Zimbabweans Reflect on Life of Strongman Mugabe

By Sally Nyakanyanga, Special to The Epoch Times
September 8, 2019 Updated: September 9, 2019

HARARE, Zimbabwe—Observing daily life in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, it’s as if the death of former dictator Robert Mugabe has no bearing on its citizens, with people just going about their business as usual in the poverty-stricken southeast African country.

Zimbabweans who spoke to The Epoch Times didn’t have many kind words about the former statesman, who died at age 95 in a hospital in Singapore, because they believe the dire state of the country is because of him.

Mugabe had inherited a vibrant economy in 1980, when the southern African country gained its independence from the UK. But Mugabe ruined it, with the country now no longer having its own currency, newspaper columnist Cyprian Mketiwa said.

“Corruption spread under the former president’s watch, but he did nothing. Mugabe was involved in a scandalous purchase of three airplanes from Malaysia, in which millions of dollars were siphoned off is a case in point,” Mketiwa said.

Patient Dhliwayo-Chiunzi, a biotechnology lecturer at the Harare Institute of Technology, said of Mugabe: “He was a fine orator, good strategist, learned, and intelligent. However, he was a cruel and cunning killer, who ruthlessly eliminated his enemies using cunning methods and using loyalists and thieves with whom he brought the country to its knees.”

Pedestrians walk past signs of the various daily newspapers on the streets of Harare, Zimbabwe, on Sept. 7 2019, on the first day of a period of national mourning following the death of former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, guerrilla hero turned despot who ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years. (Jekesai Njikizana/AFP/Getty Images)

As intelligent as Mugabe was, he wasn’t able to direct the country to prosperity, Dhliwayo-Chiunzi said.

“It was his leadership that bred killers and thieves who killed this country,” she said, and Mugabe’s second wife, Grace Mugabe, “was hungry for power and material riches.” She added that “together as a family, they converted this country into a personal household—they amassed wealth for themselves and their close loyal friends.”

Dhliwayo-Chiunzi says Mugabe is the reason that the country is in poverty today. 

“He was a terrorist who hid behind eloquent speeches, he terrorized his own people, and taught people from his ZANU-PF [Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front] party to be like him,” she said. 

Mugabe turned out to be a great disappointment, Dhliwayo-Chiunzi said.

“He started so well by bringing people together, but when corruption crept in, the country was brought to its knees,” she said.

‘Icon of Liberation’

Mugabe died on Sept. 6 at Gleneagles Hospital in Singapore, where he was receiving medical treatment. His successor, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, wrote in a Sept. 6 tweet that an “icon of liberation” had died.

Mugabe is known for his involvement in the liberation struggle against white colonial rule that brought the country to its independence in 1980. He’s also known for taking land from mostly white commercial farmers without compensation in 2000, which forced some of them to leave the country and many to become destitute.

Though Mugabe was loved by many Africans because they believed he was able to stand up and speak out publicly against colonialism, to his people, he was a tyrant.

Obert Masaraure, who is the president of a teachers’ association, the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, has mixed feelings about Mugabe’s death.

“Mugabe’s legacy has two sides: the immense contribution toward the independence of the country and his black empowerment initiatives. However, they were dwarfed by the other side of corruption, authoritarianism, and nepotism, which bought our country to its knees,” Masaraure said.

A white Zimbabwean man, who asked to remain anonymous, said Zimbabweans are hard workers, but all that was for naught as their pensions amount to nothing, and people cannot retain the money they have worked for.

“[Mugabe] left the country in a corrupt state, as corruption is everywhere. The current leadership are only selecting sacrificial lambs as corruption [Mugabe’s legacy] is rooted everywhere,” the man said.

Troubled Economy

Zimbabwe is still grappling with a myriad of challenges, such as fuel shortages, the unavailability of electricity for more than 18 hours a day, and currency problems, with many people unable to withdraw their money from the banks.

Many now rely on what is now commonly known as “plastic money”—mobile money transfers and bank transfers—which is often affected by electricity shortages. Furthermore, for many Zimbabweans, mobile money is expensive, since many have to pay between 30 and 40 percent extra to obtain cash in the local currency, the Zimbabwean dollar.

Mnangagwa said the nation would observe an official mourning period for its late leader, “a great teacher and mentor,” and a “remarkable statesman of our century.”

Singapore’s Foreign Ministry said they are working with Zimbabwe to repatriate Mugabe’s body.