HARARE, Zimbabwe—Robert Mugabe, the former leader of Zimbabwe forced to resign in 2017 after a 37-year rule marred in its later stages by economic turmoil, disputed elections and human rights violations, has died. He was 95.
His successor President Emmerson Mnangagwa confirmed Mugabe’s death in a tweet Friday, saying, “His contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten. May his soul rest in eternal peace.”
Mugabe, who took power after white minority rule ended in 1980, once said he wanted to rule for life. But growing discontent about the southern African country’s fractured leadership and other problems prompted a military intervention, impeachment proceedings by the parliament and large street demonstrations for his removal.
The announcement of Mugabe’s Nov. 21, 2017 resignation after he initially ignored escalating calls to quit triggered wild celebrations in the streets of the capital, Harare. Well into the night, cars honked and people danced and sang in a spectacle of free expression that would have been impossible during his years in power and reflected hopes for a better future.
‘I Will Not Shed a Tear’
On the streets in the capital, Harare, on Friday people gathered in small groups sharing the news.
“I will not shed a tear, not for that cruel man,” said Tariro Makena, a street vendor. “All these problems, he started them and people now want us to pretend it never happened.”
Others said they missed him.
“Things are worse now. Life was not that good but it was never this bad. These people who removed him from power have no clue whatsoever,” said Silas Marongo, holding an axe and joining men and women cutting a tree for firewood in suburban Harare to beat severe electricity shortages that signify the worsening economic situation in the southern African country.
Hope Turns to Disappointment
In June, The Epoch Times spoke to Dhobha Moyowatidhi, a shoe vendor in Zimbabwe who now sells his shoes in U.S. dollars.
“We thought after the end of former President Robert Mugabe’s rule, we would have someone with the people at heart and who can listen to our grievances. That’s why I was one of the many people who went into the streets to demonstrate that he goes,” Moyowatidhi said.
He says he celebrated Mugabe’s ouster because the former leader didn’t listen to the people. But, during Mugabe’s rule, travel costs from home were 50 cents, a loaf of bread cost 80 cents, and milk was 50 cents, so life was somewhat better, he said.
“Now, less than two years later, I need $7 to come to the central business district, [and] a loaf of bread now costs $5—that is, if it is available,” Moyowatidhi said.
Inflation continues to climb, BBC reports, reaching almost 100 percent in May, and 176 percent by June, making life hard for the majority of Zimbabwe’s citizens as the cost of basic goods goes up. Many who spoke with The Epoch Times expressed little hope that things would improve soon.
On Feb. 21, 2018, Mugabe marked his first birthday since his resignation in near solitude, far from the lavish affair of past years. While the government that removed him with military assistance had declared his birthday as a national holiday, his successor and former deputy Mnangagwa did not mention him in a televised speech on the day.
Mugabe’s decline in his last years as president was partly linked to the political ambitions of his wife, Grace, a brash, divisive figure whose ruling party faction eventually lost out in a power struggle with supporters of Mnangagwa, who was close to the military.
Spry in his impeccably tailored suits, Mugabe as leader maintained a schedule of events and international travel that defied his advancing age, though signs of weariness mounted toward the end. He fell after stepping off a plane in Zimbabwe, read the wrong speech at the opening of parliament and appeared to be dozing during a news conference in Japan. However, his longevity and frequently dashed rumors of ill health delighted supporters and infuriated opponents who had sardonically predicted he would live forever.
“Do you want me to punch you to the floor to realize I am still there?” Mugabe told an interviewer from state television who asked him in early 2016 about retirement plans.
After independence, Mugabe reached out to whites after a long war between black guerrillas and the white rulers of Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was known. He stressed education and built new schools. Tourism and mining flourished and Zimbabwe was a regional breadbasket.
‘Many Degrees In Violence’
However, a brutal military campaign waged against an uprising in western Matabeleland province that ended in 1987 augured a bitter turn in Zimbabwe’s fortunes. As the years went by, Mugabe was widely accused of hanging onto power through violence and vote fraud, notably in a 2008 election that led to a troubled coalition government after regional mediators intervened.
“I have many degrees in violence,” Mugabe once boasted on a campaign trail, raising his fist. “You see this fist, it can smash your face.”
Mugabe was re-elected in 2013 in another election marred by alleged irregularities, though he dismissed his critics as sore losers.
Amid the political turmoil, the economy of Zimbabwe, traditionally rich in agriculture and minerals, was deteriorating. Factories were closing, unemployment was rising and the country abandoned its currency for the US dollar in 2009 because of hyperinflation.
The economic problems are often traced to the violent seizures of thousands of white-owned farms that began around 2000. Land reform was supposed to take much of the country’s most fertile land—owned by about 4,500 white descendants of mainly British and South African colonial-era settlers—and redistribute it to poor blacks. Instead, Mugabe gave prime farms to ruling party leaders, party loyalists, security chiefs, relatives and cronies.
Mugabe was born in Zvimba, 60 kilometers (40 miles) west of the capital of Harare.
Sally Nyakanyanga contributed to this report.