Robert Mugabe, long-term president of Zimbabwe, who was condemned and punished by Western nations for transferring fertile farmland seized by whites to blacks during British colonial rule of the country, then known as Rhodesia, has died.
Mr. Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s first prime minister and later its first president, died Friday in Gleneagles Hospital in Singapore, where he was being treated for an undisclosed illness. Mr. Mugabe was 95.
Westerners called Mr. Mugabe a tyrant who ruled his country with an iron fist, but he was a much more complicated person than the cardboard depictions of his enemies both black and white.
He was educated by Irish Jesuit priests and studied at the University of Oxford. He, however, is not listed among the school’s famous students.
When he returned to Rhodesia, he taught school. He later was sentenced to prison from1963 to 1975, for opposing white rule. During his time behind bars, he taught other inmates to read.
While in prison, he took correspondence courses and was awarded three degrees.
In April 1980 Britain lowered the Union Jack to the music of Bob Marley and Wailers. The ceremony signaled the end of a seven-year war of liberation that bought an end to colonialism. Mr. Mugabe became the country’s first prime minister and later its first president. He served as prime minister from 1980 to 1987 and he was president from 1987 to 2017.
In the beginning of his term in office, Mr. Mugabe expanded secondary education, build new schools and opened health clinics and constructed new roads. He also focused on growing the country’s tourist industry.
However, starting in 2000, Mr. Mugabe sent squads of men to invade white-owned farms and chase away their owners. After two years, nearly all of the land that had been owned by whites had been distributed to 300,000 black families that included 50,000 aspiring black commercial farmers.
President Mugabe’s land-reform campagin outraged Western countries, especially Britain. In May 2000, the U.K. froze all development aid to Zimbabwe. In December 1999, the IMF terminated financial support for Zimbabwe, citing economic mismanagement and widespread corruption as impediments to reform.
In and around 2008, the University of Massachusetts, Michigan State University and the University of Edinburgh revoked Mr. Mugabe’s honorary degrees.
While visiting Britain in 1999, a British citizen attempted to have him arrested. Mugabe had a contentious relationship with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
This was quite a change. In 1994, Mugabe received an honorary knighthood from the British state. He was later stripped of the honor on the advice of the United Kingdom’s government in 2008.
Mr. Mugabe believed land ownership was power, but transferring land to black farmers stolen from them by white farmers gave rise to countless complications.
The country’s black farmers did not have fertilizer to grow crops. In addition, Zimbabwe was hit with a drought that lasted two years.
The country’s travel industry, which Mr. Mugabe had pushed, collapsed as entire floors of hotels had to be closed because no one was visiting the country. The drop in tourism affected black working people who eventually turned against Mr. Mugabe.
Blacks being forced off the land by whites is not something confined to Africa. This latest issue of the magazine Atlantic explores the issue of blacks being forced off the land by whites in the United States.
Mr. Mugabe was forced out of office in 2017. His body was flown back to Zimbabwe from Singapore on September 11.
Robert Gabriel Mugabe was born on February 21, 1924 at the Kutama Mission village in Southern Rhodesia’s Zvimba District. His father, Gabriel Matibiri, was a carpenter, and his mother Bona was a Christian catechist for the village children. They had been trained in their professions by the Jesuits, the Roman Catholic religious order that established the mission. Robert Mugabe was one of six children.
Zimbabwe held a state funeral on Saturday for Mr. Mugabe.