AFRICA’S POLITICAL leaders have paid tribute to former Zimbabwe prime minister and president Robert Mugabe following his death at the age of 95 earlier this month.
The rebel leader, who led the country to independence and ruled his nation for nearly
40 years, died on September 6 in Singapore, where he often visited in recent years for medical treatment.
But while many mourned his passing and praised his achievements, others were highly critical of the way he led his regime.
Announcing his death, Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa, praised Mugabe as an “icon of liberation” and called him a “Pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people”.
He said: “His contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be
forgotten. May his soul rest in eternal peace.”
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa paid tribute, saying: “Under President Mugabe’s leadership, Zimbabwe’s sustained and valiant struggle against colonialism inspired our own struggle against apartheid and built in us the hope that one day South Africa too would be free. We will never forget or dishonour this sacrifice and solidarity.”
Tanzanian President John Magufuli said: “Africa has lost one of its bravest and Pan-Africanist leaders, who led by example in opposing colonialism.”
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta praised Mugabe for serving Zimbabwe with “commitment and dedication”.
Kenyatta said: “Words cannot convey the magnitude of the loss as former President Mugabe was an elder statesman, a freedom fighter and a Pan-Africanist who played a major role in shaping the interests of the African continent. Indeed, we will remember Mugabe as a man of courage who was never afraid to fight for what he believed in even when it was not popular.”
Zimbabwe opposition senator and lawyer David Coltart tweeted: “He was a Colos- sus on the Zimbabwean stage and his enduring positive legacy will be his role in ending white minority rule and expanding a quality education to all Zimbabweans.”
Zambian president Edgar Lungu similarly remembered Mugabe as a hero, tweeting: “I am saddened at the passing of a Pan-Africanist and Zim- babwe’s founding father, Cde Robert #Mugabe. He will be remembered for his fight for Africa’s liberation and fearlessly defending the continent. His place in the annals of Africa’s history is assured. We mourn with Zimbabwe.”
Mpho Balopi, secretary-general, Botswana Democratic Party said: “Comrade Mugabe was one of Africa’s most renowned freedom fighters and also one of the founding fathers of what is today known as SADC (the intergovernmental Southern African Development Community, whose head- quarters are in Botswana).
“The history of our respective parties’ fraternal relations would be incomplete without mention of Uncle Bob, as he was affectionately known. It is beyond any doubt that he leaves an indelible mark on the politics of the region.”
However, there was a more critical response from politicians and campaigners in the UK who highlighted the fact that Mugabe’s rule was mired in accusations of human rights abuses and corruption.
Labour MP Kate Hoey, former chairwoman of the all- party parliamentary group on Zimbabwe and a long time critic of Mugabe, tweeted: “Mugabe brought independ- ence to Zimbabwe and then killed in the Gukurahundi – up to 80,000 of his own citizens in Matabeleland and brought his country to its knees eco- nomically. A hero to a brutal dictator.”
Former Zimbabwe international cricketer Henry Olonga – who was exiled from his home country and faced death threats after standing up to Mugabe in Harare at the 2003 World Cup – called the former president a “megalomaniac”.
He told the PA news agency: “It makes me incredibly sad because, for all he could have represented, he failed to scale the heights of someone like Nelson Mandela, because he became a megalomaniac, a power-hungry tyrant, a dictator and a man who subjugated his own people while purporting to be representing them.”
Olonga’s sentiments were shared by human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who twice attempted a citizen’s arrest on Mugabe, once being knocked unconscious. Tatchell said: “The world had so much hope for the freedom fighter who suffered imprisonment and later rose to power on a promise to build a new, democratic, non-racial Zimbabwe. But the truth is that he betrayed it all for a repressive, dictatorial, self-serving regime that boosted his personal wealth while impoverishing his own people.”