Mugabe: Teacher, Revolutionary, Tyrant?

Robert Mugabe, former president of Zimbabwe, passed away on 6th September aged 95. While he will be remembered for his contribution to his country’s liberation from colonial rule, he will also be remembered for his oppressive and controversial politics which lasted until he was eventually ousted from power. In this article, we shed some light on the life of Robert Mugabe and how he changed from a revolutionary to a dictator.

Robert Gabriel Mugabe was born on 21st February 1924 in Kutama, Southern Rhodesia (erstwhile Zimbabwe). Mugabe’s father Gabriel was a carpenter working with the local missionaries and his mother instructed locals in the Christian faith. Although many people in Southern Rhodesia went only as far as grammar school, Mugabe was fortunate enough to receive good education. At school, Mugabe was considered a recluse and rarely spoke to anyone other than his instructors. The values that O’Hea, Mugabe’s teacher at school, imparted to his students resonated with Mugabe, prompting him to pass them on by becoming a teacher himself.

Mugabe’s political career began the day he joined a huge demonstration in protest of his friend being arrested in July 1960. He appealed to people’s cultural conscience, by talking of traditional values. A Marxist-Leninist by ideology, Mugabe firmly believed in armed resistance as a means to overthrow the colonial rule in their country. Mugabe was arrested among others on account of white casualties resulting from guerilla warfare, something that he actively preached, and spent nearly 8 years in prison. During his time in prison, he organised study classes for the inmates and he himself devoted time to studying and reading. After his release, he made regular speeches and broadcasts in which he emphasized the transformation of their country into a one-party Marxist state. Following the Lancaster House Agreement, something which Mugabe wasn’t comfortable about, elections were held in which Mugabe won with an outstanding majority.

Throughout his campaign, Mugabe induced nationalism in the minds of the common man by his speeches which repeatedly called for violence against the white minority. By calling the white Rhodesians as “blood-sucking exploiters” and “sadistic killers”, he made sure that the British’s parasitic quest in their country was on its way to being perished forever.

Mugabe’s chaotic ascent into the presidency should have been a foreshadower to how his rule would be. His resolve in uplifting Zimbabwe from the economic crisis it suffered the years before and minimizing British influence strengthened as he finally had the power and resources to do so. His determination and perseverance soon paid off: various industrial sectors improved, boosting the country’s GDP. By recognising the significance of good education and healthcare, and by building thousands of schools and hospitals, the literacy rate along with the mortality rates skyrocketed.

However, this period could be best described as the eye of the hurricane. As time passed, Mugabe’s schemes and policies began to fail, sending Zimbabwe into an economic crisis. Overpopulation dropped agricultural rates, reduced life expectancy, lowered average wages and increased unemployment rates.

In this time of trouble, Mugabe quickly built an infamous reputation by resorting to violence to curb protests and silence those who spoke against him. Mugabe remained unapologetic and unabashed until he was forced to resign in November 2017, after nearly his entire party, including his wife, turned on him. The same people, who celebrated his rise to power, now celebrated his departure from office. What started out as a mission to defend his people from treachery turned into a three-term battle to defend his own self from losing power and status regardless of the price it would take. Mugabe may have been a resourceful ruler with the best intentions, but he succumbed to the evils of political pressure and personal ambition.

Taking account of the way things turned out, an obvious question arises: how do you free a nation, make it the ‘jewel’ and ‘breadbasket’ of Africa, and then bring its economy to near collapse – all within a span of 37 years? The answer is hyperinflation, or the dramatic rise and fall of the Zimbabwean dollar during Mugabe’s regime.

The hyperinflation began with the government printing more money to pay off crushing national debt, a war with the Congo and failure of the seized farmland. Decades of national improvement got washed out by bad decisions. The inflation reached a whopping 500 million per cent! A few trillion Zimbabwean dollars could buy someone just a bottle of Coke. All of this was while Mugabe and his wife paid a Serbian company 12 million dollars for a 25-bedroom house that came with two artificial lakes and a small army of bodyguards. He also guaranteed the loyalty of his ministers by giving them lavish perks, like SUVs and farmland.

Eventually, the Zimbabwean dollar had no value – to the point where people popularized it as toilet paper. Citizens had no currency, and foreign currency was banned. They resorted to a ludicrous barter system, often exchanging a bucket of peanuts for a check-up at the hospital. Lack of food coupled with the HIV/AIDS epidemic reduced the life expectancy to nearly half of what it was before.

Mugabe was always inclined towards assuming a position of power throughout his political career. Whether it was being an important figure in the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZANU) that he was a part of, to be the President of Zimbabwe, he made sure that he was always up the political ladder. The fact that he resorted to oppressive politics when he was in power overshadowed all the good he did before power made him corrupt. His defiant nature towards the whites furthered the cause for Zimbabwe’s independent. Mugabe remained unchallenged till the time he was ousted from power. Nothing stopped him from living the lavish lifestyle that he led, not even a crippling economy and deteriorating living conditions of the people. He will be remembered as a controversial figure who formed a major part in shaping Zimbabwe that the world today sees.