Commended and condemned … understandably mixed reactions trail Mugabe’s death

ZIMBABWE’s former President, Robert Mugabe, is dead. His successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, announced this “with utmost sadness” in the early hours of Friday morning. 

It is believed that Mugabe died in a Singaporean hospital where he received treatment for an undisclosed illness earlier in the year.

“Cde Mugabe was an icon of liberation, 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,” President Mnangagwa wrote.

But while many agree Mugabe was an icon of liberation, they also consider him to have been much more. And while the Zimbabwean president is likely right to say Mugabe’s contribution to the nation’s history will never be forgotten, this may not all be for the right reasons.

Angry replies

Right under Mnangagwa’s tweet, Zimbabweans and other nationals have shown their displeasure over the glorious terms the country’s president used in describing the former ruler.

“Utmost sadness!” replied Kevin (@area51kevin). “He was a murdering racist. He took the bread bin of Africa to ruin when he persecuted and murdered white farmers!! Good riddance to him.”

Mcebisi Velabehleke Ndebele (@McebisiNdebele), who describes himself as a member of Zimbabwe’s Mthwakazi Republic Party, said the passing of the former leader is rather good news and blamed him for causing the “slaughter of 100,000 Ndebele people during Gukurahundi”.

“Unfortunately, he died without even apologising,” he added.

The Gukurahundi massacres, during which over 20,000 civilians were killed by Mugabe’s Fifth Brigade in the 80s,  are said to be “the darkest period in the country’s post-independence history”. No one has accepted blame for the incident, but recently unearthed documents suggest Mugabe ordered the killings as prime minister.

Also responding to Mnangagwa’s announcement, Thandekile Moyo (@Mamoxn) wrote: “Be sincere. You of all people know about #Gukurahundi. Mugabe was a ruthless mass murderer who ruled for as long as he did because of his killer instinct. He dedicated his life not to emancipation but to his quest for a one-party state whose benefits you are reaping.”

“Respect us,” Moyo demanded.

“It’s very confusing for me that a dictator who ruined the country responsible for thousands of deaths receives such kind words!! Quite encouraging for following dictators. Go figure?” yet another Twitter user commented.

Nasir El-Rufai, governor of Kaduna State, also took to Twitter on Friday to share his thoughts on Mugabe’s death.

“May Robert Mugabe’s soul Rest in Peace,” he wrote. “He started very well, stayed too long and ended tragically. An African hero all the same and a leader that honestly meant well. His life is a lesson for all in public leadership roles – groom successors and leave when ovation is still loud!”

It is not uncommon to find politicians rain praises on former dictators. Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari was criticised when in 2008 he defended Sani Abacha against allegations of looting the country’s treasury.

Buhari and others also hailed Ibrahim Babangida, in August, as the latter celebrated his 78th birthday.

“On this special day of your life, the reminiscences of your courage and invaluable service to the army in protecting the sovereignty of the country come to the fore. Thank you for the role of statesman you are playing in the affairs the nation,” he had said. “As you age gracefully, the country will continue to look up to you for guidance and wisdom.”

Complicated legacy

Mugabe, a former revolutionary who fought passionately against British imperialism, was Zimbabwe’s prime minister between 1980 and 1987, and thereafter became president. He held onto this position until late last year.

He was regarded as a highly controversial political figure, described in different terms: dictator, tyrant, threat, hero, and so on. According to The Black Scholar journal, “Depending on who you listen to … Mugabe is either one of the world’s great tyrants or a fearless nationalist who has incurred the wrath of the West.”

Mugabe’s “final years in power were characterised by financial collapse, surges of violent intimidation and a vicious internal power struggle pitting his wife Grace, 41 years younger than him, against Mnangagwa, his former right-hand man”, notes The Guardian.

In November 2018, after spending 37 years in power, Mugabe resigned amid wild jubilation in the country’s parliament and on the streets. This was in the wake of a military takeover that led to the sealing of access to the legislative chamber, government offices, and courts in the capital.

    Before his resignation, many had expected the late leader, who once bragged about planning to rule till he’s 100, to die in office.

    Below are some other reactions from Twitter:

    'Kunle works with The ICIR as an investigative reporter and fact-checker. You can shoot him an email via [email protected] or, if you're feeling particularly generous, follow him on Twitter @KunleBajo.

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