Born Robert Gabriel Mugabe on February 21, 1924 in Kutama, Southern Rhodesia, Mugabe trained as a teacher, and was awarded a tertiary education scholarship in 1949 to attend a South African university. He was introduced to nationalist politics as a student at the University College of Fort Hare. He moved to Ghana in 1957 where he taught. It was here he met his wife Sally Hayfron, whom he married in 1961.
Studying in prison
Mugabe returned to Rhodesia in 1960, and in 1963 helped Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole to form the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) as a breakaway from Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU).
In 1964 he was arrested for “subversive speech” and spent the next 10-years in prison. During that period he acquired a law degree through correspondence courses. While in prison, Mugabe relied on secret communications to launch guerrilla operations aimed at freeing Southern Rhodesia from British rule. He also led a coup in 1974 to depose Sithole as ZANU’s leader. He left prison the following year, and reorganized guerrilla trainees to fight for independence.
Battles raged throughout the 1970s. By the end of that decade, the country’s economy was at its worst. In 1979, after Rhodesia’s Prime Minister Ian Smith tried in vain to reach an agreement with Mugabe, the British agreed to monitor the changeover to black majority rule and the UN lifted its sanctions.
Mugabe was arrested and detained for 10-years
New prime minister, new president too
By 1980 Southern Rhodesia was liberated from British rule and became the independent Republic of Zimbabwe. Running under the ZANU party banner, Mugabe was elected prime minister of the new republic – a position he held until 1987.
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. As leader of ZANU – now known as the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), he was re-elected in 1990; 1996, and again in 2002.
Two years later, Mugabe set out to implement a five-year plan, which eased price restrictions for farmers, allowing them to designate their own prices. By 1994, at the end of the five-year period, the economy had seen some growth within the farming, mining and manufacturing sectors.
In 1992, Mugabe’s wife Sally died of kidney failure. The president married his secretary, Grace Marufu, in 1996. Together they have two children.
In 1994, during a state visit to Britain, Mugabe was awarded the prestigious Knight Grand Cross in the Order of Bath on the advice of John Major’s government.
This honor was to be stripped 14 years later in what the British premier said was a mark of revulsion at the abuse of human rights and abject disregard for the democratic process in Zimbabwe over which President Mugabe has presided.
By 1996 Mugabe’s decisions began to create unrest among the citizens of Zimbabwe, who had once hailed him as a hero for leading the country to independence. Many resented his choice to support the seizure of white people’s land without compensation to the owners.
Before sanctions were imposed on him, Mugabe travelled to Bonn, Germany on a state visit
Mugabe faced growing unrest in the late 1990s; a failing economy and sending troops to assist Laurent Kabila in the Democratic Republic of Congo were precursor to riots across the country.
Persisting land problems
In 2000 Mugabe passed a constitutional amendment that made Britain pay reparations for the land it had seized from blacks. Mugabe claimed he would seize British land as restitution if they failed to pay.
The amendment put further strain on Zimbabwe’s foreign relations. A chaotic land resettlement process began whereby 10 million hectares (24 million acres) of white-owned farmland was effectively seized by the state and turned over to settlers who ranged from peasant farmers to members of the political elite.
The country’s economy was on a downward spiral, with 2007 recording the highest rate of inflation in the world at 100,000 percent as well the highest rate of unemployment. Access to basic commodities such as food and fuel was difficult.
Mugabe lost the presidential election to Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposing Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party in March 2008; Mugabe was unwilling to let go of the reins and refused to accept defeat.
Mugabe’s land resettlement process saw many people lose their properties
Sharing power, does it work?
The official election result announcement was made on May 2, declaring Mugabe had garnered 43.2 percent of the vote, while Tsvangirai amassed 47.9 percent.
Mugabe demanded a recount, and a runoff election was to be held that June. Mugabe’s refusal to hand over presidential power led to another outbreak of violence that injured thousands and resulted in the death of 85 of Tsvangirai’s supporters.
That September, Mugabe and Tsvangirai agreed to a power-sharing deal. Mugabe still managed to retain most of the power by controlling security forces and choosing leaders for the most vital ministry positions.
At the end of 2010, Mugabe took additional action to seize total control of Zimbabwe, by selecting provisional governors without consulting Tsvangirai.
On December 10, 2011, at the National People’s Conference in Bulawayo, Mugabe officially announced his bid for the 2012 Zimbabwe presidential election.
The election was postponed as both sides agreed to draft a new constitution. People of Zimbabwe came out in support of the new document in March 2013, and approved it in a constitution referendum. The national elections, slated for 31 July 2013 will pit Mugabe against his long time foe, Tsvangirai.
Mugabe has greatly expanded education within Zimbabwe during his time in office. Zimbabwe has high literacy rates with 91-percent of the population able to read and write. He is a highly educated man, with seven degrees. Some honorary degrees awarded to him over the years have been revoked due to his abuse of human rights.