General News

The rise and fall of Zimbabwe's leader

Date: Nov 22, 2017

Robert Gabriel Mugabe was born on 21 February 1924 at the Kutama Mission village in Southern Rhodesia's Zvimba District.

His father, Gabriel Matibiri, was a carpenter while his mother Bona taught Christian catechism to the village children.

They had been trained in their professions by the Jesuits, the Roman Catholic apostolic order which had established the mission. Bona and Gabriel had six children: Miteri (Michael), Raphael, Robert, Dhonandhe , Sabina and Bridgette.

They belonged to the Zezuru clan, one of the smallest branches of the Shona tribe. Mugabe's paternal grandfather was Constantine Karigamombe, alias "Matibiri", a strong powerful figure, who served King Lobengula in the 19th century.

The Jesuits were strict disciplinarians and under their influence Mugabe developed an intense self-discipline, while also becoming a devout Catholic. Mugabe excelled at school, where he was a secretive and solitary child, preferring to read alone rather than playing sport or socialising with other children. He was taunted by many of the other children, who regarded him as a coward and a mother's boy.

Over the following years, Mugabe taught at various schools around Southern Rhodesia, among them the Dadaya Mission school in Shabani. There is no evidence that Mugabe was involved in political activity at the time, and did not participate in the country's 1948 general strike.

 In 1949 he won a scholarship to study at the University of Fort Hare in South Africa's Eastern Cape. There he joined the African National Congress, and attended African nationalist meetings, where he met a number of Jewish South African communists who introduced him to Marxist ideas.

He later related that despite this exposure to Marxism, his biggest influence at the time were the actions of Mahatma Gandhi during the Indian independence movement. In 1952, he left the university with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and English literature. In later years he described his time at Fort Hare as the "turning-point" in his life.

Mugabe was arrested on his return to Southern Rhodesia in December 1963. His trial lasted from January to March 1964, during which he refused to retract the subversive statements that he had publicly made. In March 1964 he was sentenced to 21 months imprisonment. Mugabe was first imprisoned at Salisbury Maximum Security Prison, before being moved to the Wha Wha detention centre and then the Sikombela detention centre in Que Que.

 At the latter, he organised study classes for the inmates, teaching them basic literacy as well as maths and English. Sympathetic black warders smuggled messages from Mugabe and other members of the ZANU executive committee to activists outside the prison.

At the executive's bidding, ZANU activist Herbert Chitepo had organised a small guerrilla force in Lusaka. In April 1966 it carried out a failed attempt to destroy power pylons at Sinoia, and shortly after attacked a white-owned farm near Hartley, killing its inhabitants.

The government responded by returning the members of the ZANU executive, including Mugabe, to Salisbury Prison in 1966. There, forty prisoners were divided among four communal cells, with many sleeping on the concrete floor due to overcrowding; Mugabe shared his cell with Sithole, Enos Nkala, and Edgar Tekere. He remained there for eight years, devoting his time to reading and studying. During this period he gained several further degrees from the University of London: a masters in economics, a bachelor of administration, and two law degrees.

In March 1975, Mugabe resolved to leave Rhodesia for Mozambique, ambitious to take control of ZANU's guerrilla campaign. After his friend Maurice Nyagumbo was arrested, he feared the same fate but was hidden from the authorities by Ribeiro. Ribeiro and a sympathetic nun then assisted him and Edgar Tekere in smuggling themselves into Mozambique. Mugabe remained in exile there for two years. Mozambique's Marxist President Samora Machel was sceptical of Mugabe's leadership abilities and was unsure whether to recognise him as ZANU's legitimate leader.

In late 1987, Zimbabwe's parliament amended the constitution. On December 30 it declared Mugabe to be executive President, a new position that combined the roles of Head of State, head of government, and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. This position gave him the power to dissolve parliament, declare martial law, and run for an unlimited number of terms.  

According to his biographer, Martin Meredith, Mugabe now had "a virtual stranglehold on government machinery and unlimited opportunities to exercise patronage". The constitutional amendments also abolished the twenty parliamentary seats reserved for white representatives, and left parliament less relevant and independent.

In the build-up to the 1990 election, parliamentary reforms increased the number of seats to 120; of these, twenty were to be appointed by the President and ten by the Council of Chiefs. This measure made it more difficult for any opposition to Mugabe to gain a parliamentary majority. The main opposition party in that election were the Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM), launched in April 1989 by Tekere, although a longstanding friend of Mugabe, Tekere accused him of betraying the revolution and establishing a dictatorship.

Zanu-PF propaganda made threats against those considering voting ZUM in the election; one television advert featured images of a car crash with the statement "This is one way to die. Another is to vote ZUM. Don't commit suicide, vote Zanu-PF and live." In the election, Mugabe was re-elected President with nearly 80% of the vote, while Zanu-PF secured 116 of the 119 available parliamentary seats.

On November 15, 2017, Mugabe was placed under house arrest by the Zimbabwe National Army in a coup d'├ętat. On November 19, he was sacked as leader of Zanu-PF, and Emmerson Mnangagwa, the former Vice-President was appointed in his place. Following the start of impeachment proceedings against him, Mugabe resigned as President on November 21.

Mugabe's first wife, Sally Hayfron, was Mugabe's "confidante and only real friend", being "one of the few people who could challenge Mugabe's ideas without offending him."

Their only son, Michael Nhamodzenyika Mugabe, born September 27, 1963, died on December 26, 1966, from cerebral malaria in Ghana where Sally was working while Mugabe was in prison. Sally Mugabe was a trained teacher who asserted her position as an independent political activist and campaigner.



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