A youth pushes a cart loaded with maize for sale nearby a mural depicting Zimbabwe's former President Robert Mugabe, after hearing the news of his death, in Mbare in the capital Harare, Zimbabwe, September 6, 2019. Picture: REUTERS / PHILIMON BULAWAYO
A youth pushes a cart loaded with maize for sale nearby a mural depicting Zimbabwe's former President Robert Mugabe, after hearing the news of his death, in Mbare in the capital Harare, Zimbabwe, September 6, 2019. Picture: REUTERS / PHILIMON BULAWAYO

Harare — Zimbabweans reacted with conflicted feelings over the —death of former president Robert Mugabe on Friday as his influence continues to loom large over the Southern African nation which he ruled for 37 years.

Mugabe died aged 95, at a Singapore hospital, where he had been admitted for several months.

The nonagenarian who was Zimbabwe’s founding father and prime minister at independence in 1980, fell from grace after he was ousted in a coup engineered by his trusted ally Emmerson Mnangagwa whom he had just fired as vice president.

When Mugabe left office in November 2017, thousands of people poured onto the streets of Zimbabwe in celebration as they anticipated the dawn of a new era for the country that was experiencing an economic meltdown and isolation from the international community.

But 18 months later, it has become common for many Zimbabweans to say “Mugabe was better” as the economy has witnessed further decline and ordinary citizens are worse off than they were when the former strongman left office.

Zimbabweans who spoke to Business Day and others who commented on social media expressed varied feelings over Mugabe’s legacy.

In a statement on Twitter, leader of the main opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Nelson Chamisa said: “My condolences to the Mugabe family and Africa for the passing on of Zimbabwe’s founding president. This is a dark moment for the family because a giant among them has fallen. May the Lord comfort them.” 

“Even though I and our party, the MDC, and the Zimbabwean people had great political differences with the late former president during his tenure in office, and disagreed for decades, we recognise his contribution made during his lifetime as a nation’s founding president.”

Analyst Mlondolozi Ndlovu, who said his family fell victim to the Gukurahundi massacres of the Ndebele tribe that left more than 20,000 people dead under Mugabe’s command in the 1980s, had no kind words for Mugabe in an interview with Business Day.

“Death is normally a sad occasion, but the death of a tyrant who lived in opulence and served only his family while the rest of the country went through the worst inflation and food shortages which were all self inflicted by his government, does not deserve to be mourned.

“Indeed if there is a land of the dead, my uncle and grandmother will meet the commander of the men who killed them in the most brutal of ways.”  

Journalist Brezhnev Malaba said Mugabe’s legacy was “far from settled” as he was “a liberator to some and a ruinous dictator to others”.

A Harare resident, Jerry Madongo said Mugabe was both a hero and villain.

 “He was a hero when we needed him, like during the liberation struggle and during land reform. Sadly, a hero who lived long enough to see himself turn into a human being, with flaws and dictatorial cravings that led into pitfalls that ultimately hurtled him into villain hood, just like the ordinary person.”