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  1. ITV Report

Former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe dies aged 95

  • Video obituary by ITV News correspondent John Ray

Robert Mugabe, former prime minister and president of Zimbabwe whose rule was mired in accusations of human rights abuses and corruption, has died aged 95.

His near 40-year leadership of the former British colony was marked with bloodshed, persecution of political opponents and vote-rigging on a large scale.

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Current president Emmerson Mnangagwa confirmed the death, calling Mr Mugabe a “pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people”.

He said: “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.”

Born in then-Rhodesia, Mr Mugabe co-founded the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) in 1963, a resistance movement against British colonial rule.

  • Meeting Mugabe for the first time was 'surreal', says ITV News correspondent John Ray

He became prime minister in 1980 of the new Republic of Zimbabwe and assumed the role of president seven years later.

In 2000 he led a campaign to evict white farmers from their land, which was given to black Zimbabweans, and led to famine.

Mugabe retained a strong grip on power, through controversial elections, until he was forced to resign in November 2017, at age 93.

A letter from Mr Mugabe read out in Zimbabwe’s parliament said: “My decision to resign is voluntary on my part and arises from my concern for the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe and my desire for a smooth, non-violent transfer of power.”

Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe greeted by then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Credit: PA
The Prince of Wales receiving an Independence Medal from Robert Mugabe in 1980. Credit: PA
Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh with the President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, before a state banquet in 1994. Credit: PA

Cars began honking horns and people cheered in the streets of Harare as the news spread.

Mr Mugabe, who had been the world’s oldest head of state at 93, was replaced by Mr Mnangagwa, who had recently been fired as Mr Mugabe’s vice-president.

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”.

Mr Johnson – speaking about Mr Mnangagwa when he was tipped to take over the office – said: “I think it’s very important at the moment that we don’t focus too much on the personalities, let’s concentrate on the potential, the hope for Zimbabwe – an incredible country, a beautiful country blessed with extraordinary physical and human potential.

“What we need to see now is free, fair, democratic elections and above all not a transition from one despotic rule to another.”

Robert Mugabe clenches his fists as he delivers his speech at his party's 13th annual conference in 2012. Credit: AP

Born in then Rhodesia, Mr Mugabe co-founded the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) in 1963, a resistance movement against British colonial rule.

He was jailed for anti-government comments between 1964 and 1974.

He became prime minister in 1980 of the new Republic of Zimbabwe and assumed the role of president seven years later.

In 2000 he led a campaign to evict white farmers from their land, which was given to black Zimbabweans, and led to famine.

Mugabe retained a strong grip on power, through controversial elections, until he was forced to resign in November 2017, at age 93.

Mugabe, right, with Bill Clinton. Credit: PA

Condolences have been sent from around the world following the announcement of Mugabe's death.

Additionally, the British government looked to the future, hoping it will be a brighter one for Zimbabwe.

Downing Street said Mugabe's death could be a turning point for Zimbabwe. A Number 10 spokeswoman said: "There will be mixed emotions in Zimbabwe at today's news. We of course express our condolences to those who mourn but know that for many he was a barrier to a better future.

"Under his rule the people of Zimbabwe suffered greatly as he impoverished their country and sanctioned the use of violence against them.

"His resignation in 2017 marked a turning point and we hope that today marks another which allows Zimbabwe to move on from the legacy of its past and become a democratic, prosperous nation that respects the human rights of its citizens."

  • Nelson Chamisa, leader of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)

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 Africa's leading party, the African National Congress, tweeted that it mourned the passing of "friend, statesman and revolutionary comrade Robert Mugabe".

Zambian president Edgar Lungu similarly remembered Mr Mugabe as a hero, tweeting: "I am saddened at the passing of a Pan-Africanist and Zimbabwe's founding father, Cde Robert #Mugabe. He will be remembered for his fight for Africa's liberation and fearlessly defending the continent. His place in the annals of Africa's history is assured. We mourns with Zimbabwe."

Peter Tatchell, centre, was once assaulted by Mugabe's bodyguards. Credit: PA

Peter Tatchell, the human rights campaigner who was assaulted by Mugabe's bodyguards when he tried to effect a citizen's arrest on the Zimbabwean leader, said: "Robert Mugabe was a liberation hero turned tyrant.

"He killed more black Africans than the evil apartheid regime in South Africa. His massacre of up to 20,000 people in Matabeleland in the 1980s was the equivalent of a Sharpeville massacre every day for nine months.

"The world had so much hope for the freedom fighter who suffered imprisonment and later rose to power on a promise to build a new, democratic, non-racial Zimbabwe. But the truth is that he betrayed it all for a repressive, dictatorial, self-serving regime that boosted his personal wealth while impoverishing his own people.

"He fell well short of the moral stature and accomplishments of Nelson Mandela; becoming a megalomaniac, power-hungry leader who subjugated his own people while purporting to be emancipating them."