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story.lead_photo.caption Former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, shown in 2016, was described by his successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, as “a great teacher and mentor.”

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- Former Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe, an ex-guerrilla chief who took power when the African country shook off white minority rule and presided for decades while economic turmoil and human-rights violations eroded the nation's early promise, has died in Singapore. He was 95.

His successor, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, tweeted word Friday that an "icon of liberation" had died. Mnangagwa, a longtime loyalist until Mugabe dismissed him from his Cabinet, named Mugabe as a national hero, Zimbabwe's highest posthumous honor.

He said the nation would observe an official mourning period for its late leader, "a great teacher and mentor" and a "remarkable statesman of our century." No date or other details were given.

Singapore's Foreign Ministry said it was working with Zimbabwe on arrangements to fly Mugabe's body home. In recent years, Mugabe sought medical treatment at Gleneagles Hospital in Singapore.

Presidential spokesman George Charamba said that Mugabe was readmitted to the hospital complaining of chest pains. His personal doctor, Dr. Jonathan Matenga, was flown to Singapore and with Mugabe when he died at 4:45 a.m. Friday, Charamba said.

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Forced to resign amid pressure from the military, his party and the public in November 2017, Mugabe was defiant throughout his long life, railing against the West for what he called its neo-colonialist attitude and urging Africans to take control of their resources -- a populist message that was often a hit, even as many nations on the continent shed the strongman model and moved toward democracy.

A target of international sanctions over the years, Mugabe nevertheless enjoyed acceptance among peers in Africa who chose not to judge him in the same way as Britain, the United States and other Western detractors.

"They are the ones who say they gave Christianity to Africa," Mugabe said of the West during a visit to South Africa in 2016. "We say: 'We came, we saw and we were conquered.'"

In 1979, after the fighting ended between black guerrillas and the white rulers of Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was then known, Mugabe reached out to whites. The self-declared Marxist stressed the need for education and built new schools. Tourism and mining flourished, and Zimbabwe was a regional breadbasket.

However, a brutal military campaign waged against an uprising in western Matabeleland province that ended in 1987 augured a bitter turn in Zimbabwe's fortunes. 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.

Mugabe was re-elected in 2013 in another ballot marred by alleged irregularities, though he dismissed his critics as sore losers.

Amid the political turmoil, the economy of Zimbabwe, traditionally rich in agriculture and minerals, deteriorated. Factories were closing, unemployment was rising and the country abandoned its currency for the U.S. dollar in 2009 because of hyperinflation.

The economic problems are often traced to the violent seizures of thousands of white-owned farms that began around 2000. The policy was supposed to take much of the country's most fertile land -- owned by about 4,500 white descendants of mainly British and South African colonial-era settlers -- and redistribute it to poor blacks. Instead, Mugabe gave prime farms to ruling party leaders, party loyalists, security chiefs, relatives and cronies.

Zimbabwe's main opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa, said he was "mourning with the rest of Africa" over the death of Mugabe in the African tradition of Ubuntu, or humanity toward others, calling him one of Zimbabwe's founding fathers and a freedom fighter.

However, Chamisa, who leads the Movement for Democratic Change, also acknowledged the pain over "decades of political disputes" surrounding his governance.

"Memories really go to the deficits of governance, goes to the issue of human-rights situation in the country, goes to the collapse of systems," he said.

He also said Mugabe's death on foreign soil is a "sad indictment" of the country's economic situation.

Amnesty International said Mugabe left behind "an indelible stain on his country's human-rights record." Mugabe's early years as a leader saw "notable achievements" through his heavy investment in health care and education, the human-rights group said, but he later eroded his own track record.

"While casting himself as the savior of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe inflicted lasting damage upon its people and its reputation," said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International's deputy regional director for Southern Africa.

Information for this article was contributed by Carley Petesch of The Associated Press.

A Section on 09/07/2019

Print Headline: Zimbabwe ex-ruler Mugabe dies at 95

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