Robert Mugabe

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Robert Mugabe
Robert Mugabe

Robert Gabriel Mugabe (born February 21, 1924) has been the head of government in Zimbabwe, first as Prime Minister and later as first executive President, since 1980.


Early life

Mugabe's father was thought to have been from Malawi. Mugabe was raised at Kutama Mission, Zvimba District, north-west of Harare (then called Salisbury), in then Southern Rhodesia. He was raised as a Roman Catholic and was educated in Jesuit schools. He qualified as a teacher at age 17, but left to study for a B.A. in English and history at Fort Hare University in South Africa, an illustrious university at the time, graduating in 1951 while meeting contemporaries like Julius Nyerere, Herbert Chitepo, Robert Sobukwe and Kenneth Kaunda. He then studied at Driefontein in 1952, Salisbury (1953), Gwelo (1954), in Tanzania (1955 - 1957). He obtained a diploma and a bachelor's degree in education from the University of South Africa and another degree in economics from the University of London, all by correspondence. Subsequently, Mugabe taught in a teacher-training school in Accra, Ghana (19581960) where he met Sally Hayfron, who later became his first wife.

Anti-colonial struggle

See also: History of Zimbabwe

Returning to Southern Rhodesia in 1960 as a committed Marxist, Mugabe joined Joshua Nkomo and the National Democratic Party (NDP), which later became the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU), both immediately banned by Ian Smith's government. He left ZAPU in 1963 to form the rival Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) with Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole and lawyer Herbert Chitepo. It would have been easy for the party to split along tribal lines between the Ndebele tribe and that of Mugabe himself, the Shona tribe, but cross-tribal representation was maintained by his partners. ZANU leader Sithole nominated Mugabe as his Secretary General.

ZANU was influenced by the Africanist ideas of the Pan Africanist Congress in South Africa and influenced by Maoism while ZAPU was an ally of the African National Congress and was a supporter of a more orthodox pro-Soviet line on national liberation. Similar divisions can also be seen the in liberation movement in Angola between the MPLA and UNITA.

He was detained with other nationalist leaders Joshua Nkomo and Edson Zvobgo in 1964 and remained in prison for ten years, where he studied law. On his release he left Rhodesia for Mozambique in 1974 and led the Chinese-financed military arm of ZANU, the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA), in the war against Ian Smith's government.

On 18 March 1975, Chitepo was killed by a bomb placed in his car while in Zambia. ZANLA commander Josiah Tongogara was subsequently blamed by Kenneth Kaunda's government. Mugabe unilaterally assumed control of ZANU from Mozambique. Later that year, after squabbling with Ndabaningi Sithole, Mugabe formed a militant ZANU faction, leaving Sithole to lead the moderate Zanu (Ndonga) party, which renounced violent struggle.

Prime Minister, then Executive President

Persuasion from B.J. Vorster, himself under pressure from Henry Kissinger, forced Smith to accept in principle that white minority rule could not continue indefinitely. On March 3, 1978 Bishop Abel Muzorewa, Ndabaningi Sithole and other moderate leaders signed an agreement at Governor's Lodge in Salisbury, which paved the way for the interim government, under Lord Soames, a British governor, in preparation for elections.

Elections were held for a new national parliament as Zimbabwe Rhodesia, which was won by the only black party that had renounced violence and was allowed to contest – the UANC, led by Bishop Abel Muzorewa and Canaan Banana. Sanctions, however, were not lifted, because Britain and the USA said there was not proper representation in the elections – meaning Nkomo and Mugabe. Britain called all parties to Lancaster House in September 1979, which were attended by Smith, Mugabe, Nkomo, Chenjerai Hunzvi, Edson Zvobgo and others, where Muzorewa was persuaded to accept new elections, which were held late February, 1980.

After a campaign marked by intimidation from all sides, mistrust from security forces and reports of full ballot boxes found on the road, the Shona majority was decisive in electing Mugabe to head the first government as prime minister on March 4, 1980. ZANU won 57 out of 80 contested seats in the new parliament, with 20 other seats reserved for whites.

Mugabe, whose political support came from his Shona-speaking homeland in the north, attempted to build Zimbabwe on a basis of an uneasy coalition with his Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) rivals, whose support came from the Ndebele-speaking south, and with whites. Mugabe sought to incorporate ZAPU into his Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) led government and ZAPU's military wing into the army; and ZAPU's leader, Joshua Nkomo, was given a series of cabinet positions in Mugabe's government. However, Mugabe was torn between this objective and pressures to meet the expectations of his own ZANU followers for a faster pace of social change.

An abortive ZAPU rebellion and discontent in Matabeleland spelled the end to this uneasy coalition. In 1983 Mugabe dismissed Nkomo from his cabinet, which triggered bitter fighting between ZAPU supporters in the Ndebele-speaking region of the country and the ruling ZANU. Between 1982 and 1985 the military brutally crushed armed resistance in Ndebeleland and Mugabe's rule was left secure. (see "Gukurahundi") A peace accord was negotiated in 1987, resulting in ZAPU's merger (1988) into the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). Mugabe brought Nkomo into the government once again as a vice-president.

In 1987 the position of Prime Minister was abolished, and Mugabe assumed the new office of executive President of Zimbabwe gaining additional powers in the process. He was re-elected in 1990 and 1996, and, in very controversial circumstances, in 2002.

Social programmes

Mugabe improved health and education for the black majority after elections agreed to after the Lancaster House Agreement in 1979.

In 1991, amid international pressure and short on hard currency, Zimbabwe embarked on a neoliberal austerity program, but the International Monetary Fund suspended aid, claiming that the reforms were "not on track."

At the same time he pursued a "moral campaign" against homosexuality, making what he deemed "unnatural sex acts" illegal with a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. This included the arrest of his predecessor as President of Zimbabwe, Canaan Banana, who was convicted of alleged gay sex offences. While Zimbabwe has the highest HIV/AIDS infection rate in the world, the vast majority of sufferers there are heterosexual.

Mugabe was criticized for his intervention in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo at a time when the Zimbabwean economy was struggling. The war raised accusations of corruption, with officials alleged to be plundering the Congo's mineral reserves.

Land reforms

Mugabe, addressing the 114-nation Non-Aligned Movement in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2003, is a vocal advocate for Third World unity and cooperation on  economic development concerns.
Mugabe, addressing the 114-nation Non-Aligned Movement in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2003, is a vocal advocate for Third World unity and cooperation on economic development concerns.

Main article: Land reform in Zimbabwe

When Mugabe became prime minister, approximately 70% of the country's arable land was owned by approximately 4,000 descendants of white settlers. However, he reassured white landowners that they had nothing to fear from black majority rule. Mugabe favoured a "willing buyer, willing seller" plan for gradual redistribution of land but little was done in his early years in power. However, in 1999 and 2000 Mugabe used force to transfer land ownership from whites to blacks. Since land redistribution, Zimbabwe has transformed from being an exporter of food to a nation with rampant food shortages. Mugabe's supporters, however, blame Western sanctions and political instability instigated by white landowners.

2000 referendum

On February 11, 2000, a referendum was held on a new constitution. The proposed change would have limited future presidents to two terms, but as it was not retroactive, Mugabe could have stood for another two terms. It would also have made his government and military officials immune from prosecution for any illegal acts committed while in office. Also, it allowed the government to confiscate white-owned land for redistribution to black farmers without compensation. It was defeated, after a low 20% turnout, by a strong urban vote, fuelled by an effective SMS campaign. Mugabe declared that he would "abide by the will of the people". The vote was a surprise to ZANU-PF, and an embarrassment before parliamentary elections due in mid-April. Almost immediately self-styled "war veterans", led by Chenjerai 'Hitler' Hunzvi, began invading white-owned farms. On April 6, 2000, parliament pushed through an amendment, taken word for word from the draft constitution that was rejected by voters, allowing the seizure of white-owned farmland.


Mugabe faced Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in presidential elections in March 2002. Amid accusations of violence and claims that large numbers of citizens in anti-Mugabe strongholds were prevented from voting, Mugabe defeated Tsvangirai by 56% to 42%. Mugabe was helped by an unprecedented turnout of 90% in his rural stronghold of Mashonaland (55% of the population voted overall), although there are credible claims that the turnout may have been rigged.

On July 3rd, 2004, a report [1] adopted by the African Union executive council, which comprises foreign ministers of the 53 member states, criticised the government for the arrests and torture of opposition members of parliament and human rights lawyers, the arrests of journalists, the stifling of freedom of expression and clampdowns on other civil liberties.

It was compiled by the AU's African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, which sent a mission to Zimbabwe from June 24th to 28th 2002, shortly after the presidential elections.

The report was apparently not submitted to the AU's 2003 summit because it had not been translated into French. It was adopted at the next AU summit in 2005.

Mugabe's ZANU-PF party won the 2005 Zimbabwe parliamentary elections with an increased majority. The elections were said to "reflect the free will of the people of Zimbabwe" by the South African observers, despite accusations of widespread fraud from the MDC.

Foreign opposition to Mugabe

Although President Mugabe encounters considerable opposition from the West, he has strong support throughout much of the developing world. Above, Venezuela President Hugo Chávez embraces Mugabe during the 60th anniversary celebrations of the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome October 17, 2005 At the event, Mugabe and Chávez both denounced the United States and other developed countries for trying to dominate the world, illegally invading Iraq, seeking to change governments in other countries, and world poverty and hunger.
Although President Mugabe encounters considerable opposition from the West, he has strong support throughout much of the developing world. Above, Venezuela President Hugo Chávez embraces Mugabe during the 60th anniversary celebrations of the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome October 17, 2005 At the event, Mugabe and Chávez both denounced the United States and other developed countries for trying to dominate the world, illegally invading Iraq, seeking to change governments in other countries, and world poverty and hunger.

In recent years Mugabe has emerged as one of Africa's most controversial leaders. His critics accuse him of being a 'corrupt dictator', and an 'extremely poor role model' for the continent. Nevertheless, Mugabe retains considerable popularity throughout Africa. For example, in 2004 the monthly magazine New African had its readers vote for the "100 greatest Africans" last year, Mugabe won a third-place finish, topped only by Nelson Mandela and Ghanaian independence hero Kwame Nkrumah. Mugabe's supporters tend to dismiss much of the criticism as being racially motivated, and characterize it as being little more than the bitter remarks of those who have been disadvantaged by his policies.

Since Mugabe began to redistribute white-owned landholdings, he has faced harsh attacks, externally from mostly Western countries including the former colonial power of the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia, and internally from trade-unions and urban Zimbabweans, who overwhelmingly support the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. In addition, some African figures have condemned Mugabe, such as Archbishop Pius Ncube, the South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu (who called Mugabe a "caricature of an African dictator"), Zambia's long-time leader Kenneth Kaunda (who asked Mugabe to "bury the hatchet and get on with economic development instead of fighting colonialist ghosts"), and writer Wole Soyinka (who called Mugabe's regime "a disgrace to the continent" [2]), while Botswana President Festus Mogae distanced himself from the SADC statement opposing the Commonwealth suspension. Mugabe has been condemned by Western non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International, charging that he has committed human rights abuses against minority Ndebeles, the opposition MDC, white landowners, and homosexuals. Mugabe and a list of members of his government are now banned from entering the European Union.

On March 9, 2003, U.S. President George W. Bush approved measures for economic sanctions to be leveled against Mugabe and numerous other high-ranking Zimbabwe politicians, freezing their assets and barring Americans from engaging in any transactions or dealings with them. Justifying the move, Bush's spokesman stated the President and Congress believe that "the situation in Zimbabwe endangers the southern African region and threatens to undermine efforts to foster good governance and respect for the rule of law throughout the continent". The bill was known as the "Zimbabwe Democracy Act" and was deemed "racist" by Mugabe.

On December 8, 2003, in protest against a further 18 months of suspension from the Commonwealth of Nations (thereby cutting foreign aide to Zimbabwe), Mugabe withdrew his country from the Commonwealth. According to reports, Robert Mugabe informed the leaders of Jamaica, Nigeria and South Africa of his decision when they telephoned him to discuss the situation. Zimbabwe's government said the President did not accept the Commonwealth's position, and was leaving the group.

Many African nations, led by South Africa, want Zimbabwe to be brought back into the fold to encourage dialogue between Mugabe and domestic foes, while members of what many Africans charge is the "white Commonwealth" – the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand – led the hard-line stance on the suspension of Zimbabwe.

Pius Ncube, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, leads a consortium of Christian faiths opposed to Mugabe. Ncube has won human rights awards for opposing the alleged torture and starvation used as a political weapon by the Mugabe government. In 2005, Ncube has called for a "popular mass uprising" in the style of the Orange Revolution or Tulip Revolution to remove Mugabe from power.

On April 8, 2005, Mugabe defied a European Union travel ban that does not apply to Vatican City by attending the Funeral of Pope John Paul II. He was granted a transit visa by the Italian authorities, as they are obliged to under the Concordat.

Twice, Peter Tatchell of the gay rights group OutRage! has tried to place Mugabe under citizen's arrest for human rights abuses during the leader's visits to the United Kingdom.

Although Michigan State University and the University of Massachusetts each granted Mugabe an honorary Doctorate of Law, the student government at Michigan State- ASMSU- unanimously passed a resolution calling for his degree to be revoked. The issue is now being considered by the Board of Trustees and Commission on Honorary Doctorates.

In June 2005 Mugabe and his government attracted unprecedented international criticism, including greater church condemnation than ever before when over two hundred thousand people were left homeless by their homes, in urban areas, being bulldozed in Operation Murambatsvina.

Robert Mugabe is supposedly the inspiration for Dr. Zuwanie, the central African character in the movie The Interpreter with Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman which takes place at the United Nations. Zuwanie is a controversial African leader who travels to New York to make a speech to the United Nations General Assembly. He is portrayed as being a leader who rose to power as a liberator, but then grew corrupt and oppressive, much as Mugabe is considered to be. Further credence to this theory is given by the fictional name of the country controlled by Dr. Zuwanie, Matobo, sharing its name with a real national park in Zimbabwe which is the burial place of Cecil Rhodes. Also, Zuwanie is a Shona name (Mugabe's tribe). The movie is heavily criticized and condemned as CIA propaganda by Zimbabwean media [3].


As one of Africa's longest-lasting leaders, speculation has built over the years as to the future of Zimbabwe after Mugabe leaves office. His age and recurring rumors of failing health have focused more attention on possible successors within his party as well as the opposition.

In June 2005, a report that Mugabe had entered a hospital for tests on his heart fueled rumors that he had died of a heart attack; [4] these reports were dismissed by a Mugabe spokesman. This coincided with Operation Murambatsvina (or "Drive Out Trash"), a police campaign to demolish houses and businesses that had been built without permission on land previously taken from white landholders and intended for redistribution. Opponents called this an attempt to disperse urban centers of dissent into rural areas where the government had more control. Former information minister Jonathan Moyo attributed the events to a power struggle within the party over who would succeed Mugabe.

Joyce Mujuru, recently elevated to vice-president of ZANU-PF during the December 2004 party congress and considerably younger than Joseph Msika, the other vice-president, has been mentioned as a likely successor to Mugabe.


His well-respected Ghanaian first wife, Sally (née Hayfron, born 1933), died in 1992, from a chronic kidney ailment (their only son died at age 4, while Mugabe was in prison). About two years before, Mugabe had married his former secretary, Grace Marufu, 40 years his junior and with whom he already had two children, in a tribal ceremony. Mugabe justified the marriage under a traditional African law which allows him to take a junior wife.

On August 17, 1996, Mugabe and Marufu were married in a Catholic wedding Mass at Kutama College, a Catholic Mission School he previously attended. Nelson Mandela was among the guests. A spokesman for Catholic Archbishop Patrick Chakaipa, who presided over the ceremony, said the diocese saw "no impediment" to the nuptials.

See also




External links

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  • Chan, Stephen (2003). Robert Mugabe: A life of power and violence. IB Taurus, London. ISBN 1-86064-873-8.

Preceded by:
Canaan Banana
President of Zimbabwe
Succeeded by:
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