Robert Mugabe. Picture: REUTERS
Robert Mugabe. Picture: REUTERS

An international human rights advocacy group says Robert Mugabe inflicted lasting damage on Zimbabweans and the country’s reputation, “while casting himself as the saviour” of the embattled nation.  

Mugabe, a deeply polarising figure and the Zimbabwean independence hero who turned dictator, died aged 95 in a hospital in Singapore on Friday.

In the early 2000s, Mugabe led the violent land seizures that resulted in an economic and social crisis from which the country has struggled to recover.  

“Mugabe leaves behind permanent scars of his brutal rule. Going forward, those who come after him must forge a national healing programme, beginning with accountability for the past human rights violations. Zimbabweans deserve the truth,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for Southern Africa.

Mwananyanda said the early progress made by Mugabe’s government on economic, social and cultural rights was wiped out by a series of disastrous government policy decisions.

In 2000, Mugabe sanctioned a violent land reform programme, ostensibly to redress skewed land distribution resulting from 90 years of colonial rule.

General elections in Zimbabwe were marred by spikes in serious human rights violations and abuses by state security agents and Zanu-PF activists

“While the need for land reform was legitimate, Mugabe used the redistribution programme as a system of patronage, rewarding his supporters with land while denying those considered political opponents. The programme was also used as a front to disguise the violent targeting of farm workers who had supported the opposition,” Mwananyanda said.

Escaping repression and a shrinking economy, an estimated 3-million Zimbabweans have left the country since 2000.

Though he came to office on a wave of popular support in 1980, Mugabe’s tenure as prime minister, and then as president, was defined by a stubborn determination to hold on to power — an end to which he sacrificed Zimbabwe’s economy, institutions and society, Mwananyanda said.

He said that throughout Mugabe’s presidency, general elections in Zimbabwe were marred by spikes in serious human rights violations and abuses by state security agents and Zanu-PF activists. Opposition supporters suffered torture, harassment, intimidation and death. Some disappeared without a trace.

Forced to resign

Mugabe, who once famously said only God could remove him from office, was forced to resign in November 2017, when his long-time lieutenant Emmerson Mnangagwa — later his political rival in the jostling for control of Zimbabwe in the ruling Zanu-PF — engineered his exit from the presidency with the backing of the army.

On Friday, Mnangagwa referred to his predecessor as “an icon of liberation, a pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people”.  

Mnangagwa said Zimbabwe will be in official mourning until the former leader’s remains are brought back from Singapore and buried.

His body is expected back in the country on Wednesday.

Burial arrangements are yet to be finalised amid international reports that high-ranking members of Zanu-PF have told Mugabe’s close family that his remains should be interred at a hilltop monument outside Harare after a ceremony at the nearby national stadium, where dozens of prominent African leaders would be present.

But friends and allies of Mugabe’s second wife, Grace, have said that the late dictator made it clear he would prefer to be buried at his rural home in Zvimba, about 85km outside Harare, with only close relatives in attendance.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za