Robert Mugabe, the bush war guerrilla who led Zimbabwe to independence in 1980 and crushed his foes during nearly four decades of rule as his country descended into poverty, hyperinflation and unrest, died on Friday. He was 95.
He was one of the most polarising figures in his continent’s history, a giant of African liberation, whose rule finally ended in ignominy when he was overthrown by his own army. He died in Singapore, where he had long received medical treatment.
“It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing on of Zimbabwe’s founding father and former President, Cde (Comrade) Robert Mugabe,” a post on President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s official Twitter account said.
Mnangagwa cut short a trip to a World Economic Forum meeting in South Africa to return home, a government official said.
Tributes poured in from African leaders. South Africa’s government mourned a “fearless pan-Africanist liberation fighter”. Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta hailed a “man of courage who was never afraid to fight for what he believed in, even when it was not popular”.
At home, even foes paid respects.
“He was a colossus on the Zimbabwean stage and his enduring positive legacy will be his role in ending white minority rule & expanding a quality education to all Zimbabweans,” tweeted David Coltart, an opposition senator and rights lawyer.
But others said his legacy was overshadowed by the harm he did to his people.
“We of course express our condolences to those who mourn, but know that for many he was a barrier to a better future,” said a spokeswoman for Boris Johnson, prime minister of Britain, Zimbabwe’s former colonial power.
“Under his rule the people of Zimbabwe suffered greatly as he impoverished their country and sanctioned the use of violence against them.”
On the streets, the response was mostly more generous.
“He was iconic, he was an African legend. His only mistake was that he overstayed in power. You can’t have somebody that’s 89 and 90 still being the president, you have to give others a chance,” said Harare resident Onwell Samukanya.
“He was a good leader,” said another resident, Sellina Mugadza. “Of course we know that you cannot do good to everyone, but to me he was good.”
CHAMPION OF RECONCILIATION WHO UNLEASHED DEATH SQUADS
Mugabe was feted as a champion of racial reconciliation when he first came to power in a nation throwing off white colonial rule. By the time he was toppled, he was viewed by many at home and abroad as a power-obsessed autocrat who unleashed death squads, rigged elections and ruined the economy to keep control.
When he was ousted by his own armed forces in November 2017, there were wild celebrations across the country of 13 million.