Zimbabwe: The Robert Mugabe Legacy

The History and Legacy Of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe

Ever since the land reforms of 2000, Zimbabwe has been the subject of global news and controversy.

At the helm was Zimbabwe’s former President Robert Mugabe, who since his death in 2019 has left the country reeling from the legacy of his 40 year Rule. 

The origins of Zimbabwe’s crisis lie in its birth on the 21st of December 1979 when the Lancaster House Agreement was signed, and the Rhodesian bush war also known as the Zimbabwe liberation War was officially brought to an end.

The agreement was a means to pave the way for democratic elections in order to end White Minority Rule following the protracted Liberation War and was signed by the Leaders of all the Armed Resistance Movements and Ian Smith, leader of the White Minority Regime.

Robert Mugabe had reluctantly signed the agreement on behalf of ZANU (PF) which had sought to achieve liberation through Military victory. In particular, ZANU (PF) reluctantly made the concession to buy land from Colonial Settler Farmers on a willing buyer and willing seller basis after independence.

As a result of progress made on the military frontline, Mugabe’s Party was confident that Military victory would soon follow, meaning there would be less need to compromise on such key issues as Land Reform. 

However, despite threating to boycott the Conference on account of the land question, ZANU (PF) was cajoled into continuing with the Conference and eventually into accepting the Settlement Agreement by other African States like Mozambique who had been providing Military support and bases to ZANU (PF) from which it could launch attacks into Rhodesia.

Bordering Rhodesia (soon to be called Zimbabwe), Mozambique had served as a Key ally to the Military struggle waged by Mugabe’s ZANU (PF), but it had also paid the price in the form of Military attacks and raids from the White Minority Regime in Rhodesia which was destroying its own infrastructure and stunting its economic development.

As a result, Mozambique used its influence to prevail on Mugabe and ZANU (PF) to accept the terms of the Lancaster House Agreement which would form the basis of elections and a new post-independence Government.

Early Life, Nationalist Politics & Liberation War

Born in the village of Zvimba in February 1924, Robert Mugabe was raised by his mother in a single parent household.

He would go on to attend Kutama College, a local Missionary School after which he began his career as a Teacher in Rhodesia before moving over to teach in Ghana where he met his first wife Sally.

Since Ghana under Kwame Nkrumah was Africa’s first independent country, Mugabe was heavily influenced by the revolutionary ideas of Ghana’s first President and his brand of African socialism.

Mugabe then returned to Rhodesia to join the growing Black Nationalist Movement where he would eventually rise to become leader of one of the leading Armed Resistance Movements, the Zimbabwe African National Union or ZANU (PF).

In 1964 Mugabe and other Black Nationalists were imprisoned for sedition. It was during his time in Prison that Mugabe’s 3 year old Son died, but the Colonial Government would not give him the permission to attend his Son’s funeral.   

Mugabe used his time in Prison to earn a Master’s degree in Economics and Two Law degrees.

In 1965, the Colonial Government Unilaterally declared its independence from Britain and the Settler Regime sought to entrench the Colonial Policy of Racial Segregation even more through such measures as Land segregation under the Land Apportionment Act which further limited Black people’s access to fertile agricultural land.

In addition, repression intensified as new Laws such as the Law and Order (Maintanance Act) were passed in order to curb the rising tide of Black Nationalist resistance.

Pressure continued to intensify for the Settler Regime however until 1974 when Mugabe was released in a bid to obtain the consent of the imprisoned Nationalist leaders to Minority Rule in a Bi-cameral Parliament dominated by the Settler Regime.

Mugabe fled to Mozambique where he joined his Party’s Liberation Army and intensified the Military engagement with the Colonial Government in Rhodesia until the Lancaster House Agreement was convened and finally concluded in 1974.

Mugabe’s Golden Years: 1980s-1990s

Although the Lancaster House Agreement led to a general Election and a Black Majority Government in a newly independent Zimbabwe led by Robert Mugabe, it also sowed the seeds of Zimbabwe’s destruction.

Since it was a compromise agreement reluctantly concluded by the Nationalist Movements who preferred the option of Military victory, the Lancaster House Agreement ensured that the White Minority continued to enjoy many of the economic privileges they enjoyed before indpendendence.

The protection of White Farms and properties was guaranteed in exchange for a commitment from the UK and US Governments to provide the required financial assistance that would enable the Black Government to gradually purchase land from White Farmers for redistribution to landless Blacks.

Mugabe initially adopted a conciliatory attitude at independence making peaceful overtures to the White Community for which he was universally praised and embraced. Moreover, despite his war time Marxist rhetoric, his Government did not adopt a Soviet-Style Communist Economy. 

Mugabe nevertheless invested heavily in providing free education and healthcare to the general population.

Some Land Resettlement programmes were also conducted but the results fell short of what was promised during the Liberation struggle.

After brutally crushing what he called a dissident Rebellion in the mid-1980s, the Mugabe Regime settled into the 1990s until Neo-Liberal Structural Adjustment Policies coupled with neglect due mainly to Government corruption led to a new wave of pressure from newly liberated and educated young Zimbabweans who sought the full economic benefits promised by independence.

As a result, Mugabe lost significant support in the Urban areas, and after a failed Constitutional Referendum in 2000 which would have resulted in a new Constitution to lengthen his term as President after 20 years in power, Mugabe and ZANU (PF) resorted to the unresolved Land quesion emanating from the lopsided terms of the Lancaster House Agreement they had reluctantly entered into in 1979 as a means of revitalising the Party and reviving Political support.

Mugabe’s Fall: Zimabwe Post 2000

Mugabe soon revived his pre-Independence revolutionary rhetoric in an effort to convince the population that Zimbabwe’s problems were due to the White minority’s occupation of the ancestral lands coupled with a a global conspiracy by racist foreign powers to sabotage his government.

Using this strategy which was re-inforced by the suppression of Policital dissent, Mugabe managed to get re-elected in 2000, 2008 and 2013 as the Zimbabwean Economy continued to plunge to unprecedented levels and into a dire Political and Economic crisis from which it has still not recovered today.

By this stage however, Mugabe’s Political power rested on the co-operation of the Country’s Security apparatus in a manner which Mugabe himself did not appear to fully comprehend as later events would ultimately show.

At 89 Mugabe announced his intention to run in the 2018 General Election but unfortunately for him, this time around Mugabe would make a major mistake in November 2017 when he sacked his Vice President Emerson Mnangagwa which fueled speculation that Mugabe was about to name his unpopular second wife Grace as his successor.

This series of events led to the Security Forces turning their backs on Mugabe, and a Military Coup was staged which led to him announcing his resignation on the 20th of November 2017 after over 37 years in power.

Conclusion: Mugabe’s Legacy

Mugabe’s legacy can ultimately be described as tragic.

Beginning his life as a genuine Revolutionary who played a key role in the liberation of Zimbabwe, it would seem that despite the gains and benefits enjoyed by the Black population from the 1980s-1990s, from 2000 onwards, Mugabe’s main pre-occupation became the preservation of Political power.

As a result, he plunged Zimbabwe into a deep Political Crisis from which it may potentially never recover. The Political situation remains tense to this day as the new regime continues to restrict Political Expression and seems unable to resolve the Economic crisis it inherited from Mugabe.

Recently, it announced a 3 Billion Dollar package to compensate White Commercial Farmers who were displaced from their Farms during Mugabe’s chaotic Land Reform Programme thereby tainting Mugabe’s Legacy by raising questions as to the real purpose and objectives of Mugabe’s Post 2000 Land Reform Programme that is largely responsible for the Zimbabwean Crisis today.

In the documentaries, End Of Empire (Rhodesia) and A Brief History Of Robert Mugabe, we are provided with insight into the complexities of the Lancaster House Agreement and De-Colonisation in general, as well as Mugabe’s life and legacy as a famous African Political leader.





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