When embattled Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe assumed office as the country’s Prime Minister in April 1980, one of the first things he did was to create a government of national unity.
With this single action, Zimbabwe became the beneficiary of much aid from generous Western countries, whose governments believed that he was going to position the country to help to facilitate the then Apartheid South Africa’s transition from minority rule to a proper democracy.
At the outset, Mugabe’s government operated within a capitalist framework and focused on wooing foreign investors. The result is that between 1980 and 1990, the Zimbabwean economy grew by an average of 2.7 per cent a year. This was considered a welcome development by those who genuinely looked forward to the advancement of the country.
Unfortunately, an unprecedented growth in the population of the country and a corresponding rise in the unemployment rate, as well as a persistent declaration of a budget deficit by the government, soon made nonsense of any form of economic growth.
Still, during Mugabe’s tenure as Prime Minister, Zimbaweans witnessed significant increases in government spending on education and healthcare. Between 1980 and 2000, for example, the number of secondary schools in the country rose from 177 to 1,548. During that period, the adult literacy rate rose from 62 per cent to 82 per cent.
In spite of these heartwarming strides, Mugabe was unable to deal with the worsening relationship between his government and the minority white population, which repeatedly accused him of racial discrimination.
Ugly human rights record
Also, for the greater part of his tenure, Mugabe’s government was accused of having one of the worst human rights records in Africa. And there seems to be ample evidence to justify this.
There were allegations that Mugabe ordered the country’s military, especially the dreaded Fifth Brigade, an elite force trained by North Koreans, to crack down on dissidents in Matabeleland with such great force that shocked the global community in the 1980s.
The Fifth Brigade, according to independent reports, were deployed in the region in 1983 with a mandate to arrest, torture and execute those accused of being sympathetic to the dissidents. The Brigade was also authorised to destroy valuable property belonging to the accused and to carry out extra-judicial killings.
The scale of the violence recorded during the Zimbabwean military’s genocidal campaign in Matabeleland was described as greater than what the country witnessed in the Rhodesian War. Indeed, over the course of four years, about10,000 civilians had lost their lives to these butchers. Genocide Watch later estimated that more than 20,000 were killed.
There were also widespread reports of journalists being arrested and tortured by the military.
During the 2013 election campaign, reports had it that members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change were often harassed by the police and Army. In some cases, it was alleged, they were killed. The Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum documented about 27 murders, 27 rapes, 2,466 assaults and 617 abductions, with 10,000 people displaced by violence. It was also alleged that most of these actions were carried out by supporters of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front.
When in February 2000 armed gangs attacked and occupied white-owned farms, Mugabe’s government claimed that the attacks were a spontaneous uprising against white land owners, although it was an open secret that the same government had paid Z$20 million to Chenjerai Hunzvi’s War Veterans Association to lead the land invasion campaign. Eye witness accounts had insisted that ZANU-PF officials, the police and army facilitated the attacks.
In 1987, the Zimbabwean parliament amended the country’s constitution and declared Mugabe as executive President. This position gave him the power to dissolve parliament, declare martial law and run for an unlimited number of terms. The constitutional amendments, additional reports claimed, also abolished the 20 parliamentary seats reserved for white representatives and left parliament less relevant and independent.
Progressive economic decline
Zimbabwe’s economy gradually deteriorated in the 1990s. By 2000, the standard of living had seriously declined. Life expectancy was very low and unemployment had trebled. By 1998, unemployment was almost at 50 per cent. As of 2009, between to 3 and 4 million Zimbabweans had left the country in search of jobs.
In the 2013 general elections, Mugabe’s ZANU-PF won a landslide victory, with 61 per cent of the presidential vote and over two-thirds of the parliamentary seats going to the party. But the elections were not considered free and fair by global monitoring agencies. There were widespread allegations of rigging.
While he sat at the helm of the country’s affairs, Mugabe was regarded and almost worshipped as a demi-god within the ZANU-PF. Many feared him and not one person dared challenge him. It was believed that he derived his support mostly from the Shona-dominated regions of Mashonaland, Manicaland and Masvingo, while he remained far less popular in the non-Shona areas of Matabeleland and Bulawayo and among Zimbabweans in the Diaspora.
After the death of his first wife, Sally Hayfron in 1992, Robert Mugabe married his secretary, Grace Marufu, who was 41 years younger, in 1996, and earlier married to Stanley Goreraza, with whom she had a son, Russell Goreraza.
As secretary to the Mugabe then, she became his mistress while still married to Goreraza and together with Mugabe they had two children, Bona, named after Mugabe’s mother, and Robert Peter, Jr. “The couple were married in an extravagant Catholic Mass, titled the ‘Wedding of the Century,” the Zimbabwe press had said.
In 1997, Grace Mugabe gave birth to the couple’s third child, Chatunga Mugab.
As the First Lady of Zimbabwe, Grace gained a reputation for indulging her love of luxury, with a particular interest in shopping, clothes and jewellery. These lavish shopping sprees earned her the nickname, ‘Gucci Grace’.
Among other controversies, there was an outcry when Grace Mugabe was given a doctoral degree in sociology in September 2014 from the University of Zimbabwe, two months after entering the programme. She was awarded the degree by her husband and University Chancellor Robert Mugabe. Her doctoral thesis is not available in the university archive and she has faced calls to return her PhD. This caused backlash in the Zimbabwean academic community, with some commenting that this could harm the reputation of the university
Even before Tuesday night’s dramatic events, which could yet mark the end of her rags-to-riches story, 2017 had not been a great year for her. Zimbabweans and their neighbours in South Africa have not forgotten the extraordinary incident in which she allegedly assaulted a young model in Johannesburg and needed diplomatic immunity to avoid an embarrassing court case.
Also, they are not likely to forget that Grace had a bitter feud with Vice President Emerson Mangagwa, which resulted in her denying that she plotted to poison him. Then there was the decline in both the Zimbabwean economy and her own personal popularity ratings. The two may be connected, given that her detractors like to refer to her as the “First Shopper”.
Grace Mugabe’s political ambition may have been as much about self-preservation as an instinct to lead. She has two sons and a daughter with the 93-year-old President.
On Wednesday morning, it was reported that Mrs. Mugabe, who is believed to have developed a reputation for corruption, was in Namibia on business as her husband remained detained at home in Harare.
Mugabe’s luxury-loving children
Mugabe’s son, Robert Mugabe Junior, and his younger brother, Bellarmine, are known for posting their lavish lifestyle on social media, which has drawn accusations from critics on social media that they are wasting Zimbabwean taxpayers’ money.
Another of Mugabe’s children who often stirred up controversy is Bona. Her educational adventures in Hong Kong, for instance, raised dust, especially when some people demanded her return to Zimbabwe, to experience the same educational system that others were experiencing.
An online account quoted The Times as reporting that on January 18, 2009, “while on a shopping trip in Hong Kong, where her daughter Bona Mugabe was a university student, Mugabe ordered her bodyguard to assault a Sunday Times photographer Richard Jones outside her luxury hotel. She then joined in the attack, punching Jones repeatedly in the face while wearing diamond-encrusted rings, causing him cuts and abrasions. She was subsequently granted immunity from prosecution ‘under Chinese diplomatic rules’ because of her status as Mugabe’s wife.”
Mugabe’s famous quotes
“I’ve just concluded — since President Obama endorses same-sex marriage, advocates homosexual people, and enjoys an attractive countenance — thus if it becomes necessary, I shall travel to Washington, DC, get down on my knee, and ask his hand.” — ZDC radio interview, 2015
“We ask, was he born out of homosexuality? We need continuity in our race, and that comes from the woman, and no to homosexuality. John and John, no; Maria and Maria, no. They are worse than dogs and pigs. I keep pigs and the male pig knows the female one.” — ZDC radio interview, 2015
“We equally reject attempts to prescribe ‘new rights’ that are contrary to our values, norms, traditions, and beliefs. We are not gays!” — UNGA, 2015
“I am still the Hitler of the time. This Hitler has only one objective: justice for his people, sovereignty for his people, recognition of the independence of his people and their rights over their resources. If that is Hitler, then let me be Hitler tenfold. Ten times, that is what we stand for.” — State funeral of a Cabinet minister, 2003
On grooming a successor
“Grooming a successor, is it an inheritance? In a democratic party, you don’t want leaders appointed that way. They have to be appointed properly by the people.” – TV interview, 2016
On the economy
“Our economy is a hundred times better, than the average African economy. Outside South Africa, what country is [as good as] Zimbabwe? … What is lacking now are goods on the shelves – that is all.” — Interview, 2007