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Mugabe Profile - 2002-02-27


Zimbabwe's presidential elections are coming up about two weeks from now. The campaigning is heating up and has already been marred by violence. Five candidates are vying for the top job. One of them is incumbent President Robert Mugabe. The ruling Zimbabwe African National Union, ZANU-PF, has endorsed incumbent President Mugabe to carry its flag for Zimbabwe's top job. Robert Gabriel Mugabe was born on February 21, 1924, at Kutama Mission northwest of the capital Harare, and had a Jesuit Christian upbringing. As president he regularly lectures his people on questions of morality. Many Zimbabweans, and others, are now asking why Mr. Mugabe does not just put his feet up and enjoy his remaining years with his young family. But most agree he will only step down when he believes his "revolution" is complete. And Mr. Mugabe says he still has some unfinished business. As he promised during the war of independence, he's made the issue of the redistribution of white-owned land to landless blacks the main thrust of his campaign. "The one message that the party has always preached", he said at a rally recently, "is, the source of livelihood in Zimbabwe is basically our land and that without it our people are doomed to the vagaries of being permanent squatters and operating therefore as hewers of wood and drawers of water in an unjust system". But after almost 22 years in power, President Mugabe is faced with growing opposition sparked by the perception that he is running a ruthless and corrupt government that has enriched itself while the people became poorer. He began a program of free-market reforms in 1991, but the International Monetary Fund suspended aid because, it says, the reforms are not on track. A referendum about two years ago, which saw voters reject a new constitution he wanted, came against the background of Zimbabwe's worst economic crisis in 20 years. Half the workforce is jobless and inflation is running at a record level of around 100 percent. In the early years after independence, Mr. Mugabe was widely credited with improving health and education for the black majority, but social services later declined. These days Mr. Mugabe has many critics in a country where he was once an untouchable figure. They say that despite his socialist rhetoric, his rule has been one of state capitalism, which has not materially benefited ordinary Zimbabweans. Robert Mugabe rose from humble beginnings as a peasant herdboy through stages as a teacher, political prisoner and guerrilla leader. He is an intellectual who initially embraced Marxism as he worked his way through six university degrees. Mr. Mugabe was hailed as a liberator when he won the 1980 elections that ended white-minority and British colonial rules in Zimbabwe. Mr. Mugabe made his name during the 1970s guerrilla war of independence. Many saw him as a revolutionary hero, fighting racist white minority rule for the freedom of his people. Since Zimbabwe's independence in 1980, the world has moved on, but analysts say his outlook remains the same. Mr. Mugabe sees Zanu-PF as a heroic socialist force that should continue fighting the twin evils of capitalism and colonialism. He usually has this message for those he considers opposed to his rule. "Recognize that the people of Zimbabwe, with a history fighting for their freedom and right and sovereignty, the right of self-determination, have the power in themselves to guard their freedom, their sovereignty and their hard-earned gains. And may the message also go abroad, whoever they are, whatever color they may be, that Zimbabwe is Zimbabwe, that we shall never ever brook attempts to be subjected directly or indirectly. And let it be hard in the tall towers of London, and other tall towers elsewhere, that simple as we are, poor as we are rich in the cherishing that we have for our freedom and for being Zimbabweans. We don't intend to be anyone else, least of all to be English. We want to be Zimbabweans, Zimbabweans of various cultures, various ethnic backgrounds, but all of us bound together by that ever lasting bond - our oneness as we fly our flag". After coming to power in 1980, Mr. Mugabe announced a policy of reconciliation with the country's white minority, but now regularly blames them for many of Zimbabwe's problems. One of the undoubted achievements of the former teacher's 22 years in power is the expansion of education. Zimbabwe has the highest literacy rate in Africa at 85% of the population. Political scientist Masipula Sithole says that, ironically, by expanding education, the president was "digging his own grave." He says the young beneficiaries are now able to analyze Zimbabwe's problems for themselves and most blame government corruption and mismanagement for the lack of jobs and rising prices. Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said that Mr. Mugabe is becoming a cartoon figure of the model African dictator. And another of his close associates said that in Zimbabwean culture, kings are only replaced when they die, "and Mugabe is our king." His popular Ghanaian first wife, Sally, died from cancer in 1996. At 78, Mr. Mugabe is now married to his former secretary, 35-year-old Grace. She gave birth to their third child, Chatunga, in 1997.

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