What is the truth about Robert Mugabe

"Only God, who brought me into office, can remove me again," Robert Mugabe once said. It was a phrase that many believed him in Zimbabwe, which he ruled for 37 years after independence in 1980. Many people had never seen another head of state. Mugabe was the oldest president in the world for a long time, an unofficial honorary title that was difficult to take away from him. The matter with God therefore seemed to make sense. In the end, it wasn't God who knocked him out of office, but a couple of his own generals. They put a coup against him in November 2017 because Mugabe wanted his wife Grace to be his successor.

Now God has fetched him, he would probably see it that way. Mugabe had been receiving medical treatment in a Singapore hospital for several months. He died there at the age of 95.

Mugabe, who was born in Kutama 80 kilometers outside the capital Harare on February 21, 1924, began his political career as a great freedom fighter and fought for many years against the British colonialists in what was then southern Rhodesia. Two of his siblings died early, then the father left the family without a word, which, according to many, led to a lifelong bitterness on the part of Mugabe. He did not go into politics until he was 35 and became a resistance fighter, but without ever carrying a weapon himself or firing a shot. The British imprisoned him. His son died while he was in prison, and Mugabe was not even allowed to go to the funeral.

For four years the guerrilla war against the white rulers raged in Zimbabwe, around 30,000 people are said to have died. In response to international pressure, the end of the British regime was decided in 1979, and the Southeast African country should be allowed to hold free elections for the first time. It could have been a triumph for Mugabe, the freedom fighter. But he felt betrayed because he had to agree to an armistice and could not defeat the hated colonial troops in the field. The British gave him no choice, which fueled his anger at the UK. It was a love-hate relationship because Mugabe himself liked to act like an English gentleman, wearing corduroy suits and reading Shakespeare. Just one of the many contradictions of a man who started out as a freedom fighter and ended up as a tyrant.

It is the "story of a man who lost his moral compass," wrote his biographer Heidi Holland, who was found hanged in front of her house in 2012. In 1980 Mugabe became the first Prime Minister of the now independent Zimbabwe. Bob Marley played at the inauguration ceremony. Mugabe surprised with a conciliatory speech, promising the remaining white farmers that they too were part of the new country, which at the time was one of the richest in Africa and was known as the breadbasket of the continent. It stayed that way for a few more years.

The trained teacher Mugabe invested a lot in education. At least at the beginning of his career, he didn't care much for wealth, but his party did, and the ZANU-PF elites began to use themselves rather shamelessly. "It is our time to eat", "It is our turn to eat", this is how this mechanism is described. It is found in almost all former liberation movements, of whose once high moral ideals mostly nothing is left. Over time, they become more and more like those who once fought them.

Mugabe eliminated rivals with great brutality from the start. From 1983 to 1985, Mugabe sent the North Korea-trained fifth brigade to Matabeleland, a stronghold of his rival, where he had his supporters massacred. Around 20,000 people are said to have been murdered. The West looked the other way, a little later Federal President Richard von Weizs├Ącker came to visit, the two were holding hands, a choir sang children's songs, Weizs├Ącker praised Mugabe as a "level-headed politician".

Nothing could be further from the truth. In order to stay in power, Mugabe was able to use any means. Because his party's corrupt cadres had looted the veterans' pension fund, Mugabe needed a scapegoat and a few possessions to distribute. In 2000 he stormed white farms, some of whom were killed and others chased out of the country. The farms were given to loyal party soldiers who, however, had no idea about agriculture and also had no desire. A dramatic economic decline began in the once so rich country, with inflation rising to 230 million percent.

Millions of Zimbabweans fled hunger to neighboring South Africa, Mugabe didn't mind, he got rid of the discontented. And they also sent foreign currency home and thus kept the country alive. Mugabe had elections rigged and opposition members killed. The USA and the EU imposed sanctions, in the West he was henceforth a tyrant, which increased his popularity in Africa, but for many he was the liberation fighter who messed with the old colonialists.

Mugabe thought himself irreplaceable, but then must at least have seen his own finitude. But power should stay in the family, in 2017 he made his wife Grace, who was hated by many Zimbabweans because of her shameless enrichment, as Vice President. The military carried out a coup and put Mugabe under house arrest. In mid-2018 he had one last big appearance, at a press conference he complained about the coup and the decline of democratic culture in the country. He didn't mean it ironically.