Mugabe: The controversial statesman

President Robert Mugabe is a veteran of the African political scene and one of the most controversial figures in world politics.

Last Modified: 08 Dec 2003 01:33 GMT
President Robert Mugabe has become an outspoken nationalist

President Robert Mugabe is a veteran of the African political scene and one of the most controversial figures in world politics.

Born in 1924, Robert Gabriel Mugabe was educated in missionary schools and hold's seven degrees. He returned to Rhodesia in 1960, joined Zimbabwe's African People's Union (Zapu) but left three years later to form the rival Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu).

Mugabe became  engrossed in Marxist ideology and philosophy during the war against the Rhodesian Front government of Ian Smith. He was jailed without trial for 10 years for his involvement in politics.

After his release from prison Mugabe left Rhodesia for neighboring Mozambique in 1974 and led the largest guerrilla army fighting a long and bloody war against the Smith government.

Five years later Mugabe returned home to Zimbabwe after months of negotiations to seal a peace deal in Rhodesia. Mugabe was welcomed back as a hero and enjoyed the support of large sections of the black population.

Coalition with Nkomo

Mugabe went about working to build a coalition government with Zapu Forces leader Nkomo, who had also fought the Smith government. However any opportunity that both men may have had to build a political relationship came to a premature end when a large cache of arms were found by police at the Zapu owned houses of Nkomo. He was promptly dismissed from the government.

A newspaper office is attacked by
pro-Mugabe supporters in Harare

What followed was a brutal crackdown on Zapu supporters, evoking comparisons of Mugabe's political leadership to that of white rule.

The collapse of the political alliance with Zapu allowed Mugabe to dominate the political scene and push on with his own political ideas, isolating him from large sections of the population and the wider political scene.

Unpopular leader

In recent years Mugabe has become a outspoken nationalist and had distanced himself from the international community, insisting that he alone has the right to decide the future of the country.

He has accused the countries 75,000 white Zimbabweans of being responsible for the unstable economy. The growing discontent over the country's failing economy with inflation and unemployment soaring to record levels are starting to threaten his authority.

In the past Mugabe had always been able to put down political opponents through violence and intimidation. His Zanu-PF party still dominates what is virtually a one party state occupying 147 out of the country's 150 parliamentary seats.

Mugabe has only recently faced any serious challenge to his presidency, in the form of mass protests and significant gains for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The MDC has refused to recognise Mugabe as head of state.

His policies towards homosexuals, harassment of white farmers and journalists has created tension and fear inside Zimbabwe and has won him very few friends outside the country.

Mugabe's long stated aim of handing over farm land from whites to blacks looks no nearer to being resolved. The issue, which was a major cause of the war for independence in the 1970s, and looks likely to continue to dominate Zimbabwean politics.

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