At 89, Robert Mugabe still in frontline of Zimbabwe politics

HARARE. He has successfully led a black guerrilla campaign to the demise of white-rule Rhodesia, and governed the new-born Zimbabwe through thick and thin for 33 years.
Robert Mugabe during the campaigns. Net photo.
Robert Mugabe during the campaigns. Net photo.

HARARE. He has successfully led a black guerrilla campaign to the demise of white-rule Rhodesia, and governed the new-born Zimbabwe through thick and thin for 33 years.

Today, at an advanced age of 89, Africa’s oldest leader Robert Gabriel Mugabe says he will “keep going and fighting.”

Despite persistent rumors of ill health, the long time-ruler who regularly goes to Asia for medical check- ups, maintains he is fit as a fiddle.

On Saturday, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission announced that Mugabe has won by big margin against his rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and to be re-elected as president, the octogenarian leader’s sixth term as head of state and seventh term as head of the government.

The Zimbabwe African Nation Union -- Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), a party Mugabe co-founded and has been at the helm since 1977, secured 160 seats in the 210-member National Assembly -- more than two-thirds majority, giving Mugabe power to direct major state policies without much resistance.

“People still believe in Zanu-PF,” Mugabe told press on eve of the July 31 elections. “People have realized that they had lost their direction and they are back to the revolutionary direction we gave them.”

Born in a village about 80 km west of Salisbury, present day Harare, Mugabe grew up basically under the watch of her mom.

A teacher himself and holding the most college degrees among his peers, Mugabe was most accredited for ushering in a bright decade for black Zimbabweans in his first decade’s rule, sustaining the growth of white-dominated farming sector, pushing for universal health-care, education, and social services, and successfully keeping his critics at bay.

Mugabe also consolidated his support base in the country’s vast rural areas by determinedly pushing forward the land re- distribution program, which he says is to correct the wrongs done by imperialists.

Mugabe was once considered, even by the West, as Africa’s success story but the glow began to fade when Nelson Mandela rose to power after 27 years of incarceration.

Even Mandela once jokingly said about Mugabe: “He was the star and then the sun came out.”

But the real threats to Mugabe’s rule only emerged after 1997. Weakening economic growth, galloping inflation, and freezing of British funds to compensate land programs came in toes.

To complicate the situation, a former trade union leader called Morgan Tsvangirai entered the picture. He successfully organized a fledging opposition -- Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) and became the most formidable challenger to Mugabe’s rule in the years to come.

The rest is well-known in history as Zimbabwe’s “lost decade”. A “fast-track” land re-distribution program, or more commonly known as compulsory land seizure, drew the frown from Western countries. They began to accuse Mugabe of human rights violations. And after the West alleged Mugabe rig 2002 elections, Mugabe and his senior party officials were slapped with travel bans and overseas asset freeze.

During the 2000s, the country’s economy was in free-fall. Finally in 2009, the hyper-inflation crashed the local currency Zimbabwe dollar and wiped out everyday necessities in shops for some time.

The economic turn-around came as Mugabe and Tsvangirai were forced into a coalition government following another allegedly disputed polls in 2008.

Looking ahead, Mugabe said on the voting day that there are many things to keep him busy.

“We will obviously want to ensure that the sectors that we had not addressed as completely as the way we have done in the land area,” the octogenarian said, signaling out agriculture, mining, and manufacturing sectors.

He said the manufacturing sector “nearly collapsed” because of West-imposed sanctions and the economic crisis.

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