HARARE – Zimbabwe’s former president Robert Mugabe, who after becoming a leading figure in the liberation of his country from British colonial rule monopolized his power over the nation for almost four decades, has died at the age of 95 in a Singapore hospital.
“It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing on of Zimbabwe’s founding father and former President, Cde Robert Mugabe,” President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Twitter.
“Cde Mugabe was an icon of liberation, a pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people. His contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten,” Mnangagwa added. “May his soul rest in eternal peace.”
Mugabe died in a Singapore hospital surrounded by his family and his wife, Grace, Zimbabwean media said.
His home country received the news with a subdued calm. An outpouring of grief in Zimbabwe, which continues to trudge through an economic crisis Mugabe left in his wake, is unlikely given the repression, the lack of freedom and autocratic behavior that characterized Mugabe’s 37-year rule.
And yet expressions of anger or relief are equally unexpected. Those scenes already grabbed headlines following the military coup that led to Mugabe’s resignation in November 2017, when thousands of people came out into the street calling for democracy.
“We remember him. It’s a sad day for Zimbabwe,” James Nhema, a gardener working in an upmarket residential suburb in northern Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, told EFE.
Zimbabwe’s state media paid tribute to the late leader as the country’s founding father or as an icon of liberation. Other members of his party – the National African Union of Zimbabwe – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) – paid their tributes as did the opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa.
“My condolences to the Mugabe family and Africa for the passing on of Zimbabwe’s founding President. This is a dark moment for the family because a giant among them has fallen. May the Lord comfort them,” he tweeted.
The country’s first post-independence leader was admitted to hospital in Singapore in April.
Born on Feb. 21, 1924, Mugabe held power in Zimbabwe for 37 years, since its independence from the United Kingdom in 1980.
Several African leaders offered words of condolence, too.
“Kenya has lost a close friend, following the passing of H.E. Comrade Robert Gabriel Mugabe. I take this opportunity on my own behalf, that of my family and the people of the Republic of Kenya to offer my deepest heartfelt condolences to Mrs. Grace Mugabe, the entire family and the people of the great Republic of Zimbabwe,” said Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta.
The president of the African Union also joined in paying homage.
“It is with immense sadness that I learnt of the passing of Zimbabwe’s former president Robert Mugabe. My sincere condolences to his family and the Zimbabwean people as we mourn an iconic liberation fighter + Pan-Africanist in the struggle for liberation and continental integration,” Moussa Faki Mahamat said.
South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa called him a champion of the anti-colonialist cause in Africa who inspired him to fight against the apartheid.
Mugabe was overthrown in a coup in November 2017 after he fired his then-vice president Mnangagwa amid tensions between him and the first lady about who his successor should be.
Mugabe resigned on Nov. 21 and three days later, 76-year-old Mnangagwa was sworn in – a move that caused jubilation in the streets of a formerly prosperous country that the former president had brought to the brink of ruin.