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Former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe dies at 95

The death of a former Commonwealth leader would normally be met with numerous tributes but he has mainly been memorialised as a dictator.

Robert Mugabe (PA)
Robert Mugabe (PA)

By PA Reporters

Robert Mugabe, former prime minister and president of Zimbabwe whose rule was mired in accusations of human rights abuses and corruption, has died at the age of 95.

His 40-year leadership of the former British colony was marked with bloodshed, persecution of political opponents and vote-rigging on a large scale.

The death of a long-serving Commonwealth leader would usually attract numerous tributes; however, there have been few in praise of Mr Mugabe and instead he has been memorialised as a dictator.

Labour MP Kate Hoey, former chairwoman of the all-party parliamentary group on Zimbabwe and a longtime critic of Mr Mugabe, tweeted: “Mugabe brought independence to Zimbabwe and then killed in the Gukurahundi – up to 80,000 of his own citizens in Matabeleland and brought his country to its knees economically. A hero to a brutal dictator.”

Former Zimbabwe international cricketer Henry Olonga – who was exiled from his home country and faced death threats after standing up to Mr Mugabe in Harare at the 2003 World Cup – called the former president a “megalomaniac”.

He told the PA news agency: “It makes me incredibly sad because, for all he could have represented, he failed to scale the heights of someone like Nelson Mandela, because he became a megalomaniac, a power-hungry tyrant, a dictator and a man who subjugated his own people while purporting to be representing them.”

Mr Olonga’s sentiments were shared by human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who twice attempted a citizen’s arrest on Mr Mugabe, once being knocked unconscious.

Mr Tatchell said: “The world had so much hope for the freedom fighter who suffered imprisonment and later rose to power on a promise to build a new, democratic, non-racial Zimbabwe. But the truth is that he betrayed it all for a repressive, dictatorial, self-serving regime that boosted his personal wealth while impoverishing his own people.”

Current Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa confirmed Mr Mugabe’s death on Friday, calling him a “pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people”.

He said: “His contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten. May his soul rest in eternal peace.”

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa paid tribute, saying: “Under President Mugabe’s leadership, Zimbabwe’s sustained and valiant struggle against colonialism inspired our own struggle against apartheid and built in us the hope that one day South Africa too would be free.”

Born in then-Rhodesia, Mr Mugabe co-founded the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu) in 1963, a resistance movement against British colonial rule.

He became prime minister of the new Republic of Zimbabwe in 1980 and assumed the role of president seven years later.

In 2000 he led a campaign to evict white farmers from their land, which was given to black Zimbabweans, and led to famine.

Mr Mugabe retained a strong grip on power, through controversial elections, until he was forced to resign in November 2017, at the age of 93.

Cars began honking horns and people cheered in the streets of the capital, Harare, as the news spread.

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Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe greeted by then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (PA)

Mr Mugabe, who had been the world’s oldest head of state, was replaced by Mr Mnangagwa, who had recently been fired as Mr Mugabe’s vice-president.

The Foreign Office recognised the “mixed emotions” in Zimbabwe as a result of Mr Mugabe’s death.

A spokesman said: “We express our condolences to those who mourn Robert Mugabe’s death. However, Zimbabweans suffered for too long as a result of Mugabe’s autocratic rule. We hope that, in this new era, Zimbabwe can continue to be set on a more democratic and prosperous path.”

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