Robert Mugabe, the former president of Zimbabwe who was ousted in a military coup after 37 years, has died.
The 95-year-old had ruled Zimbabwe, a former British colony, from 1980 and was the world’s oldest head of state before his dramatic exit two years ago.
He is believed to have died in Singapore where he had often received treatment in recent years.
Cde Mugabe was an icon of liberation, a pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people. His contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten. May his soul rest in eternal peace (2/2)
— President of Zimbabwe (@edmnangagwa) September 6, 2019
President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced his predecessor’s death on Twitter, describing him as an “icon of liberation” whose “contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten”.
He wrote: “It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing on of Zimbabwe’s founding father and former President, Cde Robert Mugabe.
“Cde Mugabe was an icon of liberation, a pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people. His contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten. May his soul rest in eternal peace.”
For years, Zimbabweans who saw their ageing leader nod off during events speculated how long he would stay in office, while his wife Grace vowed that he could rule from the grave.
However, Zimbabwe’s economy started to collapse in 2000 following the seizure of white-owned commercial farms which dealt a huge blow to the country’s income from exports.
As Mugabe’s mental and physical health waned he found fewer people to trust as he plotted for his wife – four decades his junior and known to her critics as “Gucci Grace” for her reputed fondness for luxury shopping – to succeed him.
Mr Mugabe was eventually forced to resign in November 2017 after his own ruling Zanu-PF party and fellow generals betrayed him during a takeover by the army, bringing to an end his decades-long reign.
Wild and jubilant scenes erupted on the streets across the country, including the capital Harare, as Zimbabweans celebrated the controversial leader’s downfall.
Speaking at the time, then-foreign secretary Boris Johnson said the end of Mr Mugabe’s reign appeared to be a “moment of hope” for the people of Zimbabwe, and should not be allowed to mark “the transition from one despotic rule to another”.
During his presidency Mr Mugabe became a deeply divisive figure as he led the country – then known as Rhodesia – from independence into repression and economic collapse.
He had been accused of a range of human rights abuses, including denying food aid to areas supporting the opposition.
Sky News Africa correspondent John Sparks said: “He really dominated politics in Zimbabwe for four decades and was chiefly responsible for ending white minority rule under Ian Smith in 1980.
“Initially things went pretty well by many accounts in Zimbabwe. The economy grew and he came to an accommodation with white farmers and business owners. But his authoritarian instincts came through.
“He was actually a teacher by training, but he had strong dictatorial instincts. He slowly grabbed power and cemented his control over the country.
“He was and would become accused of vote rigging and intimidation, of embezzlement of state funds.
“He is chiefly responsible for the deaths of thousands of his political opponents and the most serious human rights abuses as well. So it is very much a mixed legacy.”
Sparks said there would be “some sympathy” for his family in Zimbabwe. “There is some grudging respect for him, particularly for his role in bringing about what people see in the country as the country’s liberation from white minority rule, but he did an awful lot of damage there as well. The country now is in a terrible mess,” he added.
Mr Mugabe’s deposition left him a broken man. In a rare public appearance in July 2018, he slumped behind a bank of microphones during a news conference and didn’t leave his chair until reporters left.
The president, who was fired by Mr Mugabe when he was his deputy, became a key player in bringing about his exit from power.
Reports of the deterioration of the former leader’s health were confirmed by Mr Mnangagwa last November, who revealed the ex-president could no longer walk.
Mr Mugabe was bitter to the end over the manner of his removal and spent the remaining years of his life between a Singapore hospital and his sprawling “Blue Roof” mansion in Harare.
Nelson Chamisa, leader of Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, tweeted: “My condolences to the Mugabe family and Africa for the passing on of Zimbabwe’s founding President. This is a dark moment for the family because a giant among them has fallen. May the Lord comfort them.
“Even though I and our party, the MDC, and the Zimbabwean people had great political differences with the late former President during his tenure in office, and disagreed for decades, we recognise his contribution made during his lifetime as a nation’s founding President.
“There’s so much to say for a life of 95 years and national leadership spanning over 37 years but in the true spirit of Ubuntu, we would like to give this moment to mourning but there will be time for greater reflection.”
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa described Mr Mugabe as a “champion of Africa’s cause against colonialism” which “inspired our own struggle against apartheid and built in us the hope that one day South Africa too would be free”.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said Mr Mugabe “played a major role in shaping the interests of the African continent”.
“Indeed, we will remember former President Mugabe as a man of courage who was never afraid to fight for what he believed in even when it was not popular.”
Former Africa minister and anti-apartheid campaigner Lord Hain said Mr Mugabe’s legacy would be “very two-sided”, with the early promise of his leadership outweighed by the “corrupt, repressive, dictatorial” approach he adopted.