Zimbabwe’s former president Robert Mugabe has died, aged 95 at a hospital in Singapore.
He has been ailing for several years, with officials saying his situation deteriorated when he was ousted in a military coup in November 2017.
His death was announced by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who described him as an “icon of liberation and one who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people.”
Mugabe used repression and fear to hold on to power in Zimbabwe for 37 years until he was finally ousted when his previously loyal military generals turned against him. After his humiliating fall from office in November 2017, his phenomenal physical stamina seeped away rapidly.
First heralded as a liberator who rid the former British colony Rhodesia of white-minority rule, Robert Gabriel Mugabe will instead be remembered a despot who crushed political dissent and ruined the national economy. The former political prisoner turned guerrilla leader swept to power in the 1980 elections after a growing insurgency and economic sanctions forced the Rhodesian government to the negotiating table. In office, he initially won international plaudits for his declared policy of racial reconciliation and for extending improved education and health services to the black majority. But his lustre faded quickly.
After decades in which the subject of succession was virtually taboo, a vicious struggle to take over after his death became apparent among the party elite when he reached his 90s and became visibly frail.
Mugabe’s second wife Grace his former secretary who is 41 years his junior and had been seen as a potential successor boasted that even in his 80s he would rise before dawn to work out.
Born on February 21, 1924 into a Catholic family at Kutama Mission northwest of Harare, Mugabe was described as a loner, and a studious child known to carry a book even while tending cattle in the bush. After his carpenter father walked out on the family when he was 10, the young Mugabe concentrated on his studies, qualifying as a schoolteacher at the age of 17.
An intellectual who initially embraced Marxism, he enrolled at Fort Hare University in South Africa, meeting many of southern Africa’s future black nationalist leaders. After teaching in Ghana, where he was influenced by founder president Kwame Nkrumah, Mugabe returned to Rhodesia where he was detained for his nationalist activities in 1964 and spent the next 10 years in prison camps or jail. During his incarceration, he gained three degrees through correspondence, but the years in prison left their mark.
He had been rumoured for years to have prostate cancer, but according to the official account, his frequent trips to Singapore were related to his treatment for cataracts.
Mugabe leaves two sons and a daughter by second wife Grace.