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Robert Mugabe | Zimbabwean Liberator Turned Tyrant

Oct 4, 2022
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28
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He was a shy and studious boy who went from schoolteacher to liberator of the "bread basket of Africa", Zimbabwe.

Yet after almost 30 years as President, he left behind a country with hyperinflation, food shortages and political corruption.

In this episode, we look at Robert Mugabe's transition from liberator to authoritarian tyrant.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about a man who was one of the most feared men in Africa.

[00:00:29] His name was Robert Mugabe. He was the Zimbabwean schoolteacher from humble beginnings who went onto become an anti-colonial leader and then, with time, a notorious tyrant

[00:00:42] His rule was one of political assassinations and disappearances, corruption, and rigged elections, yet Mugabe was central to Zimbabwe’s independence and establishment as a country.

[00:00:55] He was loved by some, hated by many, feared by all, and begrudgingly respected by most for his leading role in the decolonisation process.

[00:01:07] So, let’s get right into it and talk about Robert Mugabe.

[00:01:12] Robert Gabriel Mugabe was born on February 21st, 1924, in Katuma, on a Jesuit mission in Southern Rhodesia, the area we now call Zimbabwe.

[00:01:25] Mugabe was born just one year after white settlers established Southern Rhodesia as a British colony in 1923.

[00:01:35] Northern Rhodesia, by the way, was the place we now know as Zambia.

[00:01:40] Both were run by the British South Africa Company on behalf of the British Government and were, as a result, self-governing British protectorates.

[00:01:52] Like many other countries across Africa at the time, both countries were run not only by colonial governments but by white-minorities.

[00:02:02] Historians estimate that in Southern Rhodesia, around a quarter of a million whites ruled over a population of six million black Africans.

[00:02:13] This was the historical context Mugabe was born into.

[00:02:18] His father, Gabriel, was a carpenter, and his mother, Bona, a religious teacher. The pair would go on to have six children.

[00:02:28] And growing up on a Jesuit mission meant that religion surrounded the young Mugabes.

[00:02:35] The priests who ran the schools were feared disciplinarians, tough teachers, yet young Robert performed well at school, he was known for being quiet and studious, a good student. 

[00:02:49] But in 1930, when Mugabe’s father had a disagreement with one of the Jesuits, the family was shunned, pushed out, by its leader, Father Jean-Baptiste Loubière.

[00:03:03] The family moved to another village briefly, but the Mugabe children were allowed to remain at the mission school, living with relatives in a nearby town during the week.

[00:03:15] Around the same time, Mugabe's older brother, Raphael, died, and then a few years later another older brother, Michael, died of suspected poisoning. 

[00:03:26] As you might imagine, his brother’s deaths had a great impact on the young boy.

[00:03:31] And to make matters worse, shortly afterwards, when Mugabe was just 10 years old, his father, abandoned the family and left for the city of Bulawayo, where he would go on to have three more children with another woman.

[00:03:48] Mugabe found himself, aged only ten years old, with two of his older brothers dead, abandoned by his father, and the oldest son in the house without any real male role models, no other older men to look up to.

[00:04:04] Then something happened that changed Mugabe’s life forever, an unlikely event, perhaps, for a man who would later become best known for forcing the white population out of his country.

[00:04:17] Father Loubière, the leader of the Jesuit group, died and was replaced by an Irishman, Father Jerome O'Hea.

[00:04:27] Not only did he accept the Mugabes back in the community, and, unlike the racism underpinning Rhodesian society at the time, he preached racial equality, but O'Hea took the young Mugabe, took young Robert ‘under his wing.’

[00:04:44] To take someone ‘under your wing’, by the way, simply means to take care of them and look out for them.

[00:04:51] As well as giving him a good Jesuit education, O'Hea taught Mugabe about the Irish War of Independence and described how Irish revolutionaries had overthrown British colonial rule.

[00:05:05] Like O’Hea’s homeland, Ireland, Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, or Southern Rhodesia, as it was then, was under British control, so despite the pair being of very different ages, and of races that would not traditionally mix in Southern Rhodesia, the pair found common ground in their countries mutual oppression by the British.

[00:05:28] As a teenager, Mugabe was a quiet boy who preferred reading to making friends, and he spent more and more time with Father O’Hea, who had picked Mugabe out as an intelligent boy with a bright future.

[00:05:43] O’Hea’s kind nature made such an impression on Mugabe that he said of him many years later: “He was a nice Irishman… Only an Irishman could do that; an Englishman couldn't."

[00:05:56] But Mugabe wouldn’t stay under Father O’Hea’s wing forever, and in 1941, aged 17, he began a teacher training course, and he graduated four years later in 1945. 

[00:06:10] Perhaps influenced by Father O’Hea, the next stage of his life was spent teaching at mission schools in Southern and Northern Rhodesia.

[00:06:20] But he continued to be devoted to his studies, he graduated with a degree in History and English from the University of Fort Hare, a South African university known as a breeding ground for African-nationalism.

[00:06:34] And by 1954, he had completed a Bachelor of Education degree through distance courses, and in 1955 Mugabe moved to Northern Rhodesia, modern Zambia, where he started another distance degree, this time in economics.

[00:06:51] Clearly, he had a thirst for knowledge, but he wanted something more.

[00:06:58] To find that something, he would need to make the 7,000km trip to Ghana, on the west coast of Africa.

[00:07:06] It would be in Ghana that he’d meet his first wife, Sarah Heyfron.

[00:07:11] But Mugabe didn’t come looking for love.

[00:07:14] He came to see what a newly liberated African state could look like.

[00:07:19] In 1957 Ghana had broken free from Britain and became the first sub-Saharan African country to become fully independent from the European colonial powers. 

[00:07:32] Now free, it moved in an African-nationalist direction underpinned by socialist ideas.

[00:07:40] Mugabe was excited by the political freedoms there, and he thrived in the decolonising world of Ghanain society.

[00:07:49] It was in Ghana that Mugabe first began reading Marxist teachings, and he supported the Ghanaian efforts to make education available to all, and to soften the social class divisions that had existed under British rule. 

[00:08:05] But when he returned to Southern Rhodesia in 1960, when he came home, Mugabe found a changing place.

[00:08:15] The colonial government had increased the white population and displaced thousands of black families.

[00:08:21] The black majority were still hugely under-represented in politics.

[00:08:27] Any opposition was met with police brutality; African nationalist political groups were shut down.

[00:08:35] While Mugabe had been away in Ghana, an anti-colonial political movement had sprung up in Southern Rhodesia but it had been quickly outlawed by the colonial government. 

[00:08:48] Building on this, in January of 1960 something called the National Democratic Party [the NDP] was established, which had the objective of improving black rights and representation in the country. 

[00:09:03] It met the same fate

[00:09:06] Several NDP leaders were arrested. There were protests outside the Prime Minister's office, and Mugabe joined in with them.

[00:09:15] As he was respected for his life experience - his time abroad and his extensive university education, as well as his natural charisma, Mugabe was asked to speak to the crowd.

[00:09:29] Unintimidated by the police presence, he explained how their Ghanain neighbours had become independent and were working to make their country a more equal place.

[00:09:42] And perhaps sensing the anti-colonial energy in the country, and getting a taste for what might be possible, Mugabe decided to give up his teaching career and devote himself entirely to politics and activism - a decision that would change the course of his life, and Zimbabwean history forever.

[00:10:04] Now, Mugabe's rise to power was long, complicated, and included a vast array of alliances and deals with people across the political spectrum from a number of different parties that were constantly being banned, splitting up, and reforming.

[00:10:20] But let me give you a little taste, some of the most important elements of it.

[00:10:26] The NDP, which, remember, was the National Democratic Party, became ZAPU, the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union, but ZAPU itself then split in August of 1963.

[00:10:41] The more radical members of ZAPU, including Mugabe, formed the Zimbabwe African National Union - known as ZANU, so you had these two groups wanting similar outcomes but with differing views about how to achieve them.

[00:10:58] Both groups were a clear threat to the white minority government.

[00:11:03] In charge of Southern Rhodesia at this time was a man named Ian Smith, who led a party called the Rhodesian Front, which had won power in 1962. 

[00:11:14] The Rhodesian Front wanted independence from Britain but it wanted to keep white -majority rule.

[00:11:21] Britain was prepared to give Southern Rhodesia its independence, but a key requirement for this was that it would transition to black-majority majority rule.

[00:11:34] After Smith took over in 1964, in a bid to suppress political opposition, ZANU was banned and Mugabe, as a key member of the party, was thrown into prison.

[00:11:48] Then in 1965, frustrated by Britain’s refusal to allow Southern Rhodesia to become independent and maintain white minority rule, Ian Smith declared independence from Britain and renamed Southern Rhodesia as Rhodesia.

[00:12:06] The British government did not recognise the move, and this threw the country, which was, let’s remember, not technically its own country, into political turmoil.

[00:12:17] This caused what had been, until then, a series of small civil disobediences and skirmishes, small battles, to turn into a full-blown civil war.

[00:12:30] This war, the Rhodesian Bush War or the ‘Second Chimurenga’, was a drawn-out civil war that included many different fighting factions, and lots of death.

[00:12:41] It lasted for 15 years, from July 1964 to December 1979, and involved brutal, often hand to hand combat and killed tens of thousands of Zimbabweans.

[00:12:56] Mugabe was one of the main anti-Smith, anti-colonial, leaders, and he continued to coordinate the war effort from jail before being released in November of 1974.

[00:13:09] By mid-1976 he had firmly established himself as the most powerful guerrilla leader battling the white-dominated Rhodesian government.

[00:13:20] And by 1979, his guerrilla forces had gained the upper hand and surrounded several key Rhodesian cities.

[00:13:29] Smith and his government were forced to the negotiating table.

[00:13:34] By now Mugabe was publically calling for Smith’s execution, and called for violence against white Rhodesians, who he called "blood-sucking exploiters" and "hard-core racists."

[00:13:48] By 1979, the writing was on the wall for Smith and white-minority led Southern Rhodesia.

[00:13:55] To see the writing on the wall, by the way, means to be aware of or foresee something bad happening.

[00:14:02] In April of 1979 there was a general election, and Abel Muzorewa, a moderate black bishop, was elected Prime Minister of the newly named Zimbabwe-Rhodesia.

[00:14:15] This election, however, was boycotted by both ZANU and ZAPU, the two main opposition parties didn’t take part.

[00:14:24] What’s more, the British government, led by Margaret Thatcher, said it would only recognise the new state of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia if ZANU and ZAPU participated in the elections.

[00:14:36] Now, I know there are a lot of names and acronyms here, but if we skip to the end, this culminated in something called the Lancaster House Agreement, and led to a general election in which all of the parties involved in the civil war took part.

[00:14:53] Mugabe stood as leader of ZANU, he survived two assassination attempts, and on the 18th of April 1980, after winning 63 percent of the vote, ZANU won the election, Southern Rhodesia finally gained its independence.

[00:15:11] Shortly after midnight, at the age of 56, Robert Mugabe became the first Prime Minister of a newly independent Zimbabwe.

[00:15:21] In his victory speech, he said, “The wrongs of the past must now stand forgiven and forgotten…It could never be a correct justification that because whites oppressed us yesterday when they had power, the blacks must oppress them today because they have power.”

[00:15:40] “Democracy,” he said, “is never mob rule.”

[00:15:45] As you may know, especially towards the end of his political and earthly life, Mugabe’s actions were somewhat different from what he preached back in 1980.

[00:15:57] So, what was life like under Mugabe in newly liberated Zimbabwe?

[00:16:02] Initially, he kept his word, and invited the former leader of the Rhodesian military to stay on in his position.

[00:16:10] He respected the white parliamentary seats as outlined in the Lancaster House Agreement.

[00:16:16] And he formed a coalition with ZAPU, which drew its support from the minority Ndebele people, as opposed to Mugabe's Shona ethnic group.

[00:16:27] Like he had seen in Ghana, Mugabe tried to make Zimbabwean society more equal.

[00:16:32] He oversaw massive increases in education and health spending.

[00:16:37] When Mugabe took over, Zimbabwe had just 177 secondary schools for a population of over 7 million people. 

[00:16:46] By 2000 that number was 1,548.

[00:16:51] During that period, the adult literacy rate rose from 62 percent to 82 percent.

[00:16:57] Child immunisation grew from 25 percent to 92 percent.

[00:17:02] Commendable, laudable achievements, of course.

[00:17:05] So what changed, why isn’t Robert Mugabe hailed as a visionary leader? 

[00:17:12] Well, as the historian Lord Acton once wrote, “absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

[00:17:19] And this certainly applies to Robert Mugabe, as he started the transition from freedom fighter to tyrant.

[00:17:27] This transition started pretty soon after he took power.

[00:17:32] In 1982, Mugabe forced the ZAPU leader, Joshua Nkomo, out of the coalition, and fighting between the Shona and the Ndebele ethnic groups broke out. 

[00:17:45] In what became known as the Gukurahundi, the 5th Brigade of the Zimbabwean army murdered 20,000 Ndebele people.

[00:17:54] Historians are almost certain the atrocity, this genocide, in effect, was done directly on Mugabe’s orders.

[00:18:03] It was becoming clear to Zimbabweans that their new leader was willing not only to kill white people, but black Zimbabweans.

[00:18:12] Then, a few years later in 1987, ZANU and ZAPU merged to form ZANU-PF, and Mugabe changed the Zimbabwean constitution.

[00:18:23] On the 30th of December, Mugabe was made ‘executive president’, meaning he took on all the responsibilities of a head of state, head of government, and commander-in-chief of the armed forces in one role. 

[00:18:38] In a single move, he had taken out his main political rivals and consolidated the power of the entire Zimbabwean state.

[00:18:47] It granted him the powers to declare martial law, bypass government, and extend his time in office for an unspecified number of years.

[00:18:57] Zimbabwe had, effectively, become a one-party state.

[00:19:01] And Mugabe was the man at the top. 

[00:19:05] It would be a position he held for 29 years and 325 days.

[00:19:12] So, how did things progress?

[00:19:15] Well, Zimbabwe was still, in theory at least, a democracy. 

[00:19:20] There were more elections, and, surprise, surprise, Mugabe would be elected again and again.

[00:19:26] In 1990 he was reelected in an election marked by voter intimidation and violence.

[00:19:34] He was starting to grow unpopular domestically, not just for his political choices but also for his romantic ones.

[00:19:42] See, it was around this time that he began an affair with his secretary, Grace Marufu, who was 41 years his junior, she was in her mid 20s while he was in his mid 60s. 

[00:19:54] He would marry her in an extravagant ceremony in 1996, and she quickly became the least popular woman in the country.

[00:20:03] Firstly, she was a foreigner - she was born in South Africa - but she was also known for her luxurious lifestyle at a time when Zimbabwean people were struggling to put food on the table. 

[00:20:16] While regular Zimbabweans struggled to get by on a few dollars a day, there were reports that the President’s wife had spent $75,000 on luxury goods in a single Paris shop.

[00:20:30] But the excess wasn’t limited to his young wife. 

[00:20:34] In November 1998, there were riots when Mugabe gave himself and members of his government big pay rises.

[00:20:42] Despite his questionable electoral wins, the ethnic tensions, mass murder, and civil unrest in Zimbabwe, by the early 1990’s Mugabe’s international reputation was growing, and he was viewed as the most successful of all African liberation leaders-turned politicians.

[00:21:02] By the time the 2000’s came around, however, that reputation was beginning to wane, it was beginning to suffer.

[00:21:11] One of his main policies was land reform, where he had ordered the seizure of farmland from white farmers and gave it to inexperienced black Zimbabweans.

[00:21:22] Without the knowledge of how to farm the land effectively, and in combination with severe drought, the inexperienced farmers were unable to produce enough food to feed the country, which caused food shortages and famine.

[00:21:37] There were also major foreign policy missteps, mistakes, including getting involved in war in Democratic Republic of the Congo.

[00:21:46] All of this drained the country’s coffers, it was hugely expensive.

[00:21:51] By 2002, economic mismanagement left over half of the Zimbabwean population needing emergency food aid.

[00:22:00] Inflation skyrocketed.

[00:22:03] And people - both Zimbabweans and the international community - began to notice Mugabe’s increasing authoritarian behaviour.

[00:22:12] Although he was reelected again in 2002, Mugabe’s position was now tainted by voter intimidation and violence, and he was criticised by international observers. It was clear that he didn’t quite practise the democratic views he preached.

[00:22:29] And as the country’s economy began to unravel, as it began to collapse, Mugabe intensified his hold on Zimbabwe.

[00:22:39] Having long been accustomed to using violent means for political ends, Mugabe’s ZANU-PF stepped up its campaign of abductions, murders and intimidation.

[00:22:51] And with Mugabe more concerned about silencing political opponents than governing, Zimbabweans suffered the crippling effects of an economy in freefall.

[00:23:02] By 2007, TIME magazine described Zimbabwe’s economy as suffering “1,700 percent inflation, an 80 percent unemployment rate, and average life expectancy of 35, the lowest in the world.” 

[00:23:19] Yet in 2008, Mugabe ran for president again.

[00:23:24] But as the results were slowly released, it emerged that, this time, Mugabe might have lost.

[00:23:32] He demanded a recount, for the ballots to be counted again.

[00:23:36] Faced with intimidation and ZANU-PF approved violence in the streets, Mugabe’s opponent - the former finance minister, Morgan Tsvangirai - withdrew from the race, saying that free and fair elections were impossible in Zimbabwe.

[00:23:52] Mugabe was, unsurprisingly, declared the winner.

[00:23:57] After international voices - including previously supportive African countries - called for a power sharing arrangement with Tsvangirai’s MDC party, an agreement was made but quickly fell apart.

[00:24:11] Then MDC supporters and activists began to disappear, and international critics called for Mugabe to step down.

[00:24:20] Did he?

[00:24:21] Of course not.

[00:24:23] “ I will never, never, never surrender,” Mugabe said. “Zimbabwe is mine, I am a Zimbabwean. Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans.” 

[00:24:32] “Only God, who appointed me, will remove me.”

[00:24:36] He wouldn’t have to wait all that long…but first, there was time for another election.

[00:24:41] In May of 2013, Mugabe was again reelected in suspicious circumstances, at the ripe old age of 89.

[00:24:50] With his health deteriorating and rumours about who would succeed him, political infighting broke out within the ZANU-PF ranks as potential successors tried to position themselves.

[00:25:03] Yet, Mugabe still clung to power.

[00:25:06] Finally, on November the 15th of 2017, the military intervened and put Mugabe under house arrest.

[00:25:15] The political pressure eventually became too much and Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s only leader since its independence, finally stepped down on the 21st of November 2017, exactly a month before he would celebrate his 30th year as President.

[00:25:32] And it would be almost two years later, in Singapore on the 6th September 2019, aged 95 that he would take his last breath.

[00:25:42] So, what had Zimbabwe’s great anti-colonial liberator turned tyrant left behind?

[00:25:49] A country ravaged by drought and starvation; a culture of political corruption, abductions and murders; a loss of faith in the electoral system; widespread poverty; skyrocketing inflation; and the mass exodus of young Zimbabweans abroad.

[00:26:06] After fighting so long and hard to win independence from the British, Mugabe had spent the majority of his time in office desperately trying to hold onto it - consolidating power, silencing critics, and putting his own interests above those of the country he claimed to love and represent.

[00:26:26] He was a man who would stop at nothing to stay in control, and perhaps ironically it would be his actions after he took office that overshadowed his important role in the birth of Zimbabwe and its independence. 

[00:26:41] So his legacy is, for much of the world, as a dictator and a tyrant, not as he used to be affectionately called in better times, “Uncle Bob”.

[00:26:54] OK then, that is it for today’s episode on Robert Mugabe, the school teacher who became a revolutionary anti-colonial leader and then turned into an authoritarian tyrant.

[00:27:06] I hope it was an interesting one, and whether you knew a lot about Mugabe and his life before today, or this was the first time you’d heard anything about him, well I hope you learned something new.

[00:27:17] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:27:21] Have you ever been to Zimbabwe? 

[00:27:23] Do you know any Zimbabweans who lived through the Mugabe dictatorship?

[00:27:27] Can you think of any other revolutionaries who were corrupted by power and became tyrants, or had similar falls from grace?

[00:27:35] I can certainly think of a few. 

[00:27:37] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:27:40] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:27:49] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:27:54] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about a man who was one of the most feared men in Africa.

[00:00:29] His name was Robert Mugabe. He was the Zimbabwean schoolteacher from humble beginnings who went onto become an anti-colonial leader and then, with time, a notorious tyrant

[00:00:42] His rule was one of political assassinations and disappearances, corruption, and rigged elections, yet Mugabe was central to Zimbabwe’s independence and establishment as a country.

[00:00:55] He was loved by some, hated by many, feared by all, and begrudgingly respected by most for his leading role in the decolonisation process.

[00:01:07] So, let’s get right into it and talk about Robert Mugabe.

[00:01:12] Robert Gabriel Mugabe was born on February 21st, 1924, in Katuma, on a Jesuit mission in Southern Rhodesia, the area we now call Zimbabwe.

[00:01:25] Mugabe was born just one year after white settlers established Southern Rhodesia as a British colony in 1923.

[00:01:35] Northern Rhodesia, by the way, was the place we now know as Zambia.

[00:01:40] Both were run by the British South Africa Company on behalf of the British Government and were, as a result, self-governing British protectorates.

[00:01:52] Like many other countries across Africa at the time, both countries were run not only by colonial governments but by white-minorities.

[00:02:02] Historians estimate that in Southern Rhodesia, around a quarter of a million whites ruled over a population of six million black Africans.

[00:02:13] This was the historical context Mugabe was born into.

[00:02:18] His father, Gabriel, was a carpenter, and his mother, Bona, a religious teacher. The pair would go on to have six children.

[00:02:28] And growing up on a Jesuit mission meant that religion surrounded the young Mugabes.

[00:02:35] The priests who ran the schools were feared disciplinarians, tough teachers, yet young Robert performed well at school, he was known for being quiet and studious, a good student. 

[00:02:49] But in 1930, when Mugabe’s father had a disagreement with one of the Jesuits, the family was shunned, pushed out, by its leader, Father Jean-Baptiste Loubière.

[00:03:03] The family moved to another village briefly, but the Mugabe children were allowed to remain at the mission school, living with relatives in a nearby town during the week.

[00:03:15] Around the same time, Mugabe's older brother, Raphael, died, and then a few years later another older brother, Michael, died of suspected poisoning. 

[00:03:26] As you might imagine, his brother’s deaths had a great impact on the young boy.

[00:03:31] And to make matters worse, shortly afterwards, when Mugabe was just 10 years old, his father, abandoned the family and left for the city of Bulawayo, where he would go on to have three more children with another woman.

[00:03:48] Mugabe found himself, aged only ten years old, with two of his older brothers dead, abandoned by his father, and the oldest son in the house without any real male role models, no other older men to look up to.

[00:04:04] Then something happened that changed Mugabe’s life forever, an unlikely event, perhaps, for a man who would later become best known for forcing the white population out of his country.

[00:04:17] Father Loubière, the leader of the Jesuit group, died and was replaced by an Irishman, Father Jerome O'Hea.

[00:04:27] Not only did he accept the Mugabes back in the community, and, unlike the racism underpinning Rhodesian society at the time, he preached racial equality, but O'Hea took the young Mugabe, took young Robert ‘under his wing.’

[00:04:44] To take someone ‘under your wing’, by the way, simply means to take care of them and look out for them.

[00:04:51] As well as giving him a good Jesuit education, O'Hea taught Mugabe about the Irish War of Independence and described how Irish revolutionaries had overthrown British colonial rule.

[00:05:05] Like O’Hea’s homeland, Ireland, Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, or Southern Rhodesia, as it was then, was under British control, so despite the pair being of very different ages, and of races that would not traditionally mix in Southern Rhodesia, the pair found common ground in their countries mutual oppression by the British.

[00:05:28] As a teenager, Mugabe was a quiet boy who preferred reading to making friends, and he spent more and more time with Father O’Hea, who had picked Mugabe out as an intelligent boy with a bright future.

[00:05:43] O’Hea’s kind nature made such an impression on Mugabe that he said of him many years later: “He was a nice Irishman… Only an Irishman could do that; an Englishman couldn't."

[00:05:56] But Mugabe wouldn’t stay under Father O’Hea’s wing forever, and in 1941, aged 17, he began a teacher training course, and he graduated four years later in 1945. 

[00:06:10] Perhaps influenced by Father O’Hea, the next stage of his life was spent teaching at mission schools in Southern and Northern Rhodesia.

[00:06:20] But he continued to be devoted to his studies, he graduated with a degree in History and English from the University of Fort Hare, a South African university known as a breeding ground for African-nationalism.

[00:06:34] And by 1954, he had completed a Bachelor of Education degree through distance courses, and in 1955 Mugabe moved to Northern Rhodesia, modern Zambia, where he started another distance degree, this time in economics.

[00:06:51] Clearly, he had a thirst for knowledge, but he wanted something more.

[00:06:58] To find that something, he would need to make the 7,000km trip to Ghana, on the west coast of Africa.

[00:07:06] It would be in Ghana that he’d meet his first wife, Sarah Heyfron.

[00:07:11] But Mugabe didn’t come looking for love.

[00:07:14] He came to see what a newly liberated African state could look like.

[00:07:19] In 1957 Ghana had broken free from Britain and became the first sub-Saharan African country to become fully independent from the European colonial powers. 

[00:07:32] Now free, it moved in an African-nationalist direction underpinned by socialist ideas.

[00:07:40] Mugabe was excited by the political freedoms there, and he thrived in the decolonising world of Ghanain society.

[00:07:49] It was in Ghana that Mugabe first began reading Marxist teachings, and he supported the Ghanaian efforts to make education available to all, and to soften the social class divisions that had existed under British rule. 

[00:08:05] But when he returned to Southern Rhodesia in 1960, when he came home, Mugabe found a changing place.

[00:08:15] The colonial government had increased the white population and displaced thousands of black families.

[00:08:21] The black majority were still hugely under-represented in politics.

[00:08:27] Any opposition was met with police brutality; African nationalist political groups were shut down.

[00:08:35] While Mugabe had been away in Ghana, an anti-colonial political movement had sprung up in Southern Rhodesia but it had been quickly outlawed by the colonial government. 

[00:08:48] Building on this, in January of 1960 something called the National Democratic Party [the NDP] was established, which had the objective of improving black rights and representation in the country. 

[00:09:03] It met the same fate

[00:09:06] Several NDP leaders were arrested. There were protests outside the Prime Minister's office, and Mugabe joined in with them.

[00:09:15] As he was respected for his life experience - his time abroad and his extensive university education, as well as his natural charisma, Mugabe was asked to speak to the crowd.

[00:09:29] Unintimidated by the police presence, he explained how their Ghanain neighbours had become independent and were working to make their country a more equal place.

[00:09:42] And perhaps sensing the anti-colonial energy in the country, and getting a taste for what might be possible, Mugabe decided to give up his teaching career and devote himself entirely to politics and activism - a decision that would change the course of his life, and Zimbabwean history forever.

[00:10:04] Now, Mugabe's rise to power was long, complicated, and included a vast array of alliances and deals with people across the political spectrum from a number of different parties that were constantly being banned, splitting up, and reforming.

[00:10:20] But let me give you a little taste, some of the most important elements of it.

[00:10:26] The NDP, which, remember, was the National Democratic Party, became ZAPU, the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union, but ZAPU itself then split in August of 1963.

[00:10:41] The more radical members of ZAPU, including Mugabe, formed the Zimbabwe African National Union - known as ZANU, so you had these two groups wanting similar outcomes but with differing views about how to achieve them.

[00:10:58] Both groups were a clear threat to the white minority government.

[00:11:03] In charge of Southern Rhodesia at this time was a man named Ian Smith, who led a party called the Rhodesian Front, which had won power in 1962. 

[00:11:14] The Rhodesian Front wanted independence from Britain but it wanted to keep white -majority rule.

[00:11:21] Britain was prepared to give Southern Rhodesia its independence, but a key requirement for this was that it would transition to black-majority majority rule.

[00:11:34] After Smith took over in 1964, in a bid to suppress political opposition, ZANU was banned and Mugabe, as a key member of the party, was thrown into prison.

[00:11:48] Then in 1965, frustrated by Britain’s refusal to allow Southern Rhodesia to become independent and maintain white minority rule, Ian Smith declared independence from Britain and renamed Southern Rhodesia as Rhodesia.

[00:12:06] The British government did not recognise the move, and this threw the country, which was, let’s remember, not technically its own country, into political turmoil.

[00:12:17] This caused what had been, until then, a series of small civil disobediences and skirmishes, small battles, to turn into a full-blown civil war.

[00:12:30] This war, the Rhodesian Bush War or the ‘Second Chimurenga’, was a drawn-out civil war that included many different fighting factions, and lots of death.

[00:12:41] It lasted for 15 years, from July 1964 to December 1979, and involved brutal, often hand to hand combat and killed tens of thousands of Zimbabweans.

[00:12:56] Mugabe was one of the main anti-Smith, anti-colonial, leaders, and he continued to coordinate the war effort from jail before being released in November of 1974.

[00:13:09] By mid-1976 he had firmly established himself as the most powerful guerrilla leader battling the white-dominated Rhodesian government.

[00:13:20] And by 1979, his guerrilla forces had gained the upper hand and surrounded several key Rhodesian cities.

[00:13:29] Smith and his government were forced to the negotiating table.

[00:13:34] By now Mugabe was publically calling for Smith’s execution, and called for violence against white Rhodesians, who he called "blood-sucking exploiters" and "hard-core racists."

[00:13:48] By 1979, the writing was on the wall for Smith and white-minority led Southern Rhodesia.

[00:13:55] To see the writing on the wall, by the way, means to be aware of or foresee something bad happening.

[00:14:02] In April of 1979 there was a general election, and Abel Muzorewa, a moderate black bishop, was elected Prime Minister of the newly named Zimbabwe-Rhodesia.

[00:14:15] This election, however, was boycotted by both ZANU and ZAPU, the two main opposition parties didn’t take part.

[00:14:24] What’s more, the British government, led by Margaret Thatcher, said it would only recognise the new state of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia if ZANU and ZAPU participated in the elections.

[00:14:36] Now, I know there are a lot of names and acronyms here, but if we skip to the end, this culminated in something called the Lancaster House Agreement, and led to a general election in which all of the parties involved in the civil war took part.

[00:14:53] Mugabe stood as leader of ZANU, he survived two assassination attempts, and on the 18th of April 1980, after winning 63 percent of the vote, ZANU won the election, Southern Rhodesia finally gained its independence.

[00:15:11] Shortly after midnight, at the age of 56, Robert Mugabe became the first Prime Minister of a newly independent Zimbabwe.

[00:15:21] In his victory speech, he said, “The wrongs of the past must now stand forgiven and forgotten…It could never be a correct justification that because whites oppressed us yesterday when they had power, the blacks must oppress them today because they have power.”

[00:15:40] “Democracy,” he said, “is never mob rule.”

[00:15:45] As you may know, especially towards the end of his political and earthly life, Mugabe’s actions were somewhat different from what he preached back in 1980.

[00:15:57] So, what was life like under Mugabe in newly liberated Zimbabwe?

[00:16:02] Initially, he kept his word, and invited the former leader of the Rhodesian military to stay on in his position.

[00:16:10] He respected the white parliamentary seats as outlined in the Lancaster House Agreement.

[00:16:16] And he formed a coalition with ZAPU, which drew its support from the minority Ndebele people, as opposed to Mugabe's Shona ethnic group.

[00:16:27] Like he had seen in Ghana, Mugabe tried to make Zimbabwean society more equal.

[00:16:32] He oversaw massive increases in education and health spending.

[00:16:37] When Mugabe took over, Zimbabwe had just 177 secondary schools for a population of over 7 million people. 

[00:16:46] By 2000 that number was 1,548.

[00:16:51] During that period, the adult literacy rate rose from 62 percent to 82 percent.

[00:16:57] Child immunisation grew from 25 percent to 92 percent.

[00:17:02] Commendable, laudable achievements, of course.

[00:17:05] So what changed, why isn’t Robert Mugabe hailed as a visionary leader? 

[00:17:12] Well, as the historian Lord Acton once wrote, “absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

[00:17:19] And this certainly applies to Robert Mugabe, as he started the transition from freedom fighter to tyrant.

[00:17:27] This transition started pretty soon after he took power.

[00:17:32] In 1982, Mugabe forced the ZAPU leader, Joshua Nkomo, out of the coalition, and fighting between the Shona and the Ndebele ethnic groups broke out. 

[00:17:45] In what became known as the Gukurahundi, the 5th Brigade of the Zimbabwean army murdered 20,000 Ndebele people.

[00:17:54] Historians are almost certain the atrocity, this genocide, in effect, was done directly on Mugabe’s orders.

[00:18:03] It was becoming clear to Zimbabweans that their new leader was willing not only to kill white people, but black Zimbabweans.

[00:18:12] Then, a few years later in 1987, ZANU and ZAPU merged to form ZANU-PF, and Mugabe changed the Zimbabwean constitution.

[00:18:23] On the 30th of December, Mugabe was made ‘executive president’, meaning he took on all the responsibilities of a head of state, head of government, and commander-in-chief of the armed forces in one role. 

[00:18:38] In a single move, he had taken out his main political rivals and consolidated the power of the entire Zimbabwean state.

[00:18:47] It granted him the powers to declare martial law, bypass government, and extend his time in office for an unspecified number of years.

[00:18:57] Zimbabwe had, effectively, become a one-party state.

[00:19:01] And Mugabe was the man at the top. 

[00:19:05] It would be a position he held for 29 years and 325 days.

[00:19:12] So, how did things progress?

[00:19:15] Well, Zimbabwe was still, in theory at least, a democracy. 

[00:19:20] There were more elections, and, surprise, surprise, Mugabe would be elected again and again.

[00:19:26] In 1990 he was reelected in an election marked by voter intimidation and violence.

[00:19:34] He was starting to grow unpopular domestically, not just for his political choices but also for his romantic ones.

[00:19:42] See, it was around this time that he began an affair with his secretary, Grace Marufu, who was 41 years his junior, she was in her mid 20s while he was in his mid 60s. 

[00:19:54] He would marry her in an extravagant ceremony in 1996, and she quickly became the least popular woman in the country.

[00:20:03] Firstly, she was a foreigner - she was born in South Africa - but she was also known for her luxurious lifestyle at a time when Zimbabwean people were struggling to put food on the table. 

[00:20:16] While regular Zimbabweans struggled to get by on a few dollars a day, there were reports that the President’s wife had spent $75,000 on luxury goods in a single Paris shop.

[00:20:30] But the excess wasn’t limited to his young wife. 

[00:20:34] In November 1998, there were riots when Mugabe gave himself and members of his government big pay rises.

[00:20:42] Despite his questionable electoral wins, the ethnic tensions, mass murder, and civil unrest in Zimbabwe, by the early 1990’s Mugabe’s international reputation was growing, and he was viewed as the most successful of all African liberation leaders-turned politicians.

[00:21:02] By the time the 2000’s came around, however, that reputation was beginning to wane, it was beginning to suffer.

[00:21:11] One of his main policies was land reform, where he had ordered the seizure of farmland from white farmers and gave it to inexperienced black Zimbabweans.

[00:21:22] Without the knowledge of how to farm the land effectively, and in combination with severe drought, the inexperienced farmers were unable to produce enough food to feed the country, which caused food shortages and famine.

[00:21:37] There were also major foreign policy missteps, mistakes, including getting involved in war in Democratic Republic of the Congo.

[00:21:46] All of this drained the country’s coffers, it was hugely expensive.

[00:21:51] By 2002, economic mismanagement left over half of the Zimbabwean population needing emergency food aid.

[00:22:00] Inflation skyrocketed.

[00:22:03] And people - both Zimbabweans and the international community - began to notice Mugabe’s increasing authoritarian behaviour.

[00:22:12] Although he was reelected again in 2002, Mugabe’s position was now tainted by voter intimidation and violence, and he was criticised by international observers. It was clear that he didn’t quite practise the democratic views he preached.

[00:22:29] And as the country’s economy began to unravel, as it began to collapse, Mugabe intensified his hold on Zimbabwe.

[00:22:39] Having long been accustomed to using violent means for political ends, Mugabe’s ZANU-PF stepped up its campaign of abductions, murders and intimidation.

[00:22:51] And with Mugabe more concerned about silencing political opponents than governing, Zimbabweans suffered the crippling effects of an economy in freefall.

[00:23:02] By 2007, TIME magazine described Zimbabwe’s economy as suffering “1,700 percent inflation, an 80 percent unemployment rate, and average life expectancy of 35, the lowest in the world.” 

[00:23:19] Yet in 2008, Mugabe ran for president again.

[00:23:24] But as the results were slowly released, it emerged that, this time, Mugabe might have lost.

[00:23:32] He demanded a recount, for the ballots to be counted again.

[00:23:36] Faced with intimidation and ZANU-PF approved violence in the streets, Mugabe’s opponent - the former finance minister, Morgan Tsvangirai - withdrew from the race, saying that free and fair elections were impossible in Zimbabwe.

[00:23:52] Mugabe was, unsurprisingly, declared the winner.

[00:23:57] After international voices - including previously supportive African countries - called for a power sharing arrangement with Tsvangirai’s MDC party, an agreement was made but quickly fell apart.

[00:24:11] Then MDC supporters and activists began to disappear, and international critics called for Mugabe to step down.

[00:24:20] Did he?

[00:24:21] Of course not.

[00:24:23] “ I will never, never, never surrender,” Mugabe said. “Zimbabwe is mine, I am a Zimbabwean. Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans.” 

[00:24:32] “Only God, who appointed me, will remove me.”

[00:24:36] He wouldn’t have to wait all that long…but first, there was time for another election.

[00:24:41] In May of 2013, Mugabe was again reelected in suspicious circumstances, at the ripe old age of 89.

[00:24:50] With his health deteriorating and rumours about who would succeed him, political infighting broke out within the ZANU-PF ranks as potential successors tried to position themselves.

[00:25:03] Yet, Mugabe still clung to power.

[00:25:06] Finally, on November the 15th of 2017, the military intervened and put Mugabe under house arrest.

[00:25:15] The political pressure eventually became too much and Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s only leader since its independence, finally stepped down on the 21st of November 2017, exactly a month before he would celebrate his 30th year as President.

[00:25:32] And it would be almost two years later, in Singapore on the 6th September 2019, aged 95 that he would take his last breath.

[00:25:42] So, what had Zimbabwe’s great anti-colonial liberator turned tyrant left behind?

[00:25:49] A country ravaged by drought and starvation; a culture of political corruption, abductions and murders; a loss of faith in the electoral system; widespread poverty; skyrocketing inflation; and the mass exodus of young Zimbabweans abroad.

[00:26:06] After fighting so long and hard to win independence from the British, Mugabe had spent the majority of his time in office desperately trying to hold onto it - consolidating power, silencing critics, and putting his own interests above those of the country he claimed to love and represent.

[00:26:26] He was a man who would stop at nothing to stay in control, and perhaps ironically it would be his actions after he took office that overshadowed his important role in the birth of Zimbabwe and its independence. 

[00:26:41] So his legacy is, for much of the world, as a dictator and a tyrant, not as he used to be affectionately called in better times, “Uncle Bob”.

[00:26:54] OK then, that is it for today’s episode on Robert Mugabe, the school teacher who became a revolutionary anti-colonial leader and then turned into an authoritarian tyrant.

[00:27:06] I hope it was an interesting one, and whether you knew a lot about Mugabe and his life before today, or this was the first time you’d heard anything about him, well I hope you learned something new.

[00:27:17] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:27:21] Have you ever been to Zimbabwe? 

[00:27:23] Do you know any Zimbabweans who lived through the Mugabe dictatorship?

[00:27:27] Can you think of any other revolutionaries who were corrupted by power and became tyrants, or had similar falls from grace?

[00:27:35] I can certainly think of a few. 

[00:27:37] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:27:40] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:27:49] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:27:54] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about a man who was one of the most feared men in Africa.

[00:00:29] His name was Robert Mugabe. He was the Zimbabwean schoolteacher from humble beginnings who went onto become an anti-colonial leader and then, with time, a notorious tyrant

[00:00:42] His rule was one of political assassinations and disappearances, corruption, and rigged elections, yet Mugabe was central to Zimbabwe’s independence and establishment as a country.

[00:00:55] He was loved by some, hated by many, feared by all, and begrudgingly respected by most for his leading role in the decolonisation process.

[00:01:07] So, let’s get right into it and talk about Robert Mugabe.

[00:01:12] Robert Gabriel Mugabe was born on February 21st, 1924, in Katuma, on a Jesuit mission in Southern Rhodesia, the area we now call Zimbabwe.

[00:01:25] Mugabe was born just one year after white settlers established Southern Rhodesia as a British colony in 1923.

[00:01:35] Northern Rhodesia, by the way, was the place we now know as Zambia.

[00:01:40] Both were run by the British South Africa Company on behalf of the British Government and were, as a result, self-governing British protectorates.

[00:01:52] Like many other countries across Africa at the time, both countries were run not only by colonial governments but by white-minorities.

[00:02:02] Historians estimate that in Southern Rhodesia, around a quarter of a million whites ruled over a population of six million black Africans.

[00:02:13] This was the historical context Mugabe was born into.

[00:02:18] His father, Gabriel, was a carpenter, and his mother, Bona, a religious teacher. The pair would go on to have six children.

[00:02:28] And growing up on a Jesuit mission meant that religion surrounded the young Mugabes.

[00:02:35] The priests who ran the schools were feared disciplinarians, tough teachers, yet young Robert performed well at school, he was known for being quiet and studious, a good student. 

[00:02:49] But in 1930, when Mugabe’s father had a disagreement with one of the Jesuits, the family was shunned, pushed out, by its leader, Father Jean-Baptiste Loubière.

[00:03:03] The family moved to another village briefly, but the Mugabe children were allowed to remain at the mission school, living with relatives in a nearby town during the week.

[00:03:15] Around the same time, Mugabe's older brother, Raphael, died, and then a few years later another older brother, Michael, died of suspected poisoning. 

[00:03:26] As you might imagine, his brother’s deaths had a great impact on the young boy.

[00:03:31] And to make matters worse, shortly afterwards, when Mugabe was just 10 years old, his father, abandoned the family and left for the city of Bulawayo, where he would go on to have three more children with another woman.

[00:03:48] Mugabe found himself, aged only ten years old, with two of his older brothers dead, abandoned by his father, and the oldest son in the house without any real male role models, no other older men to look up to.

[00:04:04] Then something happened that changed Mugabe’s life forever, an unlikely event, perhaps, for a man who would later become best known for forcing the white population out of his country.

[00:04:17] Father Loubière, the leader of the Jesuit group, died and was replaced by an Irishman, Father Jerome O'Hea.

[00:04:27] Not only did he accept the Mugabes back in the community, and, unlike the racism underpinning Rhodesian society at the time, he preached racial equality, but O'Hea took the young Mugabe, took young Robert ‘under his wing.’

[00:04:44] To take someone ‘under your wing’, by the way, simply means to take care of them and look out for them.

[00:04:51] As well as giving him a good Jesuit education, O'Hea taught Mugabe about the Irish War of Independence and described how Irish revolutionaries had overthrown British colonial rule.

[00:05:05] Like O’Hea’s homeland, Ireland, Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, or Southern Rhodesia, as it was then, was under British control, so despite the pair being of very different ages, and of races that would not traditionally mix in Southern Rhodesia, the pair found common ground in their countries mutual oppression by the British.

[00:05:28] As a teenager, Mugabe was a quiet boy who preferred reading to making friends, and he spent more and more time with Father O’Hea, who had picked Mugabe out as an intelligent boy with a bright future.

[00:05:43] O’Hea’s kind nature made such an impression on Mugabe that he said of him many years later: “He was a nice Irishman… Only an Irishman could do that; an Englishman couldn't."

[00:05:56] But Mugabe wouldn’t stay under Father O’Hea’s wing forever, and in 1941, aged 17, he began a teacher training course, and he graduated four years later in 1945. 

[00:06:10] Perhaps influenced by Father O’Hea, the next stage of his life was spent teaching at mission schools in Southern and Northern Rhodesia.

[00:06:20] But he continued to be devoted to his studies, he graduated with a degree in History and English from the University of Fort Hare, a South African university known as a breeding ground for African-nationalism.

[00:06:34] And by 1954, he had completed a Bachelor of Education degree through distance courses, and in 1955 Mugabe moved to Northern Rhodesia, modern Zambia, where he started another distance degree, this time in economics.

[00:06:51] Clearly, he had a thirst for knowledge, but he wanted something more.

[00:06:58] To find that something, he would need to make the 7,000km trip to Ghana, on the west coast of Africa.

[00:07:06] It would be in Ghana that he’d meet his first wife, Sarah Heyfron.

[00:07:11] But Mugabe didn’t come looking for love.

[00:07:14] He came to see what a newly liberated African state could look like.

[00:07:19] In 1957 Ghana had broken free from Britain and became the first sub-Saharan African country to become fully independent from the European colonial powers. 

[00:07:32] Now free, it moved in an African-nationalist direction underpinned by socialist ideas.

[00:07:40] Mugabe was excited by the political freedoms there, and he thrived in the decolonising world of Ghanain society.

[00:07:49] It was in Ghana that Mugabe first began reading Marxist teachings, and he supported the Ghanaian efforts to make education available to all, and to soften the social class divisions that had existed under British rule. 

[00:08:05] But when he returned to Southern Rhodesia in 1960, when he came home, Mugabe found a changing place.

[00:08:15] The colonial government had increased the white population and displaced thousands of black families.

[00:08:21] The black majority were still hugely under-represented in politics.

[00:08:27] Any opposition was met with police brutality; African nationalist political groups were shut down.

[00:08:35] While Mugabe had been away in Ghana, an anti-colonial political movement had sprung up in Southern Rhodesia but it had been quickly outlawed by the colonial government. 

[00:08:48] Building on this, in January of 1960 something called the National Democratic Party [the NDP] was established, which had the objective of improving black rights and representation in the country. 

[00:09:03] It met the same fate

[00:09:06] Several NDP leaders were arrested. There were protests outside the Prime Minister's office, and Mugabe joined in with them.

[00:09:15] As he was respected for his life experience - his time abroad and his extensive university education, as well as his natural charisma, Mugabe was asked to speak to the crowd.

[00:09:29] Unintimidated by the police presence, he explained how their Ghanain neighbours had become independent and were working to make their country a more equal place.

[00:09:42] And perhaps sensing the anti-colonial energy in the country, and getting a taste for what might be possible, Mugabe decided to give up his teaching career and devote himself entirely to politics and activism - a decision that would change the course of his life, and Zimbabwean history forever.

[00:10:04] Now, Mugabe's rise to power was long, complicated, and included a vast array of alliances and deals with people across the political spectrum from a number of different parties that were constantly being banned, splitting up, and reforming.

[00:10:20] But let me give you a little taste, some of the most important elements of it.

[00:10:26] The NDP, which, remember, was the National Democratic Party, became ZAPU, the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union, but ZAPU itself then split in August of 1963.

[00:10:41] The more radical members of ZAPU, including Mugabe, formed the Zimbabwe African National Union - known as ZANU, so you had these two groups wanting similar outcomes but with differing views about how to achieve them.

[00:10:58] Both groups were a clear threat to the white minority government.

[00:11:03] In charge of Southern Rhodesia at this time was a man named Ian Smith, who led a party called the Rhodesian Front, which had won power in 1962. 

[00:11:14] The Rhodesian Front wanted independence from Britain but it wanted to keep white -majority rule.

[00:11:21] Britain was prepared to give Southern Rhodesia its independence, but a key requirement for this was that it would transition to black-majority majority rule.

[00:11:34] After Smith took over in 1964, in a bid to suppress political opposition, ZANU was banned and Mugabe, as a key member of the party, was thrown into prison.

[00:11:48] Then in 1965, frustrated by Britain’s refusal to allow Southern Rhodesia to become independent and maintain white minority rule, Ian Smith declared independence from Britain and renamed Southern Rhodesia as Rhodesia.

[00:12:06] The British government did not recognise the move, and this threw the country, which was, let’s remember, not technically its own country, into political turmoil.

[00:12:17] This caused what had been, until then, a series of small civil disobediences and skirmishes, small battles, to turn into a full-blown civil war.

[00:12:30] This war, the Rhodesian Bush War or the ‘Second Chimurenga’, was a drawn-out civil war that included many different fighting factions, and lots of death.

[00:12:41] It lasted for 15 years, from July 1964 to December 1979, and involved brutal, often hand to hand combat and killed tens of thousands of Zimbabweans.

[00:12:56] Mugabe was one of the main anti-Smith, anti-colonial, leaders, and he continued to coordinate the war effort from jail before being released in November of 1974.

[00:13:09] By mid-1976 he had firmly established himself as the most powerful guerrilla leader battling the white-dominated Rhodesian government.

[00:13:20] And by 1979, his guerrilla forces had gained the upper hand and surrounded several key Rhodesian cities.

[00:13:29] Smith and his government were forced to the negotiating table.

[00:13:34] By now Mugabe was publically calling for Smith’s execution, and called for violence against white Rhodesians, who he called "blood-sucking exploiters" and "hard-core racists."

[00:13:48] By 1979, the writing was on the wall for Smith and white-minority led Southern Rhodesia.

[00:13:55] To see the writing on the wall, by the way, means to be aware of or foresee something bad happening.

[00:14:02] In April of 1979 there was a general election, and Abel Muzorewa, a moderate black bishop, was elected Prime Minister of the newly named Zimbabwe-Rhodesia.

[00:14:15] This election, however, was boycotted by both ZANU and ZAPU, the two main opposition parties didn’t take part.

[00:14:24] What’s more, the British government, led by Margaret Thatcher, said it would only recognise the new state of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia if ZANU and ZAPU participated in the elections.

[00:14:36] Now, I know there are a lot of names and acronyms here, but if we skip to the end, this culminated in something called the Lancaster House Agreement, and led to a general election in which all of the parties involved in the civil war took part.

[00:14:53] Mugabe stood as leader of ZANU, he survived two assassination attempts, and on the 18th of April 1980, after winning 63 percent of the vote, ZANU won the election, Southern Rhodesia finally gained its independence.

[00:15:11] Shortly after midnight, at the age of 56, Robert Mugabe became the first Prime Minister of a newly independent Zimbabwe.

[00:15:21] In his victory speech, he said, “The wrongs of the past must now stand forgiven and forgotten…It could never be a correct justification that because whites oppressed us yesterday when they had power, the blacks must oppress them today because they have power.”

[00:15:40] “Democracy,” he said, “is never mob rule.”

[00:15:45] As you may know, especially towards the end of his political and earthly life, Mugabe’s actions were somewhat different from what he preached back in 1980.

[00:15:57] So, what was life like under Mugabe in newly liberated Zimbabwe?

[00:16:02] Initially, he kept his word, and invited the former leader of the Rhodesian military to stay on in his position.

[00:16:10] He respected the white parliamentary seats as outlined in the Lancaster House Agreement.

[00:16:16] And he formed a coalition with ZAPU, which drew its support from the minority Ndebele people, as opposed to Mugabe's Shona ethnic group.

[00:16:27] Like he had seen in Ghana, Mugabe tried to make Zimbabwean society more equal.

[00:16:32] He oversaw massive increases in education and health spending.

[00:16:37] When Mugabe took over, Zimbabwe had just 177 secondary schools for a population of over 7 million people. 

[00:16:46] By 2000 that number was 1,548.

[00:16:51] During that period, the adult literacy rate rose from 62 percent to 82 percent.

[00:16:57] Child immunisation grew from 25 percent to 92 percent.

[00:17:02] Commendable, laudable achievements, of course.

[00:17:05] So what changed, why isn’t Robert Mugabe hailed as a visionary leader? 

[00:17:12] Well, as the historian Lord Acton once wrote, “absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

[00:17:19] And this certainly applies to Robert Mugabe, as he started the transition from freedom fighter to tyrant.

[00:17:27] This transition started pretty soon after he took power.

[00:17:32] In 1982, Mugabe forced the ZAPU leader, Joshua Nkomo, out of the coalition, and fighting between the Shona and the Ndebele ethnic groups broke out. 

[00:17:45] In what became known as the Gukurahundi, the 5th Brigade of the Zimbabwean army murdered 20,000 Ndebele people.

[00:17:54] Historians are almost certain the atrocity, this genocide, in effect, was done directly on Mugabe’s orders.

[00:18:03] It was becoming clear to Zimbabweans that their new leader was willing not only to kill white people, but black Zimbabweans.

[00:18:12] Then, a few years later in 1987, ZANU and ZAPU merged to form ZANU-PF, and Mugabe changed the Zimbabwean constitution.

[00:18:23] On the 30th of December, Mugabe was made ‘executive president’, meaning he took on all the responsibilities of a head of state, head of government, and commander-in-chief of the armed forces in one role. 

[00:18:38] In a single move, he had taken out his main political rivals and consolidated the power of the entire Zimbabwean state.

[00:18:47] It granted him the powers to declare martial law, bypass government, and extend his time in office for an unspecified number of years.

[00:18:57] Zimbabwe had, effectively, become a one-party state.

[00:19:01] And Mugabe was the man at the top. 

[00:19:05] It would be a position he held for 29 years and 325 days.

[00:19:12] So, how did things progress?

[00:19:15] Well, Zimbabwe was still, in theory at least, a democracy. 

[00:19:20] There were more elections, and, surprise, surprise, Mugabe would be elected again and again.

[00:19:26] In 1990 he was reelected in an election marked by voter intimidation and violence.

[00:19:34] He was starting to grow unpopular domestically, not just for his political choices but also for his romantic ones.

[00:19:42] See, it was around this time that he began an affair with his secretary, Grace Marufu, who was 41 years his junior, she was in her mid 20s while he was in his mid 60s. 

[00:19:54] He would marry her in an extravagant ceremony in 1996, and she quickly became the least popular woman in the country.

[00:20:03] Firstly, she was a foreigner - she was born in South Africa - but she was also known for her luxurious lifestyle at a time when Zimbabwean people were struggling to put food on the table. 

[00:20:16] While regular Zimbabweans struggled to get by on a few dollars a day, there were reports that the President’s wife had spent $75,000 on luxury goods in a single Paris shop.

[00:20:30] But the excess wasn’t limited to his young wife. 

[00:20:34] In November 1998, there were riots when Mugabe gave himself and members of his government big pay rises.

[00:20:42] Despite his questionable electoral wins, the ethnic tensions, mass murder, and civil unrest in Zimbabwe, by the early 1990’s Mugabe’s international reputation was growing, and he was viewed as the most successful of all African liberation leaders-turned politicians.

[00:21:02] By the time the 2000’s came around, however, that reputation was beginning to wane, it was beginning to suffer.

[00:21:11] One of his main policies was land reform, where he had ordered the seizure of farmland from white farmers and gave it to inexperienced black Zimbabweans.

[00:21:22] Without the knowledge of how to farm the land effectively, and in combination with severe drought, the inexperienced farmers were unable to produce enough food to feed the country, which caused food shortages and famine.

[00:21:37] There were also major foreign policy missteps, mistakes, including getting involved in war in Democratic Republic of the Congo.

[00:21:46] All of this drained the country’s coffers, it was hugely expensive.

[00:21:51] By 2002, economic mismanagement left over half of the Zimbabwean population needing emergency food aid.

[00:22:00] Inflation skyrocketed.

[00:22:03] And people - both Zimbabweans and the international community - began to notice Mugabe’s increasing authoritarian behaviour.

[00:22:12] Although he was reelected again in 2002, Mugabe’s position was now tainted by voter intimidation and violence, and he was criticised by international observers. It was clear that he didn’t quite practise the democratic views he preached.

[00:22:29] And as the country’s economy began to unravel, as it began to collapse, Mugabe intensified his hold on Zimbabwe.

[00:22:39] Having long been accustomed to using violent means for political ends, Mugabe’s ZANU-PF stepped up its campaign of abductions, murders and intimidation.

[00:22:51] And with Mugabe more concerned about silencing political opponents than governing, Zimbabweans suffered the crippling effects of an economy in freefall.

[00:23:02] By 2007, TIME magazine described Zimbabwe’s economy as suffering “1,700 percent inflation, an 80 percent unemployment rate, and average life expectancy of 35, the lowest in the world.” 

[00:23:19] Yet in 2008, Mugabe ran for president again.

[00:23:24] But as the results were slowly released, it emerged that, this time, Mugabe might have lost.

[00:23:32] He demanded a recount, for the ballots to be counted again.

[00:23:36] Faced with intimidation and ZANU-PF approved violence in the streets, Mugabe’s opponent - the former finance minister, Morgan Tsvangirai - withdrew from the race, saying that free and fair elections were impossible in Zimbabwe.

[00:23:52] Mugabe was, unsurprisingly, declared the winner.

[00:23:57] After international voices - including previously supportive African countries - called for a power sharing arrangement with Tsvangirai’s MDC party, an agreement was made but quickly fell apart.

[00:24:11] Then MDC supporters and activists began to disappear, and international critics called for Mugabe to step down.

[00:24:20] Did he?

[00:24:21] Of course not.

[00:24:23] “ I will never, never, never surrender,” Mugabe said. “Zimbabwe is mine, I am a Zimbabwean. Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans.” 

[00:24:32] “Only God, who appointed me, will remove me.”

[00:24:36] He wouldn’t have to wait all that long…but first, there was time for another election.

[00:24:41] In May of 2013, Mugabe was again reelected in suspicious circumstances, at the ripe old age of 89.

[00:24:50] With his health deteriorating and rumours about who would succeed him, political infighting broke out within the ZANU-PF ranks as potential successors tried to position themselves.

[00:25:03] Yet, Mugabe still clung to power.

[00:25:06] Finally, on November the 15th of 2017, the military intervened and put Mugabe under house arrest.

[00:25:15] The political pressure eventually became too much and Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s only leader since its independence, finally stepped down on the 21st of November 2017, exactly a month before he would celebrate his 30th year as President.

[00:25:32] And it would be almost two years later, in Singapore on the 6th September 2019, aged 95 that he would take his last breath.

[00:25:42] So, what had Zimbabwe’s great anti-colonial liberator turned tyrant left behind?

[00:25:49] A country ravaged by drought and starvation; a culture of political corruption, abductions and murders; a loss of faith in the electoral system; widespread poverty; skyrocketing inflation; and the mass exodus of young Zimbabweans abroad.

[00:26:06] After fighting so long and hard to win independence from the British, Mugabe had spent the majority of his time in office desperately trying to hold onto it - consolidating power, silencing critics, and putting his own interests above those of the country he claimed to love and represent.

[00:26:26] He was a man who would stop at nothing to stay in control, and perhaps ironically it would be his actions after he took office that overshadowed his important role in the birth of Zimbabwe and its independence. 

[00:26:41] So his legacy is, for much of the world, as a dictator and a tyrant, not as he used to be affectionately called in better times, “Uncle Bob”.

[00:26:54] OK then, that is it for today’s episode on Robert Mugabe, the school teacher who became a revolutionary anti-colonial leader and then turned into an authoritarian tyrant.

[00:27:06] I hope it was an interesting one, and whether you knew a lot about Mugabe and his life before today, or this was the first time you’d heard anything about him, well I hope you learned something new.

[00:27:17] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:27:21] Have you ever been to Zimbabwe? 

[00:27:23] Do you know any Zimbabweans who lived through the Mugabe dictatorship?

[00:27:27] Can you think of any other revolutionaries who were corrupted by power and became tyrants, or had similar falls from grace?

[00:27:35] I can certainly think of a few. 

[00:27:37] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:27:40] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:27:49] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:27:54] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]