Robert Mugabe has left behind his legacy as the liberator of his people from brutal Apartheid Rhodesia

Robert Mugabe

Contributed from New South Wales

Robert Mugabe the former prime minister of Zimbabwe died in a Singapore hospital last Friday. He was 95 and had been suffering from an illness for a long time.

Although Mugabe has been much maligned in the West, his legacy in leading his people from the old Rhodesian apartheid regime will live on. Rhodesia became Zimbabwe after the victory of the liberation struggle in 1980.

Video by SABC Digital News

The legacy of British colonialism, which left the country a backwards economy, to be used as a provider of diamonds and then tobacco was ongoing. The old regime had prevented the rise of other industries, holding back economic development and kepingt most of the population is dire poverty.

Allied to the British interests controlling what there was of an urban community, were the wealthier elements of the European descendant white upper crust and middle class. In the countryside, a small group of landholders owned nearly all the land.

The mostly African majority had lost their traditional means of sourcing food and were usually not permitted to grow food on land under the control of the big landowners, even if, as much of this land was, it was not being farmed.

Many were forced to work on the plantations as virtual slaves.  

Photo from AP: Mugabe gestures towards the media at a Geneva conference convened to address the liberation war in Rhodesia.

A brutal Apartheid system, worse than the one existing in South Africa, was used to control the population and provide a privileged existence for the white minority.

This is the backdrop behind a long war that involved an armed struggle. Mugabe led this. He had also spent 10 years in prison for his political activities.

Britain had all along had a hand in maintaining this Apartheid system, and when the liberation struggle won its victory, it was the British who sat at the table to negotiate. Out of this came the Lancaster House Agreement of 1979. This led to the declaration of a ceasefire.

Photo by Patrick Durand/Sygma via Getty Images: Mugabe with American civil rights leader Jesse Jackson in 1986

Britain imposed conditions. British interests were not to be harmed, that 20 percent of the seats in the new parliament be reserved for whites, land reform be held back for 10 years, and Zimbabwe would become a British colony again for the this period.

Under pressure form the British government, which had now been joined by the United States, and the need to heal the historical division between the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU) which he led, and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) led by Joshua Nkomo, the agrrement was reluctantly signed.

Mugabe took this step on behalf of Zimbabwe because the conditions imposed had a sunset.

Most important need was land reform. This would give the land back to the majority, as the foundation of a new agriculture based on feeding the population. The British and American governments promised that they would compensate the big landowners who lost properties due to the land reform.

The agreement was not honoured by the British and Americans

The space gained was used to politically undermine the new nation. As head of state and symbol of the new age, Robert Mugabe’s profile was turned from a liberation hero into a target for what later became known as regime change.

He was labelled a dictator and tyrant, and this was accompanied with economic sabotage with crippling trade sanctions and the use of control over the financial system to drive the new nation into hyper inflation.

This was accompanied by economic sabotage and use control over finance to cause hyperinflation. An opposition was nurtured and directly funded, with an eye to maintaining dependency on the British connection.

Zimbabweans react to death of ex-president Mugabe

Video from AFP news agency

Land reform became the central battleground. Tired of waiting, the land reform begun after twenty years, and without compensation. The landholders were still allowed to keep one of their farms. They just had to hand over the other ones.

This was called a crime. A human rights violation. Mugabe was accused of wrecking the tobacco exporting industry. That the objective was to grow food and not tobacco was hidden from the world. Mistreated white landowners became the issue.

Mugabe was attacked as brutal and undemocratic. The foreign funded and supported opposition was painted as a force for freedom.

Whether or not Mugabe did some wrong things or not during his time as president is a matter for Zimbabwe to determine.

It remains that Robert Mugabe’s legacy as the liberator of his people and leader who stood up against the old colonial power will live on. Even his enemies have had to conceded this.

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