Tributes, criticism pour in after death of Robert Mugabe

Robert Mugabe, the controversial founding father of Zimbabwe, has died at 95, sparking wildly different reactions around the world.

Mugabe died Friday morning Singapore local time at the Gleneagles Hospital, Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

The Ministry expressed its condolences and said it was working with the Embassy of Zimbabwe on repatriating Mugabe’s body.

The uncompromising ex-president, who was deposed in a coup in 2017, left a mixed legacy. He had been touted worldwide as the hope of his country, an icon of Zimbabwe’s independence — before he oversaw the nation’s descent into economic ruin.

After news broke of his death, some world leaders and political groups reflected the early, hopeful image of Mugabe and focused on his fight to free his country from white minority rule.

The South African government tweeted its condolences, describing Mugabe as a “fearless pan-Africanist liberation fighter.” The African National Congress, South Africa’s ruling party, also released a statement calling him the epitome of “the ‘new African’ — who having shrugged off the colonial yoke, would strive to ensure his country took its rightful place amongst the community of nations.”

In a statement, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta called Mugabe “an elder statesman, a freedom fighter and a Pan-Africanist who played a major role in shaping the interests of the African continent … a man of courage who was never afraid to fight for what he believed in even when it was not popular.”

The US Embassy in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, also tweeted condolences to the Mugabe family. “We join the world in reflecting on his legacy in securing Zimbabwe’s independence,” the tweet said.

Former ministers under the Mugabe administration also shared messages of mourning. Jonathan Moyo, the former Minister of Higher Education, tweeted: “A dark cloud has enveloped Zimbabwe and beyond. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away.” Former Minister of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture David Coltart called Mugabe “a colossus on the Zimbabwe stage,” and praised his role in ending white rule.

Other politicians around the world pointed to the darker side of Mugabe’s legacy. After coming to power, his administration brutally stamped out any dissent, and he presided over forces that massacred opposition strongholds.

Nelson Chamisa, the leader of opposition party Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe, expressed his condolences — but acknowledged “many political differences with the former president during his time in office.”

“During his leadership there were many positives and many negatives, there are gains and pains, what is important is to forget the pains and learn from them but also look at the gains and build upon them,” Chamisa said. “Clearly there are omissions and commissions, a lot of omission that have resulted and we need to reflect on those and never make those mistakes.”

Others took a harsher tone. British opposition Member of Parliament Emily Thornberry said on BBC Radio 4 that she was “not going to shed any tears” over Mugabe’s death. “In fact, we were hopeful about him, but he completely lost his way and I think ruined the chance of a country that did have a great future,” she said.

Peter Hain, another British politician and former Member of Parliament, told the UK’s Press Association news agency that Mugabe was “a tragic case study of a liberation hero who then betrayed every one of the values of the freedom struggle.”