Harare: Robert Mugabe ate a zoo during his lavash 91st birthday party, unleashed death squads to murder his enemies and forced thousands his people to starve. One of the most ruthless tyrants of modern times was both condemned and praised after he died aged 95 in a Singapore hospital on Friday. He was regarded as a liberation hero when he became Zimbabwe’s leader following the end of white colonial rule in 1980, but he evolved into a villain through a reign of terror lasting almost four decades.
His legacy is that of an oppressive dictator known for corruption, human rights abuses and brutal and outrageous exploits, including dining on a baby elephant at his extravagant birthday party in 2015.
Changing from anti-apartheid hero to corrupt dictator
Mugabe turned from being a “brave liberation hero” into a ruthless dictator who squandered Zimbabwe’s potential, Lord Hain said. The former Africa minister and anti-apartheid campaigner said Mugabe’s legacy will be “very two-sided”, with the early promise of his leadership outweighed by the “corrupt, repressive, dictatorial” approach he adopted.
“He is a tragic case study of a liberation hero who then betrayed every one of the values of the freedom struggle,” the Labour peer told PA.
“His legacy will be very two-sided.
“On the one hand – brave liberation hero who suffered imprisonment and torture and whom anti-apartheid activists like myself at the time were thrilled to see elected in a landslide in early 1980 with a promise to build a new, non-racial Zimbabwe which respected everybody and brought all races together and somebody who liberated his country from minority, white racist rule under Ian Smith and the old Rhodesia.
“But the overwhelmingly negative memory that everybody will have I think is of that liberation hero who was a case study of the leader who betrayed all the values of the freedom struggle and became corrupt, repressive, dictatorial, self-serving and ruthless in eliminating opposition and becoming increasingly interested in enriching himself and impoverishing his own people.”
Lord Hain said Mugabe’s actions had the effect of “transforming a country which had the ability, the skills, the infrastructure to really be a towering African nation into a terribly poor, corrupted, economically bankrupt nation”.
He said: “He had the opportunity to take Zimbabwe to new heights, it was the bread basket of southern Africa, exporting food, feeding other countries.
“He turned it into a net importer of food and reliant on food aid for starving people by dispossessing white farmers – murdering some of them – putting his own cronies in their place, sacking hundreds of black workers on each farm and turning those farms into infertile, barren pieces of wasteland.”
Mass killings by North Korean-trained army
Labour MP Kate Hoey, formerly the chairwoman of the all-party Parliamentary group on Zimbabwe and a longtime critic of the ex-president, tweeted: “Mugabe brought independence to Zimbabwe and then killed in the Gukurahundi-up to 80,000 of his own citizens in Matabeleland and brought his country to its knees economically. A hero to a brutal dictator.”
The Gukurahundi was the massacres of Ndebele civilians carried out by the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade of the Zimbabwe National Army in a bid to crush dissidents in the 1980s.
Mugabe was blamed for having orchestrated the killings, and had signed an agreement with North Korean President Kim Il-sung to have Pyongyang’s military train a brigade for Zimbabwe’s army.
Mugabe signed a Unity Accord in 1987 and announced an amnesty for all dissidents.
Campaign of murder that led to mass famine
The former president’s savage reign over the former British colony, which gained independence in 1980, was dominated by murder, bloodshed, torture, corruption, human rights abuses, persecution of political opponents, intimidation and vote-rigging on a grand scale.
In 2000 he led a campaign to evict white farmers from their land, which was given to black Zimbabweans, and led to famine.
His henchmen attacked and often murdered white farmers, burning their homes, looting their possessions and confiscating their land.
The economy of the mineral-rich country descended into chaos with thousands of people reduced to grinding poverty, many of them suffering from near-starvation and worse.
Rigging elections and wrecking Zimbabwe’s economy
At one point in 2008 inflation hit the rate of 231million per cent.
A loaf of bread cost millions of Zimbabwe dollars as residents struggled to put food on the table at home and lived in despair.
Political opponents were often beaten, sexually abused and sometimes charged with treason and homosexual offences.
Mugabe retained a strong grip on power, through controversial elections, until he was forced to resign following a military coup in November 2017, at age 93.
In 2002 he was banned from entering the EU following a presidential election that was deemed illegitimate by western powers.
Six years later, he was stripped of an honorary knighthood that was awarded by the Queen during a state visit in 1994.
Being kicked out of the Commonwealth
Mugabe’s relationship with the Commonwealth, which he dubbed an “Anglo-Saxon unholy alliance”, was always stormy.
He had close ties after he rose to power and made several trips to the UK.
Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth in March 2002 after Mugabe was denounced for vote-rigging his own re-election.
During the Commonwealth heads of government conference a year later, he quit the organisation while member states were arguing about Zimbabwe’s future.
Wild animals, including the baby elephant, buffaloes, sables and impalas, were slaughtered, cooked and served to some of Mugabe’s 20,000 guests when he turned 91 in 2015.
Mugabe, who was showered with lavish gifts, also had a lion and a crocodile shot and mounted for the celebration at a posh lodge in Victoria Falls.
To him, the elephant was no good, saying: “It had grown up [with] a tendency of charging and hostility to farmers.”
Mugabe marked the occasion by releasing 91 helium-filled balloons into the air with help from his wife Grace.
The bash was estimated to have cost almost £650,000 as many Zimbabweans lived in poverty.