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Robert Mugabe, hero-turned-oppressor who ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years, dies at 95


In this 2008 file photo, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is seen at the closing ceremony of the 28th Southern African Development Community summit of heads of state and government, in Johannesburg, South Africa. Mugabe, the former leader of Zimbabwe forced to resign in 2017 after a 37-year rule whose early promise was eroded by economic turmoil, disputed elections and human rights violations, has died. He was 95. (Jerome Delay/AP)

One-time Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe, viewed as both hero and tyrant during 37 tumultuous years of rule in his homeland, died Friday in a Singapore hospital.

The 95-year-old Mugabe, who once declared “Zimbabwe is mine” and denounced gays as “worse than dogs and pigs,” ascended to the post of prime minister in the southern African country as its first post-colonial leader in 1980. He was finally forced out of office in November 2017 amid major economic turmoil and allegations of voter fraud and human rights violations under his regime.

His successor, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, announced Mugabe’s death in a flattering Friday morning tweet.

“It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing on of Zimbabwe's founding father and former President, Cde Robert Mugabe,” Mnangagwa wrote, using the abbreviation for comrade.

“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.”

Mugabe, known for his impeccably tailored suits and unfiltered comments during his decades on the world stage, has been going to Singapore for medical treatment in recent years.

“I have many degrees in violence,” he once boasted, raising a fist during a political campaign rally. “You see this fist? It can smash your face.”

The former guerrilla chief first came to power following Zimbabwe’s independence from white minority rule, becoming increasingly popular before his 1987 election as president. His popularity gradually eroded over the years, with elections frequently marred by alleged wrongdoing. He also presided over violent seizures of white-owned land that critics say contributed to the recent economic collapse.

But Mugabe remained defiant even as the military, his own party and the public turned against him in 2017. About a decade earlier, his desire to remain in power was made clear in a now-memorable quote.

“I will never, never sell my country,” he said in 2008. “I will never, never, never surrender. Zimbabwe is mine, I am a Zimbabwean, Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans.”

The controversial strongman was also known for his statements against Western powers and his homophobic remarks.

“We need continuity in our race, and that comes from the woman, and no to homosexuality," Mugabe once said in a radio interview. “John and John, no. Maria and Maria, no. They are worse than dogs and pigs.”

Amnesty International noted Mugabe’s early years in power were marked by “dramatic improvements” in health, education and social services. But his reputation became tarnished across the decades, as the human rights agency noted in a statement after his death.

“While casting himself as the savior of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe inflicted lasting damage upon its people and its reputation,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Southern Africa.

Zinbabwe’s main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, while hailing Mugabe as one of the nation’s founding fathers, said the late leader’s legacy was decidedly mixed.

“Memories really go to the deficits of governance, goes to the issues of human rights situation in this country, goes to the collapse of system,” he said.

With News Wire Services