The man who brought freedom to Zimbabwe was once a hero to many – but he died a tyrant who will not be mourned
Robert Mugabe is dead, never to come back again, and so are millions of Zimbabweans who preceded him, dying from easily treatable diseases, and from the violence that visited anyone who attempted to resist his tyrannical rule.
The dreams of millions of young men and women – who, to this day, roam the streets of Zimbabwe with university degrees but without jobs or any decent income – were extinguished long before him.
The fact that Mugabe died in a Singaporean hospital is the final act of betrayal by a dictator who destroyed the health system of a country that had saved many lives in the first 15 years of his repressive rule.
Yet he died overseas, where his healthcare needs blew millions of taxpayer dollars. The same taxpayer, meanwhile, can’t even get a painkiller in Zimbabwean public hospitals.
Mugabe was the face of the Zanu-PF government’s violence, and he performed his role with decadent gusto. He built an evil yet extremely strong system of governance that has outlived him: since his inglorious departure, its signature acts of violence and torture have continued under Emmerson Mnangagwa.
In fact, anyone who might have expected life for the Zimbabwean citizen to have improved following his humiliating removal from power in a 2017 military coup will be disappointed to learn that, far from getting better, things have got worse.
I first heard about Mugabe in the late 1970s when I was a boy growing up in colonial Rhodesia. My father, a civil servant, used to listen religiously to Radio Zimbabwe, which broadcast from the Mozambican capital of Maputo. The station broadcast liberation war propaganda, and was run by Mugabe’s party, the Zimbabwe African National Union, Zanu.
Mugabe constantly gave motivational speeches to encourage the African population in Rhodesia to be resolute against colonial rule, and to work hand in glove with his guerrilla fighters. He was undoubtedly a hero to many black people in Rhodesia; a self-styled Marxist-Leninist guerrilla war fighter, he used to bellow into African homes via Radio Zimbabwe, and the black people of Rhodesia held him in awe. However, unlike Samora Machel, who hosted Zanu and its military wing in Mozambique, Mugabe was an intellectual revolutionary who never fired a gun in the field.
Comrade Robert Gabriel Mugabe, as he liked to be addressed, took over a country at independence that had a strong economy, second only to South Africa in the region.
His country was known as the breadbasket of southern Africa, with a mechanised farming sector that was the bedrock of its economy and second to none. The economy had robust light and heavy industry sectors that had been built and accentuated on the back of a colonial import substitution policy, which successfully frustrated UN sanctions against Rhodesia.
The list of Zimbabwe’s brokenness is long, and it is a list that defines Mugabe’s legacy and violent reign
At independence, Zimbabwe provided jobs to all who wished to work, but Mugabe’s most important legacy was an education policy that gave access to all Zimbabweans who desired to better their lives through formal education.
This created one of Africa’s most revolutionary education stories. It made Zimbabwe the African leader in literacy. Healthcare was available to all who needed it. Mugabe, however, turned his back on these early achievements and squandered their legacy. His rule became defined by bloody, murderous excesses that claimed thousands of lives and were largely ignored by the west; by political repression and a tanking economy.
Today Zimbabwe is a failed state because it has no capability of providing services to its people. The government-controlled power company can only provide six hours of electricity a day. Hospitals have been turned into death traps; there is no medication for the poorest of the poor. The country can’t even provide passports for those who want to leave – the home affairs ministry can only produce 80 a day, where 8,000 should be normal.
There is no fuel due to an acute shortage of foreign exchange caused by corruption and lack of investment. Long queues are a daily reality. The unemployment rate hovers around 90-95%, with many Zimbabweans who are educated to degree level selling newspapers and cigarettes at street corners. Inflation stands at around 550% a year and most food is beyond the reach of the poor. Teachers earn an equivalent of £23 a month and doctors are paid £87