President Robert Mugabe speaks during Heroes Day commemorations in Harare, Zimbabwe, August 14, 2017 - REUTERS/Philimon... PHILIMON BULAWAYO September 08, 2017 12:31pm EDT
CAIRO – 15 November 2017: Political tensions are high in Zimbabwe after Zimbabwe’s military seized power early on Wednesday from the 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe, the only ruler the country has known in its 37 years of independence.
Tension escalated after Mugabe’s 52-year-old wife Grace appeared to replace Mugabe's recently-fired Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, leading many to suspect that she would succeed her husband. Armored vehicles blocked roads to the government’s main offices, parliament and the courts in central Harare.
But it is not clear whether the move taken by the military would end Mugabe’s rule.
He came to power in 1980 as he was seen as a revolutionary hero when he fought Zimbabwe's last white ruler for the freedom of his people and for guiding Zimbabwe toward democracy after 14 years of rebellion against the Crown, headed by white Southern Rhodesian leader Ian Smith.
But his 37-year legacy in ruling was dominated by murder, torture, tyranny, persecution of political opponents, and vote-rigging on a grand scale, leading to the country’s economic collapse. Despite concerns over his health, he declared that he has no plans of stepping down.
Mugabe was born on February 21, 1924, in Katuma, 50 miles west of the Southern Rhodesian capital. He graduated from Katuma’s St. Francis Xavier College in 1945. For the next 15 years, he taught in Rhodesia and Ghana and pursued graduate studies at Fort Hare University in South Africa.
In 1960, Mugabe joined the pro-independence National Democratic Party, becoming its publicity secretary. In 1961, the NDP was banned and reformed as the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU). Two years later, Mugabe left ZAPU for the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU).
In 1964, ZANU was banned by Rhodesia’s ruler. Smith and Mugabe were imprisoned for 10 years when he began to plan for a guerilla war against Smith’s ruling. A year later, Smith issued a Unilateral Declaration of Independence to create the white-ruled state of Rhodesia, following Britain’s plans for majority rule where Zimbabwe’s people faced oppression.
While he was in prison, he relied on secret communications to launch guerilla operations toward freeing Southern Rhodesia from British rule. Soon after his release from jail in 1974, he caused a seismic shift in the then-Rhodesian politics, riding a wave of popular outrage against the racist colonial rulers.
Then, in Ghana, he met and married his first wife, Sally Hayfron, who died of a kidney disease in 1992. He later crossed the border to neighboring Mozambique to launch a protracted guerrilla war for independence. He returned to Rhodesia in 1979 and became Prime Minister in 1980 of the newly-independent country renamed Zimbabwe.
In 1987, Mugabe switched tactics, inviting ZAPU to be merged with the ruling ZANU-PF and creating a de facto one-party authoritarian state with himself as the ruling president.
He married his current wife and Zimbabwe's First Lady, Grace Mugabe, in 1996.
His way to tyranny
In 1990s, he was reelected twice. In 2000, Mugabe organized a referendum on a new Zimbabwean constitution that would expand the powers of the presidency and allow the government to seize white-owned land. Since then, he has won a series of controversial elections that critics claim he rigged, including one in 2008.
On March 29, 2008, when he lost the presidential election to Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposing Movement for Democratic Change, Mugabe was unwilling to let go of the reins. Mugabe's refusal to hand over presidential power led to another violent outbreak that injured thousands and resulted in the death of 85 of Tsvangirai's supporters.
Consequently, Mugabe and Tsvangirai agreed to reach a power-sharing deal.
His tyranny was greatly imposed when his bullying men – "veterans" of the guerrilla war against the Smith regime – began invading white farmer’s lands, killing them, burning their homes and looting their possessions. At the same time, any voice of dissidence was met with violence and shut down, which reflected that he had become increasingly authoritarian.
Besides, the economy of the mineral-rich Zimbabwe descended into chaos with thousands of people reduced to grinding poverty and many suffering from near-starvation. Recently, he has scaled back his public engagements, while his wife, who is 51, has become increasingly visible in politics, according to The Guardian.
Asked whether he plans to run again in 2018 election, Mugabe, 93, confirmed that he would be the sole candidate for the presidential election, according to Mail Online.
Mugabe's medical trips to Singapore have become frequent in recent years, fuelling questions about his health, but he declared in July 2017 that "there is the issue that the president is going. I am not going. That the president is dying. I am not dying," according to the Telegraph.
Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, an ally of the army chief and a veteran of the country's struggle for independence, was sacked on November 8 by Mugabe for “showing traits of disloyalty." With Mnangagwa's exit, Mugabe ousted one of his last remaining associates from the liberation war who have stood by him since independence from Britain in 1980.
Mnangagwa, who fled the country soon after, was seen as a likely successor to the ailing president, and his ousting appeared to pave the way for First Lady Grace Mugabe. Therefore, the military intervention came after a recent period of unrest within Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party.