13 Lesser-known facts about Robert Mugabe
While many are familiar with Robert Mugabe’s political career and his role in Zimbabwe’s liberation, there are lesser-known facets of his life and personality.
Here are some lesser-known facts about Mugabe:
Robert Mugabe, before stepping onto the political stage, worked as an educator. He took up teaching positions at several schools within Zimbabwe (then called Southern Rhodesia) and later in Ghana.
It was during his time in Ghana that Mugabe was exposed to and inspired by pan-Africanist ideologies, especially those by the likes of Ghana’s first president Kwame Nkrumah. Pan-Africanism emphasizes the shared history and values of African nations and advocates for the unity and empowerment of African countries against post-colonial challenges.
This experience in Ghana greatly shaped Mugabe’s political outlook and played a significant role in his subsequent efforts to champion African nationalism and independence in Zimbabwe.
Mugabe placed a high premium on education, a reflection of his own personal academic achievements. He accumulated an impressive seven degrees during his lifetime.
Among these, he earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of South Africa and a Bachelor of Education from the University of London.
This dedication to learning set him apart as one of the most educated world leaders. His commitment to education was not just personal; it influenced his policies and focus on raising the education standards in Zimbabwe.
Under his leadership, Zimbabwe achieved one of the highest literacy rates in Africa. This emphasis on education is both a testament to Mugabe’s personal values and a cornerstone of his legacy in Zimbabwe’s educational system.
Love for Cricket
Robert Mugabe had an affinity for cricket, a sport with deep roots in English culture and history. His fondness for the game might seem surprising to some, given his tumultuous relationship with Britain, but it underscores the complexities of his persona.
The Zimbabwean leader once stated that “cricket civilizes people and creates good gentlemen.” By this Mugabe was highlighting the values, discipline, and sportsmanship traditionally associated with the game.
The statement also underscores his belief in the sport’s ability to instill virtues and character in its players and enthusiasts. It is a testament to the influence of British culture in former colonies and the enduring appeal of cricket as more than just a sport, but also a vehicle for personal development and cultural exchange.
Aggressive Land Reforms
Under Mugabe’s leadership in the early 2000s, there were aggressive land reforms that saw white-owned commercial farms being redistributed to black Zimbabweans. These reforms led to significant economic challenges and controversies.
The challenges were especially in the late 2000s, when Zimbabwe faced high unemployment and hyperinflation. In 2009, the latter resulted in the Central Bank of Zimbabwe issuance of a one hundred trillion Zimbabwean dollar note, which was still not enough to buy a loaf of bread.
In recent times, the $100 trillion notes have seen their value shoot up. They are seen as collectors, basically.
During his long tenure as the leader of Zimbabwe was the target of multiple assassination attempts, a reflection of the deep political divisions and tensions within the country. The fact that he survived these attempts further solidified his image as a tenacious and formidable figure in Zimbabwean politics.
One of the most significant assassination attempts on Mugabe’s life occurred in 1980. During the ceremony, a grenade was thrown towards Mugabe. It was a close call, but fortunately for Mugabe, the grenade failed to detonate, sparing his life and the lives of many others present.
The exact motivations and identities of the perpetrators behind this attempt remain a matter of debate and speculation. Given the political climate at the time, there were several entities, both internal and external to Zimbabwe, who might have had interests in destabilizing the newly independent nation or opposing Mugabe’s leadership.
Mugabe lived in a lavish 25-bedroom mansion known as the “Blue Roof” in Borrowdale, Harare. The mansion became emblematic of his controversial leadership, especially amidst Zimbabwe’s economic turmoil.
The “Blue Roof” is an expansive property, encompassing over 44 acres of landscaped grounds. The mansion itself, with its 25 bedrooms and multiple reception areas, is constructed in a Chinese architectural style, a reflection of Mugabe’s close ties with China.
No Birthday Celebrations
He was known for his extravagant birthday celebrations, but in 2017, for his 93rd birthday, he surprisingly chose a low-key celebration without his usual lavish party.
Admiration for Asia
Mugabe often expressed admiration for Asian countries, particularly Malaysia, China and Singapore, for their economic growth. He hoped to replicate their models in Zimbabwe, particularly after facing Western sanctions.
The architectural style of his mansion, the Blue Roof, is telling of the close ties that Mugabe nurtured with China, especially in his later years. China became a significant economic and political ally for Zimbabwe, particularly as relations with Western nations strained.
In 2015, Mugabe made international headlines when he read the wrong speech in the Zimbabwean parliament. He later publicly apologized for the mistake.
WHO Goodwill Ambassador
In October 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) made a controversial decision by naming Robert Mugabe, the then-leader of Zimbabwe, as a goodwill ambassador.
This appointment was met with widespread criticism, considering Zimbabwe’s health system was in a deteriorated state under his leadership.
Opposition groups within Zimbabwe, as well as several international governments, expressed their disapproval.
Recognizing the controversy, WHO quickly reversed its decision and withdrew Mugabe’s ambassadorial role just a day after the announcement.
In the wake of this decision, Zimbabwe’s foreign minister at the time, Walter Mzembi, suggested that the United Nations system needed reforms, implying that the process and criteria for such appointments should be reassessed to prevent similar controversies in the future.
Mugabe was a devout Roman Catholic and regularly attended Mass, even during his later years in power.
His first wife was a Ghanaian
Robert Mugabe: Fast Facts
Born: February 21, 1924
Place of birth: Kutama, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe)
Died: September 6, 2019
Place of death: Gleneagles Hospital, Singapore
Cause of death: Cancer
Buried at: Kutama, Zimbabwe
Spouses: Sally Hayfron (1961 – 1992); Grace Marufu (married in 1996)
Children: Michael Nhamodzenyika (1963 – 1966), Bona (born in 1988), Robert Peter Jr. (born in the early 1990s)
Education: University of Fort Hare, University of South Africa
Religion: Roman Catholic
Prime Minister of Zimbabwe: April 18, 1980 – December 31, 1987
President of Zimbabwe: December 31, 1987 – November 21, 2017
Predecessor: Canaan Banana
Successor: Emmerson Mnangagwa
Best known for: Fighting for Zimbabwe’s independence