Understanding Zimbabwe’s silence after Robert Mugabe’s passing

Former Prime Minister, President and dictator of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe (Photo: The South African)

As Zimbabweans awoke to the news that former dictator Robert Mugabe, 95, passed away on Friday, September 6, many were left unsure how to feel.

The country teeters on the edge of collapse after 37 years of corruption and mismanagement, as one of the toughest places to live.

People gather at an anti-Mugabe rally held by the War Veterans as part of mass action protests that have brought Harare to a standstill, in November 2017. The Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) took control of the country from Robert Mugabe, who was placed under house arrest, signalling the end of his 37-year dictatorship. (Photo: Kim Ludbrook, European Pressphoto Agency)

More than half of the population depends on food aid, remittances and Zimbabwe has the highest orphan rate in the world.

Making matters worse, unhappiness, youth unemployment is high, life expectancy is low, and the Zimbabwean dollar is virtually worthless.

This ZD$100,000,000,000,000 note is worth just US .40¢ (Photo: WorldAtlas.com)

It’s a stark contrast to the Zimbabwe before Mugabe’s rule in 1980 – which boasted a thriving economy, rich farmlands, massive mineral deposits as well as the fastest-growing black middle class in all of Africa…

As the world reflects on his conflicting legacy as a liberator and dictator, BUZZ presents some interesting facts on the history of Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe:

Father of independent Zimbabwe

  • After taking oath in April 1980, Mugabe gave a speech at Salisbury’s Rufaro Stadium announcing that Rhodesia would be renamed “Zimbabwe”, declaring the new country as a model for racial reconciliation in Africa.
Robert Mugabe in 1982 (Photo: Wikipedia)
  • This plan quickly fell through the cracks as the Mugabe-led Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), bought a South African company, now owning most of Zimbabwe’s newspapers. Mugabe fired white editors of these newspapers, replacing them with government appointees, and turning these media outlets into a source of the ZANU-PF’s propaganda machinery.
The newly elected Parliament of Zimbabwe in 1980 poses for its official photo (Photo: Wikipedia)

Education, health improves…

  • The picture in Zimbabwe wasn’t entirely woeful: between 1980 and 2000, the adult literacy rate rose from 62 percent to 82 percent, becoming one of the best records in Africa. The number of secondary schools also ballooned from 177 to 1,548.
Second Street in Salisbury, now known as Harare in the 1990s (Photo: Flickr)
  • Under Mugabe’s leadership, levels of child immunisation grew from 25 percent of the population to 92 percent during the period 1980-2000.

The fall of Zimbabwe’s promise

  • The country took a turn for the worse, howe when Zimbabwe’s parliament, loyal to Mugabe, declared him to be executive President in December 1987. The new position, that combined the roles of head of state, head of government, and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, now gave Mugabe the power to dissolve parliament, declare martial law, and run for an unlimited number of terms.
  • Over the course of the 1990s, Zimbabwe’s economy steadily deteriorated. Living standards, which were already terrible for majority of the population, worsened between 1980 and 2000. Life expectancy was reduced, average wages dropped further, and unemployment had tripled. By 1998, unemployment was almost 50 percent.

The beginning of the end?

  • Leading up to the tumultuous general elections in June, government-backed land invasions began as armed gangs attacked and occupied white-owned farms. The February 2000 invasions were justified as retribution for the white community’s alleged involvement in securing the success of the ‘no’ vote in a recent referendum.
A white Zimbabwean farmer looks at what’s left of his land in the district of Chiredzi (Photo: CAJNewsAfrica.com)
  • Mugabe issued a presidential decree permitting the expropriation of virtually all white-owned farms in Zimbabwe without compensation – effectively decimating agricultural development. Maize production dropped by from two million tonnes in 2000 to less than 450,000 tonnes in 2008.

An economy barely holding on, breaks

  • By this time, Zimbabwe’s fragile economic outlook cracked like an egg. Cut nearly in half, the country’s GDP fell to US$3.4 billion; inflation precipitated an economic crisis. By 2007, Zimbabwe had the highest inflation rate in the world, at 7600 percent. Just a year later, the inflation exceeded 100,000% and a loaf of bread cost a third of the average daily wage.
Inflation, still a contentious issue within Zimbabwe, spurred mass protests earlier in August this year (Photo: Tendai Marima, NPR)
  • By 2005, nearly 80 percent of what remained of Zimbabwe’s population were unhappy and unemployed; only 20 percent of children were in schooling.
  • A cholera outbreak in late 2008, spurred by the breakdown of water supplies and sewage systems, saw over 98,000 cases in Zimbabwe between August 2008 and mid-July 2009.
A doctor treating a young child during the 2008 cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe (Photo: DoctorsWithoutBoreders.com)
  • In 2007, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the average life expectancy in Zimbabwe to be 34 for women and 36 for men, a drastic fall from 63 and 54 respectively in 1997.