The early years
Robert Gabriel Mugabe was born on 21st February 1924 at Kutama Mission, northwest of the capital of Zimbabwe, Harare. (Yes I know it was called Rhodesia back then!)
He had a Jesuit upbringing and started life as a humble peasant herdboy. At the age of 17 he qualified as a primary school teacher, but then quit teaching to attend Fort Hare University in South Africa. Here he came into contact with many of southern Africa’s future black nationalist leaders. In 1951 and at the age of 27 he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree.
He embarked on a political career in 1960 as an official in a series of black nationalist political parties which were banned by the white-minority government, and in 1964 was arrested and spent the next 10 years in prison. He used these years behind bars productively, continuing his studies eventually obtaining six university degrees. He also consolidated his position in the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and emerged as their leader when he was released from prison in November 1974. Mugabe then left for neighboring Mozambique, from where his banned party began launching guerrilla attacks into Zimbabwe.
In 1980 Mugabe was hailed as a liberator when he won elections ending white minority rule. After coming to power he announced a policy of reconciliation with the country's white minority, but now regularly uses them as a scapegoat for many of Zimbabwe's problems. This culminated last year in the much reported policy of land redistribution from white farmers to blacks. Mugabe targeted more then 3000 white owned farms claiming the land was stolen by British settlers more then a century ago. Land seizures were accompanied by violence with whites being driven from their homes by machete wielding gangs. There was also a subsequent fall in food output and starvation is becoming an increasing problem for Zimbabwe.
Mugabe has remained in power to this day, a rule which has faced growing opposition sparked by the perception that he runs a ruthless and corrupt government which enriches itself while the people of Zimbabwe, both black and white become poorer. However, on 30th January 2001 a new political party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) with its leader Morgan Tsvangirai was launched. Political analysts believe the MDC represents the strongest electoral challenge to President Robert Mugabe's 22-year regime, as they cite a number of problems bedeviling Zimbabwe today. Including crippling fuel shortages, power rationing, 60% inflation, 50% unemployment, the unpopular Congo war, rampant corruption and numerous human rights abuses.
ZANU PF supporters often crash MDC rallies, and there are complaints of political intimidation from Mugabe’s personal militia. Foreign journalists are also hounded out of the country, as Mugabe seeks to crush any dissenting voices in opposition to his rule.
Elections occurred in the middle of March 2002 with the MDC expected to gain the majority of votes. In an attempt to keep the elections fair, election observers from Europe were initially deployed to Zimbabwe. But were then expelled from the country by Mugabe, claiming Europe had no right to monitor them. This resulted in the European Union and then the USA imposing sanctions. South African observers have been attacked by Mugabe supporters, but have so far stayed in Zimbabwe.
On February 24th Morgan Tsvangirai was arrested by the Zimbabwe Police claiming he plotted to kill Mugabe. He has since been released on bail but there are concerns as to why this charge has been brought now when it has been known to the Police for some months. It is thought that if the MDC wins the elections, Mugabe will take the opportunity of the 3 weeks after the election when he remains in power to somehow keep his grip on power, possibly calling the elections void. We shall see the outcome of all of this in the upcoming weeks.
12.3.2002 Update - Well, the polling ended yesterday and the counting has begun, with Mugabe apparently taking an early lead. Surprise, surprise Mugabe pulled every trick in the book to give himself every possible advantage. Leading figures in the MDC were arrested. Many polling stations in opposition strongholds were not opened, and others opened late and closed early. Many voters in opposition areas were barred from voting for a variety of lame reasons, and some even beaten and tear gassed by riot police, as I said, every trick in the book. Mugabe was, to no one's surprise, the winner.
Editor's update: Mugabe was ousted from power, finally, on November 21, 2017, and died, aged 95, on September 6, 2019.