Zimbabwe’s brutal dictator impoverished millions but died in a hospital bed surrounded by family.
“Peace has come to Zimbabwe / Third World’s right on the one / Now’s the time for celebration / ‘Cause we’ve only just begun.” So sings Stevie Wonder in “Master Blaster,” his 1980 hit single. And he wasn’t the only one who turned out to be overly optimistic about the southern African nation’s future under its then-new leader, Robert Mugabe.
Margaret Thatcher said that Mugabe, who delivered independence for the former British colony after decades of white-minority rule, was someone she could work with. And Ian Smith, the former Rhodesian leader whom Mugabe replaced, wrote in his memoirs that his first encounter with the new prime minister was encouraging. “He behaved like a balanced, civilized Westerner, the antithesis of the communist gangster I had expected,” wrote Smith. “If this was a true picture, then there could be hope instead of despair.”
It didn’t take long for Mugabe to drop the statesman act. His expressed goal from the beginning was to transform his political party, the Zimbabwe African National Union, into a “a truly Marxist-Leninist party” and make Zimbabwe a one-party nation. Initially, he agreed to a coalition government that shared power with his rival, Joshua Nkomo. But Mugabe reneged on the arrangement. He secretly formed a military brigade loyal only to him and brought in North Korean instructors to train soldiers. Nkomo was fired from the government and his party’s assets were seized. His followers were branded “dissidents,” and several were jailed. Mugabe was just getting started.
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