Mugabe betrayed his own vision and legacy

President Robert Mugabe started well but his increasing autocracy led to economic disaster

In Summary

• Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years, first as a hero and then as an ageing dictator

• The economy lost half of its value as Zanu-PF fought to hang on to power

Former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.
Former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

President Robert Mugabe died yesterday aged 95 years. He ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years from 1979 to 2017.

He should be a hero but he died in a Singapore hospital vilified as a dictator. Hundreds of thousands celebrated when he returned from exile in 1979 and hundreds of thousands celebrated when he was deposed in 2017. What went wrong?

Apart from the terrible massacres in Matabeleland, his first decade was a genuine success. The new government pumped resources into education and health while the economy boomed as peace returned. He preached reconciliation.


But in 2000, Mugabe started a land reform programme, not as a systematic reform programme but as a cheap populist move to neutralise the growing popularity of the Movement for Democratic Change. Zanu-PF supporters without agricultural skills were allowed to grab white farms.  The economy lost half of its value. Hyperinflation impoverished Zimbabweans. Zimbabwe has not yet recovered.

Mugabe ruined Zimbabwe through his desperation to cling to power. He was highly educated with seven degrees but he could not see how he was ruining the country that he had rescued from minority white rule. 

He dressed up his autocracy in revolutionary rhetoric but that could not disguise that he had become a dictator. That legacy is the tragedy of Mugabe.

Quote of the day: "Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness."

Desmond Tutu
He became the Archbishop of Capetown on 7 September, 1986