Former Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, died in Singapore on September 6, 2019, and was buried at weekend amid eulogies from African and world leaders. The ex-freedom fighter led the armed guerrilla campaign to liberate Zimbabwe from the white minority government of Ian smith. By his death, Africa lost one of its surviving liberation heroes. The continent also lost its most widely educated president, scholar, orator, thinker, liberation icon whose strong will and independence of thought made him enemies in the West.
As Africa and the world mourned him on Saturday during a state funeral, he received numerous tributes for fearlessness and patriotism. He was one of the greatest African leaders. Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa expressed his country’s gratitude to Mugabe and its sorrows for his death. Former Ghanaian head of state, Flight-Lt. Jerry Rawlings, extolled the virtues of the late leader.
Among the many African leaders that came to pay their last respects were Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo of Nigeria; Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta; former President of Zambia, Mr. Kenneth Kaunda; former South African presidents, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma as well as the current South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, who was booed over the xenophobic attacks in his country.
Delegates, who came to pay their respects to the late leader, included those from China, Cuba, and Russia. Mugabe was a Marxist-Leninist in his younger years and an avowed socialist till the end of his life.
Mugabe served his country first as a school teacher before his foray into politics. He interacted with Kwame Nkrumah and was in Ghana where he met his Ghanaian first wife, Sally Hayfron, whom he married in 1961. She died in 1992; and two years later in 1994 Mugabe married his secretary, Grace. But in 1964, Mugabe was arrested and jailed for 10 years for his politics. On his release, he fled to Mozambique to found the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU).
Mugabe reluctantly accepted to participate in the Lancaster House Conference in London on independence for Zimbabwe. However, an agreement was ironed out and special note was taken of the lopsided land ownership situation where whites, who constituted four per cent of the population, owned 70 per cent of the arable land. There was a tacit understanding that the issue must be reviewed. The agreements cleared the way for a general election in 1980 at which Mugabe’s ZANU won and he became the first Prime Minister of Zimbabwe. He did not rush to seize white farmers’ land or embark on precipitate land redistribution. He encouraged what he called “willing seller—willing buyer” arrangement. But British pledges of financial assistance to enable the country pay compensation to the white farmers failed to materialise. Tony Blair’s government reneged on both the Lancaster and the Abuja Accords where an understanding was reached that the British must assist in the compensation of white farmers.
So, after 20 years of independence, and no progress made in the land situation, Mugabe acquiesced to the seizure of farm lands by the veterans and by so doing brought down the wrath of the entire West, including sanctions, and financial strangulation which led to the economic collapse of Zimbabwe.
One dark chapter on Mugabe was what the Zimbabweans call the “Gukurahundi”, a mini civil war between the militias of Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and Joshua Nkomo’s opposition Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU) in Matabeleland. The number of those that perished in this internecine conflict is disputed but Mugabe’s militia called the 5th Brigade earned notoriety for much of the killings.
And as he grew older, he became more high-handed and impervious to reason and thus committed the cardinal error of joining the sit-tight African leaders. He failed to learn from Mandela and stayed for too long. Zimbabweans celebrated his ouster in 2017 not because they no longer loved him but he had overstayed his welcome and this was reflected in the stadium that was less than half-filled on Saturday in Harare. We commiserate with his family, the government and people of Zimbabwe on the great loss. May God grant his soul eternal repose.