as critical to the freedom of Africa.
Imperialist media, especially from legacy outlets deemed ‘progressive’, have long been critical of Mugabe, and reflect precisely the sort of problems raised in post-colonial political and literary theory.
Western media’s criticism of Mugabe has a strange and contradictory legacy. In a manner similar to the treatment of Venezuela and Syria, Mugabe’s government was blamed for the economic hardships that plagued the country at the end of the 1990’s, when in fact these were the result of the very same Western imposed economic sanctions. The collapse of the USSR led to decisive weakening of the Non-Aligned movement as well, and the Atlanticist powers had a free hand to pursue long-time obstacles such as independent Zimbabwe. In that course, Mugabe’s work and legacy was vilified.
Bourgeois-liberal theory on democracy and elections are such that elected leaders should be expected to be so reviled and hated after a disappointing 4-6 year stint, that naturally it is assumed that these elected leaders be rotated out in order to make room for the next set of would-be disappointers. It is therefore unthinkable within bourgeois-liberal theory, that in popular or people’s democracies, especially those within the framework of the developmental model, that a government be stable and popular and – based on making good on its electoral promises – continue to be elected over the decades.
The reality is that the 1980 revolution in Zimbabwe – then Rhodesia – was the culmination of decades of armed struggle. For the guerrilla fighters who supported Mugabe’s revolution, the music of Bob Marley was a huge inspiration.
Fred Zindi, professor at the University of Zimbabwe commented to Forbes Magazine in 2014: “During the years of Chimurenga (chiShona for uprising), Bob Marley’s music had been adopted by the guerrilla forces of the Patriotic Front; indeed, there were stories of ZANLA troops playing Marley cassettes in the bush,” says Zindi.
“Certainly, Marley’s music has potency and a commitment which goes far beyond simple entertainment. He now enjoys a special place in Third World culture; an artist who directly identifies with the black African struggle. Thus, he was the only outside artist asked to participate in Zimbabwe’s independence celebrations.”
“His songs were the food that people in liberation movements, particularly the armed wings, were sustained by”
Zimbabwe’s literacy rate reached the highest of any African country during his presidency, and economic growth was exponential until the country was struck by U.S led economic sanctions in the 1990’s. This is in large part due to the fact that Mugabe worked as a school teacher prior to beginning his political career, first teaching in Ghana and then returning to Zimbabwe to join the revolution against the British colonial puppet government of Rhodesia.
Zimbawe’s difficulties are understood virtually everywhere in the world outside of Anglophone dominated media, as the product of U.S imposed sanctions. Cynically, and in a manipulative reversal of the chronology and cause-effect dynamics, the difficulties caused by the sanctions are said to be the reason for the sanctions. Often left out of anti-Zimbabwe polemics, are the fact that the region was hit by a major drought in the early-mid 90’s.
Sanctions are a form of collective punishment, and are a crime against humanity. The aim of sanctions is to make economic conditions so poor for the people, as to create political unrest and the possibility for a turn-over in power. The next step is to then install a government friendly to the aims of imperialism and to re-institute colonial relations.
Nevertheless, Zimbabwe led by Mugabe was able to turn around its GDP growth significantly after the crisis and low-point in 2008.
He earned seven university degrees, six while in prison
Six of Mugabe’s university degrees were actually earned while he was doing distance learning in prison. They cover a broad range of topics including education, economics, administration, and law. Degrees include a Bachelor of Laws and Master’s of Laws from the University of London’s external program, earned during his stint in a Salisbury prison.
After his release from prison, he escaped Zimbabwe with the help of a white nun
Though the Rhodesians did release Mugabe from prison, he was not supposed to leave the country. A white nun helped him to cross into Mozambique, where he was able to rejoin the revolutionary armies.
He was a Nobel Peace Prize nominee
In 1981, Mugabe was on the short list for the Nobel Peace Prize for his initial stance about reconciliation following Zimbabwe’s independence and his election as the country’s first president. He said, “Our people, young and old, men and women, black and white, living and dead, are, on this occasion, being brought together in a new form of national unity that makes them all Zimbabweans.”
Mugabe has received a glowing tribute particularly from African leaders, as well as China.
Following are the reactions from world leaders to his death:
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa
“South Africans join the people and government of Zimbabwe in mourning the passing of a liberation fighter and champion of Africa’s cause against colonialism.
Under President Mugabe’s leadership, Zimbabwe’s sustained and valiant struggle against colonialism inspired our own struggle against apartheid and built in us the hope that one day South Africa too would be free.
Many Zimbabweans paid with their lives so that we could be free. We will never forget or dishonour this sacrifice and solidarity.”
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta
“In this moment of sorrow, my thoughts and prayers go out to his family, his relatives and the people of Zimbabwe who, for many years, he served with commitment and dedication.
Words cannot convey the magnitude of the loss as former President Mugabe was an elder statesman, a freedom fighter and a Pan-Africanist who played a major role in shaping the interests of the African continent.
Indeed, we will remember former President Mugabe as a man of courage who was never afraid to fight for what he believed in even when it was not popular.”
Tanzanian President John Magufuli
“Africa has lost one of its bravest and Pan-Africanist leaders, who led by example in opposing colonialism.”
Mugabe was even respected and his legacy endorsed by Zimbabwe’s own opposition leader, David Coltart, in an important display of national unity and a coherent legacy for both Zimbabwe’s independence and the leadership of Mugabe.
Zimbabwean Opposition Senator And Rights Lawyer David Coltart, On Twitter
“He was a colossus on the Zimbabwean stage & his enduring positive legacy will be his role in ending white minority rule & expanding a quality education to all Zimbabweans.”
Mpho Balopi, Secretary General, Botswana Democratic Party
“Comrade Mugabe was one of Africa’s most renowned freedom fighters and also one of the founding fathers of what is today known as SADC (the intergovernmental Southern African Development Community, whose headquarters are in Botswana).
The history of our respective parties’ fraternal relations would be incomplete without mention of Uncle Bob, as he was affectionately known. It is beyond any doubt that he leaves an indelible mark on the politics of the region.”
China’s foreign ministry
“Mugabe was an outstanding national liberation movement leader and politician of Zimbabwe.
Throughout his life, he has firmly defended the sovereignty of his country, opposed foreign interference, and actively promoted China-Zimbabwe and China-Africa friendship and cooperation.”