Zimbabwe’s leader is not the first Marxist-nationalist to turn his country upside down by displacing millions.
But, according to historians and geo-political analysts, Robert Mugabe may have done it faster than any other dictator – including Josef Stalin, Mao Zedung and Cambodia’s Pol Pot.
Robert Gabriel Mugabe was born Feb. 21, 1924 in the landlocked republic in south central Africa formerly called Rhodesia, which achieved independence from the United Kingdom in 1980.
Mugabe’s father is believed to have been from Malawi. He was raised as a Roman Catholic and was educated in Jesuit schools. He qualified as a teacher at age 17, but left to study for a B.A. in English and history at Fort Hare University in South Africa, an illustrious university at the time, graduating in 1951.
The satellite photo shows a shanty town in the capital city of Harare April 16, 2005.
By 1960, Mugabe had become a committed Marxist, joining the National Democratic Party, which later became the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union. He left ZAPU in 1963 to form Zimbabwe African National Union.
He was detained with other nationalist leaders Joshua Nkomo and Edson Zvobgo in 1964 and remained in prison for 10 years, where he studied law. On his release he left Rhodesia for Mozambique. In 1974, he led the Chinese-backed military arm of ZANU against the Ian Smith-led government of Rhodesia. A year later, when a bomb killed the leader of ZANU, Mugabe gained full control of the organization.
The second satellite photo, taken June 4, 2005, shows the path of destruction of Mugabe’s home-destruction campaign.
Though elections were held resulting in the election of the first bi-racial coalition government in the history of the country, international pressure – largely from the United States and Great Britain – insisted that Mugabe’s revolutionary party be included in future elections.
After a campaign marked by intimidation from all sides, mistrust from security forces and reports of full ballot boxes found on the road, Mugabe was elected in 1980 to head the first government as prime minister.
Between 1982 and 1985, the military brutally crushed armed resistance in Ndebeleland. In 1987 the position of prime minister was abolished, and Mugabe assumed the new office of executive president of Zimbabwe, gaining additional powers in the process. He was re-elected in 1990 and 1996, and, controversially, in 2002.
Mugabe’s Ghanaian first wife, Sally, died childless in 1992, from a chronic kidney ailment. About two years before, Mugabe had married his former secretary, Grace Marufu, 40 years his junior and with whom he already had two children, in a tribal ceremony. Mugabe justified the marriage under a traditional African law which allowed him to take a younger wife.
On Aug. 17, 1996, in his first brush with Christianity for more than two decades, Mugabe and Marufu were married in Catholic wedding Mass. A spokesman for Catholic Archbishop Patrick Chakaipa, who presided over the ceremony, said the diocese saw “no impediment” to the nuptials.
When Mugabe became prime minister, approximately 70 percent of the country’s arable land was owned by approximately 4,000 descendants of white settlers. However, he reassured white landowners that they had nothing to fear from black majority rule. Mugabe favored, he said, a “willing buyer, willing seller” plan for gradual redistribution of land.
On June 3, Zimbabwe riot police watch earth-moving equipment destroy a home in Harare.
In 2000, a new constitution was drawn up limiting the terms of future presidents – but not Mugabe. It also made his government and military officials immune from prosecution for any illegal acts committed while in office. Also, it allowed the government to confiscate white-owned land for redistribution to black farmers without compensation. It was defeated, after a low 20 percent turnout, by a strong urban vote.
Mugabe declared that he would “abide by the will of the people.” But, almost immediately, self-styled paramilitary forces began invading white-owned farms.
In 2002, amid accusations of violence and claims that large numbers of citizens in anti-Mugabe strongholds were prevented from voting, Mugabe defeated another challenger 56 percent to 42 percent. Mugabe was helped by an unprecedented turnout of 90 percent in his rural stronghold of Mashonaland, though many suspected ballot-rigging.
Mugabe has a history of committing genocidal massacres. From 1982 to 1983, the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade, composed of ethnic Shonas, murdered between 2,000 and 8,000 Ndebele in Matabeleland, according to a 2001 investigative report of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe and the Legal Resources Foundation of Zimbabwe.
The mass murders were assisted by Shona militias like the militias later organized against white farmers. The crimes included mass murder of whole villages, mass rape, and widespread torture. The victims were often forced to sing Shona songs before being beaten and killed. No one was ever been prosecuted for these massacres, and the commanders who perpetrated them are now at high levels of the Zimbabwe armed forces.
Beginning just one month ago, the government of Zimbabwe began a massive effort described by Mugabe as an “urban renewal campaign.” Some 1.5 million Zimbabweans have been left homeless as a result of hundreds of thousands of homes being leveled by bulldozers.
It is estimated that in less than one month, Mugabe has destroyed 25 percent of the Zimbabwe economy.
With lack of shelter and food, international observers fear a catastrophe will ensue in the coming weeks, with up to 1.5 million starving and dying of disease.