By Robson Rafirenyika Mhandu
The man who would rise to become the leader of the ruling ZANUPF, the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe in 1980, the Executive President in 1987 and rule Zimbabwe for 37 years, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, was born to a carpenter father Gabriel Matibiri and peasant farmer Christian catechism teacher mother Bona, on 21 February, 1924, at Kutama Village, in Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland West Province.
He was the third born in a family of six, elder brothers Michael and Raphael, young brother Donato Donald and young sisters Sabina and Bridget.
Robert Gabriel Mugabe grew up under the tuteledge of strict Christian discipline of the Roman Catholic Church Jesuit Priests and experienced rural life and education at Kutama Village. With his mother Bona, a church catechism teacher at Kutama, Irish Roman Catholic Priest Father Jerome O’hea, helped greatly to nurture Robert Gabriel Mugabe, who trained as a teacher after requisite primary and secondary education. The Jesuit priests of the Roman Catholic church are believed to be the huge influence behind R.G. Mugabe’s strict disciplinarian approaches throughout his entire life.
He took up teaching positions at Dadaya in Mashava and Driefontein Roman Catholic Mission in Mvuma, while his huge appetite for higher education remained vibrant. Mugabe’s first degree was from Fort Hare University in the Eastern Cape in South Africa, where in 1952 he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in History and English Literature. He also taught in Harare and Gweru 1953 and 1954, obtaining a Bachelor of Education Degree with the University of South Africa through distance education. The family of President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa took care of Mugabe when he moved to Lusaka, Zambia at Chalimbana Teacher Training College, between 1955 and 1958, in the process obtaining a Bachelor of Administration Degree with the University of London.
In 1958, Robert Gabriel Mugabe made the journey to independent Ghana, teaching at St Mary’s Teacher Training College in Sekondi, Takoradi, where he met his first wife Sally Hayfron, whom she brought to Harare in 1960 and wedded in 1961. The couple was blessed with a son, Michael Nhamodzenyika, who died at the age of three in Ghana, when Mugabe was in prison. Painfully, the colonial regime refused him leave to attend the funeral. It is believed he never forgave them for this crime.
Active political life began in 1960 when he returned from Ghana, and his close friend, nationalist Leopold Takawira persuaded him to stay to push the course for the liberation of Zimbabwe. Mugabe became National Democratic Party Publicity Secretary October 1960, when the party was banned, he assumed the same position in ZAPU in 1961. At the formation of ZANU in 1963 he was appointed Secretary General in absentia, and was subsequently imprisoned in 1964 for sedition after issuing political statements deemed inflammatory by the colonial authorities. He endured more than a decade of prison life sharing the cells with other liberation stalwarts including Leopold Takawira, Edgar Tekere and Enos Nkala.
With the help of Chairman Advocate Hebert Chitepo, Mugabe chaired the ZANU Congress of 1975 after release from prison, before making the heroic and historic trip to Mozambique with Edgar Tekere, helped by Chief Rekai Tangwena. Following the assassination of Chairman Advocate Chitepo in 1975, Mugabe was appointed to take over the reigns at ZANU, with Ndabaningi Sithole having fallen out of favour with the freedom fighters. In 1977, the Central Committee of ZANU declared him President of ZANU at a meeting in Chimoio, Mozambique. Escape-to-Mozambique partner, Edgar Tekere became Secretary General of ZANU. Young law graduate, Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, was appointed top aide and chief of security to the President, thus began a long-lasting relationship, that, as fate would have it, resulted in the young lawyer succeeding Mugabe as the second Executive President of Zimbabwe.
In 1979, following years of the protracted war of liberation, Mugabe, leading ZANU and its military wing ZANLA, was persuaded by Mozambican President Samora Moises Machel, to join veteran Joshua Nkomo, leading ZAPU and its military wing ZIPRA, under the banner of the Patriotic Front, at the Lancaster House Talks in London, convened by Britain and chaired by Lord Peter Carrington. The September to December talks culminated into an agreement which led to the holding of the first all party democratic elections, giving birth to independent Zimbabwe. ZANUPF romped to victory winning 57 of the 80 seats at stake. Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU won 20 and Bishop Abel Tendekai Muzorewa got a paltry 3. British election overseer Governor Lord Soarmes handed over power with the help of Prince Charles, at a memorable ceremony at Rufaro Stadium on April 18, 1980. Mugabe formed the government as Prime Minister, Simon Muzenda as his deputy, with Canaan Banana as ceremonial president. The colonial regime retained 20 seats in parliament as per the Lancaster House Agreement.
Before winning the second general elections, 1982 to 1985, Mugabe had the unenviable task of dealing with resistance, in what came to be known as Gukurahundi, which led to loss of life in Matabeleland provinces of Zimbabwe. In his own words, Mugabe later described this part of Zimbabwean life, “as a moment of madness”.
The aftermath of the armed resistance, witnessed change of the Constitution and the signing of the historic Unity Accord merging ZANUPF and ZAPU. The post of prime minister was abolished and Mugabe became Executive President, assuming the roles of Head of State and Government and Commander in Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, as well as President and First Secretary of the ruling party ZANUPF. Stalwarts Joshua Nkomo and Simon Muzenda became his deputies.
Mugabe’s prison cell-mate and road-to-Mozambique partner, former ZANU Secretary General Edgar Tekere formed his own Zimbabwe Unity Movement party to challenge Robert Gabriel Mugabe in the 1990 General Elections. Mugabe won 80 percent of the presidential vote with ZANUPF winning 116 of the 119 parliamentary seats at stake. 1995 was another easy walk-through.
Mugabe’s first wife, Ghanaian Sally, died in 1992, and he married Zimbabwean Grace, a former secretary in his office, half his age. The wedding took place at Mugabe rural home at Kutama in 1996 and the Almighty blessed the couple with three children, Bona, named after Mugabe’s mother, Robert Junior and Bellarmine Chatunga.
In 1998, Zimbabwe, under Robert Gabriel Mugabe, send-in troops to help the Democratic Republic of Congo, to avert military insurgency that threatened Laurent Kabila’s government. While Angola and Namibia joined the rescue effort, the Mugabe administration faced a lot flake to the military intervention.
Trade Unionist Morgan Richard Tsvangirai, who had remained in the wings building political clout under the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, in 1999, mobilized political activists in the aftermath of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme, for the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, receiving massive foreign support to challenge the Mugabe administration. With 16 political parties contesting the 2000 parliamentary elections, MDC denied the Mugabe-led ZANUPF, the joy of a two thirds majority for the first time, winning 57 seats, leaving the ruling party at 62. Mugabe, however prevailed in the 2002 Presidential vote, with MDC boycotting the Senate elections to give ZANUPF victory, in the process causing a split of the opposition as Tsvangirai’s close allies Welshman Ncube and Gibson Sibanda left the MDC.
In 2008, Mugabe and ZANUPF faced a fierce presidential and parliamentary election challenge from the MDC in the harmonized elections. ZANUPF garnered 97 seats to the MDC’s 99, and Mugabe trailed the opposition for the first time polling 43,2 percent of the vote to Tsvangirai’s 47,9 percent.
As both failed to achieve the Constitutional 50 percent plus 1 vote, the poll went for the run-off which Tsvangirai boycotted alleging political violence to hand Mugabe victory with 85,5 percent of the vote.
A political crisis ensued and the regional body Southern African Development Community, SADC, instituted a mediation effort which resulted in a power sharing agreement brokered by former South African President Thabo Mbeki.
Mugabe retained the presidency, in the government of national unity, with Joice Mujuru and John Nkomo of ZANUPF his deputies, while Tsvangirai settled for the created Prime Minister position, with his MDC-T deputy Thokozani Khupe and Professor Arthur Mutambara who came-in to front the other Welshman Ncube MDC faction, became deputies to the prime minister.
In an historic fete, at age 89, Mugabe contested in the 2013 harmonised elections as ZANUPF presidential candidate, romping to victory with 61 percent of the vote as the ruling regained two thirds majority in Parliament. As fate would have it, it was the very last presidential contest for him and his nemesis Morgan Richard Tsvangirai, founding president of the MDC.
Looking at family relationships and politics, it was not only Robert Gabriel Mugabe in the Zimbabwean political arena. His blood sister Sabina was a parliamentarian after contesting in elections under ZANUPF, then came her two sons, Mugabe’s nephews, Leo Mugabe and Patrick Zhuwao as ZANUPF legislators, interestingly representing Zvimba constituencies, Mugabe’s rural district in Mashonaland West Province. In fact at one stage, the three Mugabe close relatives, sister Sabina and her two sons Leo and Patrick, were members of the House of Assembly when Mugabe himself was President of Zimbabwe. It was the younger nephew Patrick Zhuwao who enjoyed uncle presidential appointment, first as deputy minister to Dr Olivia Muchena and then ultimately minister of Science and Technology. The master stroke was his wife Grace taking over the Women’s League reigns at ZANUPF and automatic entry into the ZANUPF POLITBURO, as Secretary for Women’s Affairs, ultimately touted to be ambitious to challenge for the presidency to take-over from husband. In some unique manner, the ZANUPF system made sure, this did not happen.
By 2014, at age 90, Mugabe had lost, through death, four of his deputies Joshua Nkomo, Simon Muzenda, Joseph Msika and John Nkomo, with 1980 ceremonial president Canaan Banana, also late, and being the only one, not to be favoured with national hero status.
2014, witnessed the first episode of Grace Mugabe shenanigans, birating and bullying, war veteran Joice Teurairopa Mujuru, the widow of the late national hero and first commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces General Solomon Tapfumaneyi Mujuru. Under the cloud of “gamatox” which claimed the scalp of several other ZANUPF stalwarts, ultimately Mugabe fired Joice Teurairopa Mujuru, out of Government and ZANUPF, allegedly for plotting to oust him out of power. Following the ZANUPF Congress of 2014 Mugabe appointed his longtime top aide and chief of security, former National Security, legal, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs and Defence Minister, former Speaker of Parliament, Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, and ZIPRA cadre Phelekezela Mphoko, as his deputies.
Then came the whirlwind second episode of the Grace Mugabe shenanigans in 2017, with heavy influence from Mugabe and his new allies, under what would be termed the G40 cabal and the nationwide interface youth rallies, which saw the 93-year-old Robert Gabriel Mugabe, defying all odds to set the stage for attacks on one of deputies, Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa. Despite the verbal tirades and even threats to life through poisoning at one of the interface rallies, Mnangagwa, would be seen gallantly quiet in strict discipline.
On November 6, 2017, the machinations resulted in the untimely sacking of vice president Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, who immediately left the country, protecting his life. 15 November, the military launched Operation Restore Legacy, with the support of the general masses of Zimbabwe.
On November 19, Mugabe was sacked as President and First Secretary of ZANUPF by the ruling party Central Committee and replaced by Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa. ZANUPF also gave Mugabe an ultimatum to resign as President of the Republic of Zimbabwe or face impeachment. November 21, ZANUPF introduced impeachment resolution in Parliament, which seconded and supported by the opposition MDC Alliance. The Constitution of Zimbabwe stipulates that removing a sitting president from office requires two thirds majority of both the House of Assembly and the Senate, sitting in a joint session.
As per the Constitutional requires, members from both the House of Assembly and the Senate met in a joint session presided over by the Speaker of Parliament Advocate Jacob Mudenda to debate the impeachment resolution. Since Parliament Building does not have a venue large enough to house a joint sitting of both the lower and upper houses, the meeting was set at the Harare International Conference Centre. A few hours the debate had begun, Speaker of Parliament interrupted proceedings to read a letter from Mugabe announcing his formal and official resignation as President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, with immediate effect.
Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa returned home to a rousing welcome at the ZANUPF Headquarters in Harare.
ZANUPF officially advised Parliament for the new President and First Secretary of the ruling party Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa to take over as President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, for what was left of the official, mandated five-year term of office of the presidency.
The inauguration of President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa at State House in Harare, signaled the fall of the man Robert Gabriel Mugabe, at age 93, after ruling Zimbabwe for 37years. In his own words, in the 1990s, Mugabe had foretold his own story, telling journalists he would go “the Mugabe way”, and indeed it was his own unique way of falling out of power.
Zimbabwe and indeed the whole world, had a taste of the unique experience of a new dispensation. The man who would be guerrilla leader, first Prime Minister of independent Zimbabwe, first Executive President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, marry twice and host two successful weddings, become an elder statesman of more than 90years, a farmer in his own right, and build a memorable and plash mansion named the “the Blue Roof” in the Zimbabwe capital, Harare, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, is indeed out of office, I hear you and I agree, after 37years of rule, Gushungo fell, “the Mugabe way”.
Robert Gabriel Mugabe died in Singapore, at the age of 95. President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa announced the death on his twitter handle, while in Cape Town, South Africa.