Robert Mugabe: From Liberator To Tyrant
Robert Gabriel Mugabe was a man who divided global public opinion like few others.
To some, he was an evil dictator who should have ended his days in jail for crimes against humanity.
Zimbabwe's ex-president Robert Mugabe dies at 95
To others, he was a revolutionary hero, who fought racial oppression and stood up to Western imperialism and neo-colonialism.
On his own terms, he was an undoubted success.
First, he delivered independence for Zimbabwe after decades of white-minority rule.
He then remained in power for 37 years - outlasting his greatest enemies and rivals such as Tony Blair, George W Bush, Joshua Nkomo, Morgan Tsvangirai and Nelson Mandela.
And he destroyed the economic power of Zimbabwe's white community, which was based on their hold over the country's most fertile land.
However, his compatriots - except for a small, well-connected elite - paid the price, with the destruction of what had once been one of Africa's most diversified economies.
In the end, this came back to haunt him.
The outpouring of joy on the streets of Harare which greeted his forced resignation in November 2017 echoed the jubilation in the same city 37 years earlier when it was announced he was the new leader of independent Zimbabwe.
Although he was allowed to see out his days in peace in his Harare mansion, it was not the end he wanted, having famously boasted: "Only God, who appointed me, will remove me."
Many Zimbabweans trace the reversal of his - and their - fortunes to his 1996 wedding to his secretary Grace Marufu, 41 years his junior, following the death of his widely respected first wife, Sally, in 1992.
"He changed the moment Sally died, when he married a young gold-digger," according to Wilf Mbanga, editor of The Zimbabwean newspaper, who used to be close personal friends with Mr Mugabe.
That sentiment was common long before anyone dreamed she might one day harbour presidential ambitions, which were the trigger for his close allies in the military and the ruling Zanu-PF party to oust Mr Mugabe from power.
Mugabe the man
While he was sometimes portrayed as a madman, this was far from the truth. He was extremely intelligent and those who underestimated him usually discovered this to their cost.
Stephen Chan, a professor at London's School of Oriental and African Studies, noted Mr Mugabe had repeatedly embarrassed the West with his "adroit diplomacy".
As a former political rival of Mr Mugabe, who went on to serve as his home affairs minister, Dumiso Dabengwa witnessed the different sides of Zimbabwe's founding father.
"Under normal circumstances, he would be very charming but when he got angry, he was something else - if you crossed him, he could certainly be ruthless," he told the BBC before his death in May 2019.
Mr Dabengwa said the president would often let him win an argument over policy during the decade they worked together, or they would agree to compromise - not the behaviour of a dictator.
But something, he added, changed after 2000 and Mr Mugabe resorted to threats to ensure he got his way.
"He held compromising material over several of his colleagues and they knew they would face criminal charges if they opposed him."
This is not a picture recognised by Chen Chimutengwende, who worked alongside Mr Mugabe in both the Zanu-PF party and government for 30 years.
"In all the time I have worked with him, I have never seen him be vindictive or ill-treat anyone," he said.
Mr Chimutengwende felt Zimbabwe's leader had been unfairly demonised in the Western media because of his policy of seizing land from white farmers whom he suspects of having influential supporters, especially in the UK, where many trace their roots.
Mugabe the teacher
The year 2000 marked a watershed both in the history of Zimbabwe and the career of Mr Mugabe.
Until then, he was generally feted for reaching out towards the white community following independence, while Zimbabwe's economy was still faring pretty well.
After coming to power in 1980, Mr Mugabe greatly expanded education and healthcare for black Zimbabweans and the country enjoyed living standards far higher than its neighbours.
In 1995, a World Bank report praised Zimbabwe's rapid progress in the fields of health and literacy. Run by a former teacher, the country had the highest literacy rates in Africa.
In her book, Dinner With Mugabe, Heidi Hollande said Mr Mugabe used to personally coach illiterate State House workers to help them pass exams.
Mr Mbanga recalls listening to the songs of US country singer Jim Reeves together.
"He could be very affectionate, he was an intellectual. He liked explaining things, like a teacher," said Mr Mbanga, but then saw a huge change in his former friend.
"He went from trying to convince you with his arguments to a man who would send his thugs to beat you up if you disagreed with him."
In fact, the warning signs were already there - the massacre of thousands of ethnic Ndebeles seen as supporters of Mr Mugabe's rival, Joshua Nkomo, in the 1980s and the start of the economic decline - but these were usually overlooked.
"Some say he had us all fooled, I am convinced he himself changed," Mr Mbanga said.
The journalist says that in his early years as president, Mr Mugabe genuinely believed in trying to improve the lives of his people, and introduced a "leadership code" which barred ministers from owning too much property.
"Look at him today, he is fabulously wealthy. He is not the person I knew," Mr Mbanga said in May 2014.
In February 2000, the government lost a referendum on a draft constitution.
With parliamentary elections looming four months later and a newly formed opposition party with close links to the "No" campaign posing a serious threat, Mr Mugabe unleashed his personal militia.
Some were genuine veterans of the 1970s war of independence but others were far younger.
TV footage of white farmers queuing up to make donations to the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) meant Mr Mugabe was able to portray the opposition as stooges of the white community, and by extension the UK.
The invasion of white-owned farms achieved several goals for Mr Mugabe and his allies:
Punish the white community for their "betrayal"
Remove a source of funding from the opposition
Allow the "war veterans" to intimidate the many thousands of black farmworkers, largely seen as opposition supporters
Ensure that the opposition could not campaign in rural areas
Re-energise his supporters, some of whom had been losing faith in his ability to redistribute land - one of the grievances behind the 1970s war of independence
Attract new supporters with the promise of land handouts.
There was certainly a strong moral argument that land reform was needed in Zimbabwe but the way it was carried out was undoubtedly with political motivations uppermost.
Despite the widespread violence, intimidation and electoral fraud, the MDC gained almost as many elected seats as Zanu-PF in 2000.
Had it not been for the intimidation in rural areas, Zanu-PF may well have lost its majority.
Lovemore Madhuku, one of the leaders of the "No" campaign in 2000, described Mr Mugabe as an "an excellent political calculator", who adapted his tactics to the situation.
"There are moments when he chooses to be ruthless, others when he chooses to be magnanimous… He considers what is best - for him - in every situation and reacts accordingly," Mr Madhuku told the BBC
He said Mr Mugabe might not have realised the damage the seizure of white-owned land would do to Zimbabwe's economy but in any case, he would not have cared, as long as he remained president.
Mr Chan agreed that, "in terms of Mr Mugabe's value-set, the ownership of the land is more important than the smooth running of the economy".
And the economy continued to decline until 2008.
After 28 years of Mr Mugabe's rule, the resourceful, largely self-sufficient country lay in ruins. The inflation rate had reached an unfathomable 231 million per cent and young Zimbabweans were voting with their feet, fleeing the country he had fought to liberate.
And yet, from this low point, he once more managed to outmanoeuvre his rivals and remain in power for another nine years.
'Mummy's Boy' to African liberator
The key to understanding Robert Mugabe is the fight against white-minority rule.
In the Rhodesia where he grew up, power was reserved for some 270,000 white people at the expense of about six millions Africans.
A host of other laws discriminated against the black majority, largely subsistence farmers.
They were forced to leave their ancestral land and pushed into the country's peripheral regions, with dry soil and low rainfall, while the most fertile areas were reserved for white farmers.
Reclaiming the land was one of the main drivers behind the 1970s war which brought Mr Mugabe to power.
The son of a carpenter who abandoned his family, as a child Mr Mugabe was said to have been a loner, who spent much of his time reading.
Ms Hollande wrote that after his elder brother died of poisoning when Mr Mugabe was just 10, his mother became depressed and the young Mugabe would do everything he could for her, to the extent he was teased as a "mummy's boy" at school.
He eventually qualified as a teacher and in 1958 went to work in Ghana, which had just become the first African country south of the Sahara to end colonial rule.
Encouraged by his Ghanaian wife, Sally, and the pan-Africanist speeches of Ghana's leader Kwame Nkrumah, Mr Mugabe became determined to achieve the same back home.
On his return in 1960, he started to campaign for an end to discrimination and was jailed for a decade after being convicted of sedition.
While in prison, his supporters wrested control of Zanu, the biggest party fighting white rule, and installed him as leader.
On his release, he was supposed to remain in the country but with the help of a white nun, he was smuggled over the border into Mozambique and the Zanu guerrilla camps.
'He loves power'
After Mr Mugabe won the 1980 elections which led to independence, he pursued a policy of reconciliation with the white community despite the bitterness built up during the war.
In a national address after becoming prime minister, he declared: "If you were my enemy, you are now my friend. If you hated me, you cannot avoid the love that binds me to you and you to me."