Robert Mugabe once said: “I have died many times – that’s where I have beaten Christ. Christ died once and resurrected once.”
He had just turned 88 years and said this while responding to one of the many death claims made about him during an interview with the country’s state broadcaster.
However, this time, at 95 years, on September 6, 2019, Mugabe’s death is real.
The former president died Friday morning at a hospital in Singapore, surrounded by family, including his wife, Grace after suffering an undisclosed illness.
But his death has culminated in mixed feelings of respect and hate, from securing the country’s independence to bringing the country down to its knees.
How will Zimbabwe mourn this enigma of an individual?
Mugabe was one of Africa’s revered and respected leaders but to his country in the ensuing years after independence, he grew to become a dictator.
Some said he was a sad reminder of Hitler and at a state funeral for one cabinet minister in 2003, Mugabe quipped: “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.”
It would be wrong to deny that the former strongman was an advocate for the growth of Africa and an enemy of western imperialism who at every opportunity always made his views known.
In one of his defining moments in 2002 at the earth summit held in Johannesburg, South Africa, Mugabe told the west to go hang.
“We don’t mind having and bearing sanctions burning us from Europe we are not Europeans, we have not asked for any inch of Europe or any square inch of that territory ,so (former UK prime minister, Tony) Blair keep your England and let me keep my Zimbabwe …may I say that people must always come first in any process of sustainable development and let our Africans come first in the development of Africa not as puppets, not as beggars but as a sovereign people.”
It would also be unrealistic to ignore the violence that was experienced by people under his government – such as the Gukurahundi genocide in the 1980s and electoral violence during elections.
Mugabe mesmerised millions with his oratory skill or charm but to others he hid a treacherous nature premised on nepotism and conspiracy.
He was a brilliant man who failed to conquer vanity and surrounded himself with praise singers who only told him what he wanted to hear and being a slave to his ego that ultimately led to his downfall.
Some will say he was afraid of the truth, which was he betrayed his comrades both in ZAPU and later in Zanu.
ZAPU Information and Publicity Director, Patrick Ndlovu said the party extended its condolences but also extended their empathy to large sections of people who would not find closure for the atrocities he committed upon them.
“His passing away in a foreign hospital is indicative of a failed leadership in which he presided over the decay of our infrastructure. He amassed personal wealth at the expense of the nation. He left a divided nation because of love for power. We hope his sad lonely death on foreign soil will be a lesson to others of his ilk,” he said.
MDC leader, Nelson Chamisa, said even though he and his party had great political differences with the late former president during his tenure in office, they recognised his contribution made during his lifetime as a nation’s founding leader.
“There’s so much to say for a life of 95 years and national leadership spanning over 37 years but in the true spirit of Ubuntu, we would like to give this moment to mourning but there will be time for greater reflection.”
Mugabe would also be known for championing the need for education in Zimbabwe, having been a former school teacher himself. The country has one of the highest literacy rates in Africa.
“My parents are poor peasants in Chipinge. They could not have afforded to pay for my university education. Under the leadership of Robert Gabriel Mugabe, the Government of an independent Zimbabwe paid for my university education. My generation benefited from that vision,” said political activist, Professor Lovemore Madhuku who praised his educational vision.
South African revolutionary party, the ruling ANC, described Mugabe as their friend who devoted his life to the service of his country.
“Comrade Mugabe has over the years been a longstanding friend and supporter of the ANC, from the exile years through to democracy. Our fraternal relations, grounded in the mutual aspirations of human rights, political dignity and social justice – have endured over the years.
Throughout his life, the late Comrade Mugabe was an ardent and vocal advocate of African unity and self-reliance and will always be remembered for his rallying cry: ‘Africa is for Africans, Zimbabwe is for Zimbabweans’.”
The ANC admitted that although it may have differed, often vociferously, with Mugabe on matters of national interest, they both viewed sovereignty as sacrosanct.
“History alone will be the decider over whether the courses of action taken by leaders in the interests of their countrymen, were the correct ones. We remember the immortal words of William Shakespeare that the deeds men do live after them, and yet ‘the good is oft interred with their bones’.”
South Africa’s oppositional leader, Julius Malema said people must not allow imperialists to define how Mugabe should be remembered.
“I’m saddened by the passing of our martyr and giant of the African Revolution. Let’s continue the fight and protect his legacy. We must not allow our enemies to tell us how to remember him; we know our heroes,” he noted.
In honouring Mugabe’s contribution to the pan African spirit, Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta declared three days of mourning and said the Kenyan flag would fly at half-mast from Saturday dawn to Monday sunset yet Zimbabwe has not undertaken that.
Looking at his life, Mugabe had in extremes, weaknesses and strengths, but in his final years, analysts believe he died a bitter man.
“Just as in November 2017, I refuse to think Mugabe was not human at all. As a human being, I believe he had his faults and reflected on them even though he would not acknowledge them. The arrogant Prime Minister Mugabe of the 1980s is not the same President Mugabe who acknowledged King Lobengula as an anticolonial hero (when he launched the 1 million signatures against sanctions campaign in 2012). If you closely follow his politics, in his last years, he was mature,” said a scholar, Khanyile Mlotshwa.
This is the life of Mugabe, who in Singapore, possibly died a disappointed ‘lonely’ old man, even refusing to be buried at the country’s Heroes Acre.