Former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe died in Singapore’s Gleneagles Hospital on September 6, where he had been under medical care. Mugabe, who is often credited with ushering Zimbabwe into the modern era, led the country from 1980 to 2017, reports The New York Times.
The cause of Mugabe’s death has not yet been revealed. His body was repatriated from Singapore on September 11 and a state funeral was held on September 14, attended by several African heads of state and thousands of Zimbabweans. The former president’s burial has been delayed for at least a month, however, until a special mausoleum is built in his honor in Hero’s Acre alongside other national heroes, reports The Associated Press.
Mugabe’s death has received a rather lukewarm international response, however, attributed primarily to his controversial post-revolution career. While many applaud him for leading Zimbabwe’s liberation from British colonial rule, he is also regarded with disdain over his sudden turn to autocratic rule, having turned the freshly independent country into a dictatorship and plummeted one of Africa’s most prosperous lands into a place of violence, economic failure, and tyranny.
The New York Times notes that his own country’s muted response to his death was to be expected. A once-powerful figure, Mugabe dwindled to a ghostly presence after he was overthrown in a bloodless coup led by his then Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa in 2017. Fearing that Mugabe might name his second wife, Grace Mugabe, as his political heir, he was placed under house arrest by army officers and forced to resign by his political party, the Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).
Even two years after Mugabe’s fall, Zimbabwe’s economy is still suffering, with most of the population struggling to meet basic needs. A severe nation-wide drought threatens to propel the country’s ruined agricultural sector towards collapse. Mugabe’s strict policies banning land reform played a huge part crippling this sector of the country’s economy, leading to a period of extreme hyperinflation and the ditching of the Zimbabwean dollar.
Mugabe’s legacy does boast a few revolutionary achievements for Zimbabwe, however. CNN points out that Zimbabwe rose to become one of the most educated countries in all of Africa because of Mugabe’s stringent education policies. A skilled negotiator and an eloquent speaker, Mugabe led the Independence movement from the British Empire to success, which secured him an easy victory in the first election for the country in 1980, says BBC News. He continued to rule the country for almost four decades.
Despite their soured political relationship, President Mnangagwa stated on Twitter, “It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing on of Zimbabwe’s founding father and former President, Cde Robert Mugabe. 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.”