Born in Kutama, South Rhodesia on 21th February 1924, Robert Mugabe was the son of a carpenter and had a mother who was a professional teacher. For one whose childhood was devoid of affluence, little Robert had to learn the ropes at a very early age. Following his father’s sudden disappearance and pressure on his mother to cater for all her six children, Robert was compelled to take up odd jobs which he survived through.
Buoyed by determination to succeed in spite of his not so pleasant life, the young Robert Mugabe was passionate about education. His intellectual capabilities made his teachers call him “clever lad”. He soon became a teacher who took pleasure in teaching both higher and tertiary institutions.
Robert was well schooled and supervised by a School Director, Father O’Hea who impacted his life and that of other students who were privileged to be under his care. This gave Robert a push to acquire academic qualifications such as Bachelor of Arts Degree in History and English, South Africa; Bachelor of Education Degree through correspondence courses, and Bachelor of Science Degree in Economics through correspondence courses with the University of London.
Robert Mugabe later moved to Ghana to complete his degree in Economics. It was during this sojourn that he met his first wife, Sarah Heyfron whom he married in 1961. In Ghana, Robert Mugabe declared himself a Marxist who took delight in supporting the Ghanaian government and his goals. He equally gave educational assistance to less privileged children.
In l960, Robert Mugabe made an effort to return to his home town, South Rhodesia. Unfortunately, Robert noticed that the colonial government and white population intruded his country and thousands of black families had been displaced. Blacks had their rights denied by the new government.
In the midst of this, Robert Mugabe was furious. He joined in the fight against black oppression. He tutored his people on how Ghana successfully gained their independence through Marxism. Robert’s experience from Ghanaian politics helped him in exploring Ghanaian models to form a militant youth league. The militant group, Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU), was fashioned to achieve the goal of making Rhodesia gain independence. At its membership peak, it boasted a total of about 450,000 members.
The group however suffered a major setback when Joshua Nkomo who was the leader failed to live up to his expectations by making Britain suspend their constitution in order to enhance the independency of Zimbabwe citizens. Others became disappointed and this led to Robert taking drastic action to liberate the Country from the colonial government.
In 1963, Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) was formed by Robert and some supporters from ZAPU were drafted into the new Union. The group’s formation led to the arrest of Robert Mugabe by the Police. He was subsequently jailed for almost 10 years. Despite being in prison, Robert Mugabe organized a guerrilla war in 1964 to free South Rhodesia from British rule.
During his incarceration, Robert was moved from Hwahwa Prison to Sikombela Detention Centre and later to Salisbury Prison. He however escaped when Prime Minister Land Smith granted his permission to attend a conference in Lusaka, Zambia. Robert Mugabe crossed the border to South Rhodesia where he met with the Rhodesian guerrilla trainees along the way.
The group fought for independence of the country and in 1980, their dreams came to fruition when Southern Rhodesia became the independent Republic of Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe was elected a Prime Minister of the Republic under the political party, ZANU. Although there was a political fallout between ZANU and ZAPU, the two parties later merged to form ZANU – Patriotic Front (ZANU- PF).
Few days after the merger of the both parties, Robert Mugabe was appointed as the President of Zimbabwe while he appointed Nkomo as one of the Senior staff.
In 1994, under Robert’s administration, the economy of Zimbabwe experienced growth. The country had one of the healthiest and the best educational systems on the African continent.
But Mugabe’s fulsome praise did not uphold a permanent end. He soon became addicted to power and this accrued into government corruption, economic mismanagement, dictatorship, human abuses and other social vices that attacked the nation hard.
The one time heralded hero turned into a nightmare villain and his people needed him out of power. The people’s expectations were eventually met when a soft coup staged by the military forced him to end his 37- year tenure by submitting a resignation letter to the Parliament on November 21, 2017.
Until his death on September 6, 2019, he was seen as a strong leader, and an icon of liberation who dedicated his life in ensuring that his people were free from the claws of the British. He faced prison fearlessly, risking his life in fighting for justice and independence of his nation. There would have been no Zimbabwe without Robert Mugabe. His contributions towards liberating the African people, has scored him an African hero whose attributes cannot be forgotten despite controversies that surrounded his legacy.