How Robert Mugabe went from a freedom fighter to a brutal dictator – burning people alive in huts and making followers of the Opposition dig their own graves

How Robert Mugabe went from a freedom fighter to a brutal dictator – burning people alive in huts and making followers of the Opposition dig their own graves

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MUGABE’S Zimbabwe was a land of bloody screams, where 20,000 innocent people were shot, burned alive in huts, and made to dig their own graves in front of their families in the dictator’s quest for power.

But it wasn’t always this way – Mugabe was once thought of as a revolutionary freedom fighter who brought about the liberation of an oppressed people.

Robert Mugabe died yesterday at the age of 95
Reuters

The leader, who died yesterday in a state-of-the-art Singapore hotel, was once captured and tortured himself for being critical of the white minority government.

But when he took office in 1980, the much-loved politician quickly changed tactics.

Instead of protecting his people, he killed anyone who sided with his opponents and used violence as a means of control.

He also encouraged his men to seize land from white farmers – displacing families to neighbouring South Africa and killing off the country’s crops.

As a result, the economy completely collapsed, and those who remain in Zimbabwe live without consistent electricity and medical supplies.

Douglas Rogers, who grew up on a farm in Zimbabwe during Mugabe’s ascendancy, thinks the despot’s death yesterday in Singapore perfectly encapsulates his legacy.

He told Sun Online: “Thirty-seven years later after his rule, he dies getting state-of-the-art treatment in Singapore while four million people are in exile getting burned in South Africa.

“If he left office after ten years, he could’ve been a hero like Mandela.

“But instead he held on, and eventually his own brothers ended up kicking him out. People that’d fought with him side by side, his closest ally, and the military turned their guns on him.

“He left a collapsed country, and that overrides what good he had done, I believe, in the first ten years of his rule.”

A supporter of Mugabe’s opposition party badly burned in 2008 – when violence around elections reached a fever pitch
Reuters
David Fombe lying in hospital after being beaten by Mugabe supporters
AP

‘He killed 20,000 and kept it a secret’

Reagan Mashavave, 37, a journalist from the capital Harare, was beaten up by Mugabe’s supporters around the 2000 election – and saw 250-300 people killed in targeted mass killings in 2008.

But it wasn’t the first time Mugabe has lashed out at anyone who thought differently to him.

In the 1980s, he brutally killed 20,000 civilians.

When he first assumed office, white families in Zimbabwe feared for their futures while Mugabe’s supporters celebrated his instalment as prime minister.

Though his initial stance was supposedly going to be one of reconciliation, his dictatorial approach started to show.

The fledgling democracy in Zimbabwe was destroyed by Mugabe crushing political opposition, with violent outbreaks against rival party members and the party’s businesses and properties.

And the situation became intolerable in the mid-1980s when thousands of Ndebeles – an South African ethnic group who were seen as supporter’s of Mugabe’s political opponent Joshua Nkomo – were brutally massacred.

The genocide, which may have had as many as 20,000 victims, was carried out by the Zimbabwean Fifth Brigade — soldiers who had been trained in North Korea at Mugabe’s command.
Thousands of innocent people were forced into re-education camps while more still were shot in public executions.

The Fifth Brigade would also carry out mass killings by burning people alive in huts, making them sing pro-Mugabe songs before doing so.

Armed guerilla’s from Mugabe’s forces in 1980
Rex Features

‘I felt bad, he’d been my hero’

Reagan said: “The operation was so hidden from ordinary persons who were in the majority or the population — most people didn’t know what was happening.
“When I found out later obviously I felt very bad, as Mugabe had been a hero to me.”

Douglas Rogers’ family had also expected Mugabe to be a force for good when he came to power because of his moving speeches about reconciliation in 1980.

But as white landowners they too ended up being subjected to the terror of Mugabe’s rule.

Douglas said: “My parents had a successful business by the year 2000.

“They employed a dozen people. They bought land that had nothing on it – they turned that empty land into a thriving tourist business.

“But then they lost the title to that land because of what Mugabe did, most of their friends had left the country, their savings were destroyed and anyone could drive on to their land at any minute and take it.

“He spat on the faces of people who had showed loyalty to Zimbabwe.”

Heidi Holland, a journalist who lived in Zimbabwe during the bush war, once cooked dinner for Mugabe when he was still considered a promising freedom fighter.

In 2009 she wrote: “In my case, the recurring question is a personal one: What happened to the man who was kind enough to phone a young mother and enquire about her child after a brief dinner in 1975?

“How on earth did he become the cruel dictator who rules Zimbabwe by decree and corrupt patronage more than 30 years later?”

Three supporters of the MDC, which stood against Zanu in elections, with broken limbs
AFP – Getty

LIFE OF A TYRANT

Robert Mugabe was born in 1924 in what was then British-ruled Southern Rhodesia.

His childhood was marked by his dad abandoning the family in 1934, with a young Mugabe left to be educated by Catholic missionaries.

Becoming an idealistic student, he then went to the same South Africa university as Nelson Mandela, considering peaceful protesters like Ghandi as his hero.

It was while studying from 1950-1952 that the future tyrant decided to be a politician – returning to Southern Rhodesia in 1960 and abandoning teaching to become a leader in the freedom fight.

In 1963, he was arrested and jailed for 11 years.

It was during this time that Rhodesia’s white minority declared independence from Britain.

Mugabe was eventually released from jail in 1974, escaping to Mozambique to join guerrilla movement Zimbabwe African National Union, who elected him as their leader.

And just five years later, Mugabe returned home as Rhodesia was declared the independent state of Zimbabwe.

He became prime minister in 1980 and, from 1983 to 1985, at least 10,000 people – most civilians – were killed when Mugabe sent North Korean-trained soldiers to crush dissidents.

But despite having started as a freedom fighter, his rule quickly became marked by corruption and Stalin-ist style.

In 1987, he became president and in 2000 he encouraged black Zimbabweans gangs to seize white-owned farms.

He was re-elected in disputed elections in 2002, 2008 and 2013, with opponents beaten and killed.

Zimbambwe began to suffer under his iron-fist rule, with food shortages in 2002 threatening a famine in the country.

And as the once successful agricultural country became dependent on support from other countries, hyperinflation of 500 billion per cent sent prices rocketing in 2008 – forcing millions of people to flee Zimbabwe, with many going to South Africa.

In 2010, it was reported that Mugabe was suffering from cancer.

But the country began to revolt against Mugabe – led by a pastor in Zimbabwe’s biggest act of defiance.

A 2017 coup saw by Zimbabwe’s military ousted Mugabe, who was taken into custody as crowds took to the street to celebrate.

He was allowed to keep his house, staff, cars and wealth but in June, photographs emerged showing him appear to be frail and in a wheelchair.

Mugabe died on September 6, 2019, following a long illness in hospital in Singapore.

Lavish lifestyle and land confiscations

Under Mugabe’s regime, the economy collapsed as the grabbing of farming land killed off the country’s agricultural revenue.

Food shortages were rampant and three quarters of the population relied on food aid to survive in 2009 — the highest proportion of any country anywhere in the world.

Unemployment was also at around 80 per cent, while outbreaks of cholera and HIV/Aids ravished the population.

But while millions struggled to feed themselves and their families, Mugabe and his cronies lavished themselves with flash cars and big houses.

His first wife Sally died in 1992, allowing him to marry the secretary with whom he’d had an affair, Grace.

Grace, who married Mugabe when he was 72 and she was 31, gained a reputation as the Zimbabwe’s “First Shopper” — accused of plundering the nation’s diamond stocks to buy 3,000 pairs of designer shoes.

Mugabe kissing his wife Grace, who is 41 years his junior and has a reputation for expensive tastes
AFP or licensors
Zimbabwean refugees who have fled to the country in South Africa now face xenophobic violence there
Getty – Contributor
A man with a serious facial injury inflicted on him by militias for staging a peaceful protest
A man waiting for treatment after being attacked by Mugabe activists around the election in 2008
Getty Images – Getty

Dwindling power and decline

As the cholera crisis worsened due to Zimbabwe being unable to afford water treatment chemicals, Mugabe agreed to negotiate about power sharing with his long-term rival in 2008.

Morgan Tsvangirai became Prime Minister, but the power-sharing ended in 2013 when Mugabe won 61 per cent of the national election.

But he could only cling on to power for another four years before an uprising overthrew him.

On November 21, 2017, soldiers of the Zimbabwe National Army put Mugabe under house arrest.

Robert Mugabe's rule in numbers

37 – years in power after seizing control following independence from Britain in 1980

20,000 – number of people from the Ndebele minority killed in state-sponsored violence

28 – number of white farmers killed

79,600,000,000 – rate of inflation before Zimbabwe was forced to adopt the US dollar in 2015

60 – life expectancy when Mugabe came to power in 1980

40 – life expectancy by 2002

2 – wives

4 – children

2003 – year Zimbabwe withdrew from the Commonwealth

16,500,000 – population of Zimbabwe

3,480,000 – number who voted in 2013 election

61 – per cent of vote Mugabe won


Douglas Rogers said: “He was the father of the nation and he led Zimbabwe in the liberation war, and for a decade or so Zimbabwe was a model postcolonial country.

“But by the time he left, he’s getting state-of-the-art medical treatment in Singapore while in Zimbabwe, four million people are in exile, the economy has collapsed, hospitals aren’t functioning.

“So that’s really his legacy – his legacy is a country laid to waste and a divided people.”

Violent unrest during a protest for reforms to Zimbabwe’s electoral system in 2016
AFP – Getty


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