Robert Gabriel Mugabe, the former Zimbabwean president whose promising emergence eventually steered his country into economic collapse, has died at the age of 95.
The Washington Post reports that Emmerson Mnangagwa, Zimbabwe’s current president, announced Mugabe’s passing on Twitter:
“It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing on of Zimbabwe’s founding father and former president, Cde Robert Mugabe,” President Emmerson tweeted on Friday. “Cde Mugabe was 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.”
Mugabe’s cause of death has yet to be disclosed publicly, but rumors of his diminishing health were substantiated when he was hospitalized in Singapore earlier this year.
In 2017, despite once declaring that “only God” could ever remove him from office, his 37-year rule met its unceremonious end after the military staged a coup that forced him to resign. In his place, Mnangagwa, who formerly served as Mugabe’s vice president, assumed the mantle, ending the aging despot’s reign as one of the longest-tenured leaders on the continent. As such, to say his legacy is complicated would be an understatement.
From the Washington Post:
Mr. Mugabe emerged from the bush in 1980 and took power in what was once white-minority-ruled Southern Rhodesia after a protracted civil war. He pledged pragmatism and reconciliation. But after a promising start, the country once known as the breadbasket of southern Africa descended into a nightmare of widespread unemployment, hyperinflation, hunger and disease.
Mr. Mugabe and his cronies unleashed gangs of armed thugs to beat up, torture and kill their political foes, while suffocating Zimbabwe’s fledgling democratic institutions. The regime used food aid as a way to reward supporters and starve opponents. Epidemics of AIDS and cholera ravaged rural areas, and the country’s once-thriving commercial farms were gutted.
He was also fiercely homophobic.
He singled out Zimbabwe’s small gay community, among other groups, denouncing homosexuals as “lower than dogs and pigs” and ordering the expulsion of a gay organization from the Zimbabwe International Book Fair in 1995. He claimed that homosexuality had been unknown in Africa before European colonization and blamed it for the AIDS crisis when, in fact, heterosexual activity was the main cause of AIDS in Africa.
The African National Congress, the political party of anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela, joined countless others in offering its condolences on Twitter.
“The African National Congress mourns the passing of our brother Comrade President Robert Gabriel Mugabe, who passes away having devoted his life to the service of his country and his people,” the ANC said in a prepared statement. “Though the ANC and its leadership may have differed, often vociferously, with Comrade Mugabe on matters of national interest—as fraternal organizations we held as sacrosanct the principle of sovereignty.”
Singapore’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that Mugabe’s body would be returned to Zimbabwe, with funeral announcements expected within the coming days.