Robert Mugabe: From Liberator To Dictator

We all are familiar with the name Robert Mugabe – thanks to our History textbooks. He passed away recently aged ninety-five in Singapore. We only know him as the champion of the anti-racial movement and non-alignment movement. He was the first Prime Minister of free Zimbabwe. He led the country in times of difficulty. Though he was adored by his people, he was equally hated by them. From winning hearts to breaking bones, the blog follows the roller-coaster political journey of Mugabe.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe participates in a discussion at the World Economic Forum on Africa 2017 meeting in Durban, South Africa May 4, 2017. REUTERS/Rogan Ward


Zimbabwe was under the rule of the United Kingdom. He was a teacher by profession. This background was later reflected in the policies he adopted. He was inspired to join the liberation struggle because of the days he spent in Ghana which was the first African State to get independence. Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia was ruled by the white minority government. He felt that the aggrieved Africans needed to attack the white community to overthrow British dominance. He was sentenced to twenty-one months imprisonment for making subversive statements in public. However, he was detained for eleven years. He focussed on making speeches, podcasts and propaganda war. He led the guerrilla movement to overthrow the white government. Realising that it would be difficult to rule Rhodesia, the British government signed an agreement with the revolutionaries and declared elections in 1980.


Zimbabwe African National Union which was led by Mugabe won fifty-seven of the eighty parliamentary seats allotted and secured an absolute majority. He was a Marxist and believed in the one-party state. As he was a teacher by profession, he stressed on the need for education. He preached racial reconciliation. He asked the white descendants to stay back and contribute to the economy.  Zimbabwe emerged as an example of racial unity. He built many clinics and schools intending to convert the country into the healthiest and most educated African nation. The country was known as the breadbasket of Africa. Though he announced many times that he would like to convert Zimbabwe into a socialist economy, he never took steps in that direction. He operated within the capitalistic framework of the budget.


Mugabe was ruthless to his political opponents. He cracked down on dissent. In 1982, the North Korea trained Fifth Brigade crushed an arm rebellion of the opposition parties. He switched from Prime minister to President in 1987. He belonged to the ethnic group called Shona. His political opponent derived support from the Ndebeles group. They were brutally massacred and killed. As many as twenty thousand people were the victims of genocide. The discovery of mass graves led to this startling revelation. Media freedom was curtailed. Hyperinflation was a major problem as he resorted to mass currency printing to battle the economic crisis.

Food aid was used as a tool to award supporters and starve the opponents. He was re-elected in the 2002 elections which were marked by violence. The same year, he introduced land reforms which rendered millions of Zimbabweans homeless. It also took away the farmlands of the minority white population. As a result of this, many white families moved out of the country. The political environment became hostile with journalists and political opponents being persecuted.

During the 2008 elections, the economy had spiralled with inflation crossing 100000 percent. However, no one was able to secure a majority and run-off elections were declared. The period was marked by violence and statements by Mugabe declaring that he would not cede power even if the opposition wins. Nevertheless, he won the elections which were considered to be rigged. Even the 2013 elections were held similarly. He had denounced LGBTQ+ individuals as people lower than dogs and pigs.


He was against the Western countries which imposed economic sanctions.  Life expectancy was below 40 whereas he lived over 90. Under the guise of redevelopment, he used to demolish the houses of supporters of his opposition. When his critics asked him to step down, he remarked- “I will never, never, never surrender. Zimbabwe is mine, I am a Zimbabwean. Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans.” There were growing tensions between his wife Grace and his longest political ally Mnangagwa. 

He fired the then Vice President Mnangagwa who had a large following in the country. His wife Grace was keen to take over the position. However, her image in the public eye was tarnished. When the country was suffering an economic breakdown, she was busy shopping away in London which earned her the nickname Gucci Grace. His won generals who were wary of his wife taking over, led the rebellion. On 21 November 2017, the Zimbabwean Army placed him under house arrest. The coup resulted in the resignation of the President. Fearing that his wife might take over, even she was placed under house arrest. Thousands had marched on streets demanding his ouster. Even his party expelled him. Mnangagwa took over as the President. The Zimbabweans witnessed the fall of the only leader they knew.

People gather at an anti-President Mugabe rally held by the War Veterans as part mass action protests that have brought the city to a standstill, in Harare, Zimbabwe, 18 November 2017. The Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) has taken over the control of the running of the country with Robert Mugabe, being under house arrest for days, but making his first public appearance at a University graduation ceremony on 17 November 2017.


He leaves a mixed and confusing legacy behind him. Though he was one of the founding fathers of Zimbabwe, he was an intellectual despot. History will judge him harshly due to his conduct in the later period of life. He was a complex character with a strong desire to be in power. He was merciless when he felt insecure about his position. At the end of the day, a leader is judged by the impact s/he creates in the minds of the people. As far as the Zimbabweans are concerned, they feel that his conduct undid the image of a national hero he had built for himself during the liberation. He was certainly not a compassionate leader to have allowed the killing of his citizens. It is unfathomable to think about how a people-loving leader went against them.

His life teaches us an important lesson of respecting the values and belief system of others. Had he been more sympathetic to the plight of the common man, he would have been revered as a national hero. We must learn to value the people who help us reach heights. He failed to understand that he was in power only due to the people who supported him initially. Interestingly, even after the cruelties he committed, he still had people who were his blind followers. Therefore, it becomes important for us to question our beliefs regularly and check whether we are following anyone blindly. These are some lessons we can learn from his life and try to prevent another Mugabe disaster.


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Find out more about the campaign here.

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Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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