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)

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

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
Three new COVID-19 deaths in Central zone, Alberta under 10,000 active cases

The Central zone sits at 849 active cases, with 52 people in hospital and 10 in the ICU.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced 16 additional deaths Thursday. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
No easing of Alberta’s COVID-19 measures Thursday, 678 new COVID-19 cases

The province also hit 1,500 COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic

Kyler Corriveau, of the Eckville area, was found dead on Sunday southeast of Red Deer. Police are investigating his death as a homicide. (Contributed photo).
Young Red Deer homicide victim is remembered as a caring friend

Police are investigating Kyler Corriveau’s untimely death

Sylvan Lake Winter Village. File Photo
3 charged in connection to vandalism at Sylvan Lake Winter Village

Sylvan Lake RCMP were able to identify the suspects thanks to community assistance

Sabrina Armeneau
Sylvan Lake RCMP search for woman missing for five years

Sabrina Armeneau was reported missing on Jan. 15, but has not been seen in five years

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, updates media on the COVID-19 situation in Edmonton, Friday, March 20, 2020. Hinshaw says residents in long-term care and supportive living facilities will remain the priority as the province grapples with a looming slowdown in COVID-19 vaccine supply. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta long-term care residents remain priority in looming slowdown of COVID vaccine

There are 119 patients in intensive care and 1,463 people have died

Black Press File Photo
Maskwacis RCMP lay charges for attempted murder, kidnapping, and flight from police

Female victim remains in hospital in serious condition.

In this Dec. 18, 2020 photo, pipes to be used for the Keystone XL pipeline are stored in a field near Dorchester, Neb.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris Machian /Omaha World-Herald via AP
‘Gut punch’: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney blasts Biden on revoked Keystone XL permit

Kenney said he was upset the U.S. wouldn’t consult with Canada first before acting

Joe Biden, then the U.S. vice-president, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau take their seats at the start of the First Ministers and National Indigenous Leaders meeting in Ottawa, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau, Biden to talk today as death of Keystone XL reverberates in Canada

President Joe Biden opposed the Keystone XL expansion as vice-president under Barack Obama

Prince Edward Island’s provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Friday July 3, 2020. A lozenge plant in Prince Edward Island has laid off 30 workers, citing an “almost non-existent” cold and cough season amid COVID-19 restrictions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘Almost non-existent’ cold and cough season: P.E.I. lozenge plant lays off 30 workers

The apparent drop in winter colds across the country seems to have weakened demand for medicine and natural remedies

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette takes the royal salute from the Guard of Honour as she makes her way deliver the the throne speech, Wednesday, September 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigns, apologizes for ‘tensions’ at Rideau Hall

Payette, who is the Queen’s representative in Canada, has been the governor general since 2017

Grounded WestJet Boeing 737 Max aircraft are shown at the airline’s facilities in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, May 7, 2019. WestJet will operate the first commercial Boeing 737 Max flight in Canada today since the aircraft was grounded in 2019 following two deadly crashes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Passengers unfazed as WestJet returns Boeing 737 Max to service on Calgary flight

After a lengthy review process, Transport Canada cleared the plane to return to Canadian airspace

Lucas Berg, left, with the backpacks filled with essential items he donated to the Red Deer Mustard Seed Jan. 19, 2021. (Photo submitted)
Central Alberta teenager donates filled 20 backpacks to Red Deer Mustard Seed

Lucas Berg, 14, of Ponoka County says he ‘just wants to help people’

A conveyor belt transports coal at the Westmoreland Coal Co.’s Sheerness mine near Hanna, Alta., on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. Coal mining impacts are already occurring in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains even as debate intensifies over the industry’s presence in one of the province’s most beloved landscapes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
As Alberta debates coal mining, industry already affecting once-protected Rockies

UCP revoked a policy that had protected eastern slopes of the Rockies from open-pit coal mining since 1976

Most Read