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Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe - a Profile

  • Scott Bobb

Zimbabwe is anxiously waiting for official confirmation of reports by pro-democracy groups that President Robert Mugabe has come in second to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in Saturday's presidential election and could face a run-off election. VOA's Scott Bobb in Johannesburg has this profile of Mr. Mugabe, the veteran hero of Zimbabwe's independence struggle, who is now regarded by many as an authoritarian leader whose policies have led to the country's economic collapse.

After decades of struggle for independence and 28 years as the undisputed ruler of Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe seemed intent on governing forever.

During the presidential campaign he dismissed his opponents as traitors and foreign puppets and said they would never win the vote.

"It will never happen. Never, never happen," he said.

But when results showed that Mr. Mugabe's ZANU PF party had been defeated for the first time in parliamentary elections and that he could face a similar fate in the presidential vote, the embattled former guerrilla leader responded with the same obstinacy that has characterized his leadership.

Following the Lancaster House agreements that gave independence to Zimbabwe in 1980, Mr. Mugabe was elected prime minister and then president. He initially formed a coalition government with fellow-liberation leader Joshua Nkomo but this soon collapsed and led to a crackdown in which an estimated 20,000 mostly Nkomo supporters were killed.

Mr. Mugabe and the ZANU-PF ruled virtually without opposition until the creation of the Movement for Democratic Change party of Morgan Tsvangirai in 1999. Tsvangirai and the MDC lost the subsequent elections (2000, 2002 and 2005) which were marred by violence and irregularities.

Tsvangirai and several dozen party leaders were hospitalized last March after being beaten and detained while trying to hold a protest march that the government had banned.

When opposition leaders threatened to demonstrate again Mr. Mugabe responded in characteristic manner.

"They will get arrested (again) and get bashed by the police," he said.

Robert Gabriel Mugabe was born in 1924 in Zvimba district, 65 kilometers west of Harare in what was then Southern Rhodesia. The son of a carpenter he attended Catholic mission schools and at the age of 17 years became a teacher. He won a scholarship to South Africa's Fort Hare University and in 1951 received the first of his six university degrees.

Returning home in 1960 he joined the Zimbabwe African People's Union, ZAPU, but left three years later to form the Zimbabwe African National Union, ZANU.

He was imprisoned without trial for 10ok years under the white-led regime of Ian Smith. After his release in 1974 he fled to neighboring Mozambique from where he led ZANU's guerrilla war for independence.

Mr. Mugabe's socialistic beliefs led to nationalist policies which improved social services and literacy rates but which are also blamed in part for the 30 percent decline of the Zimbabwean economy in the past eight years.

A major factor was the redistribution of four thousand white-owned commercial farms to party faithful and liberation war veterans which led to a decline in agricultural production. At the same time, a decline in foreign investment and heavy deficit spending by the government caused hyper-inflation and shortages of food, fuel and other basic commodities.

Mr. Mugabe blames Zimbabwe's economic problems on western sanctions although western governments say the sanctions only target senior officials and their immediate families.

Although he is respected across the continent for his role in the creation of Zimbabwe, experts say the country will take a long time to recover from the effects of his policies in the latter years of his regime.

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