In this file photo, former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe gives a surprise press conference at his home in Harare, on the eve of the country’s first election since he was ousted from office last year after 37 years in power.Jekesai Njikizana / AFP – Getty Images
Robert Mugabe, the former president of Zimbabwe who became an African liberation hero after toppling white colonial rule but then led his country to the brink of starvation, has died at the age of 95.
“It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing on of Zimbabwe’s founding father and former president, Cde Robert Mugabe,” President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, who was elected after Mugabe stepped down, tweeted on Friday.
Mugabe’s family also confirmed his death to the BBC. He had been receiving medical treatment in Singapore.
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The teacher-turned-independence fighter’s leaves behind a checkered legacy.
Before he resigned, the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party had already removed Mugabe as leader and named Mnangagwa in his place.
But his successor Mnangagwa said that Mugabe was “an icon of liberation” and “a pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people.”
“His contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten. May his soul rest in eternal peace,” Mnangagwa tweeted.
Fadzayi Mahere, a politician with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, tweeted “rest in peace” and “My response to your passing is complicated … However, for now, deepest condolences to his family.”
Before he resigned, it was said that Mugabe’s firing of Mnangagwa as his vice president, which would have paved the way for Mugabe’s wife, Grace, to succeed him, triggered the army to seize control.
The U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe said at the time that the resignation of Mugabe “marks an historic moment” for the country and congratulated all Zimbabweans who raised their voices.
Then-British Prime Minister Theresa May said the resignation of Mugabe gave Zimbabwe “an opportunity to forge a new path free of the oppression that characterized his rule.”
He became prime minister after the end of white minority rule in 1980 in the country, which was previously known as Rhodesia. He took office as president in 1987 following a change in the constitution.
The liberation hero cast himself champion of racial reconciliation when he first came to power, but nearly four decades later critics denounced him as a power-obsessed autocrat willing to unleash death squads, rig elections and trash the economy in the relentless pursuit of control.
Mugabe pushed legislation through Parliament allowing his government to seize more than half the white-owned farms, and his crackdown against the Movement for Democratic Change and journalists in the early 2000s increased his international isolation.
Land reform was supposed to take much of the country’s most fertile land — owned by about 4,500 white descendants of mainly British and South African colonial-era settlers — and redistribute it to poor blacks. Instead, Mugabe gave prime farms to ruling party leaders, party loyalists, security chiefs, relatives and cronies.
The economy of Zimbabwe, an African nation of more than 14 million north of South Africa and bordered by Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia, collapsed under Mugabe after 37 years of near one-party rule.
His last five-year term began in 2013 after elections that the U.S. criticized as flawed. Mugabe responded by telling his critics to “go hang.”
Mugabe told NBC News in 2013 that “we have never, ever rigged an election.”
He blamed Britain for the country’s problems, and said at that time that he had no second thought about his time leading the country.
“I don’t have regrets at all,” he said.