It’s complicated: Zimbabweans see Robert Mugabe’s legacy as mixed

95-year-old was forced to quit in 2017 after decades of disputed elections, human rights violations

In this Sunday, August. 17, 2008 file photo, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is seen at the closing ceremony of the 28th Southern African Development Community summit of heads of state and government, in Johannesburg, South Africa. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File)

A Zimbabwean politician summed up her reaction to Robert Mugabe’s death with one word: Complicated.

Mugabe, 95, stood tall on the world stage for decades, first as a celebrated liberator and then as a combative enforcer, loathed by many Zimbabweans who watched their country sink on his watch. The mark — a raw wound, some would say —that he left on long-suffering Zimbabwe will be felt long after he died in a hospital far from home.

In November 2017, euphoria swept Harare when Mugabe resigned after nearly four decades in power that saw one of Africa’s most promising nations become one of its most dysfunctional.

Nearly two years later, much of the local response to his death Friday has been muted, indifferent or sullen, reflecting the fatigue and distraction of the daily hardship that is Mugabe’s most enduring legacy.

“He died in luxury in Singapore. What about us, who can’t even get medicines at hospitals here?” a woman shouted among commuters as she and dozens of others prepared to shove their way onto crowded, government-subsidized buses in Harare.

“Zimbabweans, you are an ungrateful lot,” a man shouted back. “He gave you independence, and then returned the land from the whites.”

At one time, Mugabe was an electric figure, a champion of Africa’s struggle to shake off the last vestiges of white minority rule on a continent that had been colonized over centuries. In 1980, he presided over the end of Rhodesia and the creation of independent Zimbabwe, promising a new era of racial reconciliation and economic growth.

Then, things turned ominous.

RELATED: Zimbabwe’s violent crackdown continues with reports of rapes

Thousands of Ndebele people were killed in the 1980s by a North Korea-trained military unit loyal to Mugabe, a member of the rival Shona ethnic group. In 2000, violent seizures of thousands of white-owned farms began, causing agricultural production to plunge. A land reform program favoured Mugabe loyalists.

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.

Under Mugabe, shortages of basic goods, collapsing infrastructure and economic hardship were the norm for Zimbabweans. They still are under his successor and former loyalist, Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Still, until the end of his rule, Mugabe cast himself as a voice of pride and defiance in modern Africa, a message that resonated in many countries that had experienced Western colonialism or intervention.

“I ain’t an expert on critical race theory; but there must be an explanation why predominantly white countries focus on his legacy as dictator whilst the predominantly black ones acknowledge his role as a liberator,” tweeted David Tinashe Hofisi, a human rights lawyer in Zimbabwe.

Fadzayi Mahere, a Zimbabwean opposition politician, also alluded to Mugabe’s mixed record.

“Rest In Peace, Robert Mugabe,” Mahere wrote on Twitter. “My response to your passing is complicated. I’m going to write a long piece. However, for now, deepest condolences to his family.”

The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Four air ambulance flights out of Terrace delayed or cancelled

Pandemic precautions caused nighttime closure of service station providing weather data to pilots

Skeena Resources, Tahltan prez excited by purchase of Eskay Creek

Skeena gets full control of mine, Barrick gets 12 per cent of Skeena and a one per cent royalty

Seabridge Gold starts drilling along proposed tunnel route north of Stewart

Twin tunnels will connect the KSM mine to its mill and tailings site

Mother grizzly bear with two cubs spotted on Gruchy’s Beach trail near Terrace

Conservation officers also warning public to stay away from Grizzlies on lower Kitimat River

Terrace conservation officers relocate Spirit bear

Bear roamed Kitsumkalum Valley north of Terrace for many years

B.C. sees 25 new COVID-19 cases, community exposure tracked

One death, outbreaks remain in two long-term care facilities

BREAKING: Amber Alert for two Quebec girls cancelled after bodies found

Romy Carpentier, 6, Norah Carpentier, 11, and their father, Martin Carpentier, missing since Wednesday

B.C. man prepares to be first to receive double-hand transplant in Canada

After the surgery, transplant patients face a long recovery

Grocers appear before MPs to explain decision to cut pandemic pay

Executives from three of Canada’s largest grocery chains have defended their decision to end temporary wage increases

Bringing support to Indigenous students and communities, while fulfilling a dream

Mitacs is a nonprofit organization that operates research and training programs

Northern B.C. First Nations call for reversal of grizzly bear hunting ban

Growing grizzly populations have led to fewer ungulates and increased fear of attacks says Chad Day

RCMP ‘disappointed’ by talk that race a factor in quiet Rideau Hall arrest

Corey Hurren, who is from Manitoba, is facing 22 charges

NHL’s Canadian hubs offer little economic benefit, but morale boost is valuable: experts

Games are slated to start Aug. 1 with six Canadian teams qualifying for the 24-team resumption of play

‘Made in the Cowichan Valley’ coming to a wine bottle near you

Cowichan Valley has the honour of being the first sub-GI outside of the Okanagan

Most Read