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.

Mugabe became the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe in 1980 and transitioned to the presidency in 1987, a position he held until 2017.

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.

Seven Degrees

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.

Robert Mugabe

Before his political career, Mugabe was a teacher. He taught in various schools in Zimbabwe and also in Ghana, where he was influenced by pan-Africanist ideas. He was known for valuing education. He held seven degrees, including a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education from the University of South Africa and the University of London, respectively.

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.

Mugabe was a passionate cricket fan. He often said he admired the game’s civility and saw it as a symbol of racial harmony.

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.

Controversial statement by Robert Mugabe

Near Assassination

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.

READ MORE: Mugabe’s role in Zimbabwe’s fight for independence

Mugabe escaped several assassination attempts during his lifetime. One of the most notable was in 1980 when a grenade was thrown at him but failed to explode. Image: Robert Mugabe (left) and Zimbabwe’s first president Canaan Banana

Blue Roof

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.

Apart from its luxurious interiors, the mansion boasts of features like two lakes, a swimming pool, and a large outdoor pavilion. The opulence of the property is further accentuated by the lavish decor and state-of-the-art amenities.

The lavishness of the mansion stands in stark contrast to the economic hardships faced by many Zimbabweans, especially during the hyperinflation crisis. While a significant proportion of the population struggled to afford basic necessities, their leader resided in opulence.

The mansion was heavily guarded, and access was highly restricted. This aura of secrecy was representative of Mugabe’s leadership style, often characterized by lack of transparency and authoritarianism.

Zimbabwe’s 100 trillion dollar note was issued in the late 2000s.

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.

Rare Apology

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.

While Robert Mugabe’s leadership decisions and policies are often debated, these lesser-known facts provide a more comprehensive picture of a man who shaped the trajectory of a nation for nearly four decades.


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’s first wife was Sally Hayfron (1931 – 1992), often referred to as Sally Mugabe. Born in Ghana, Sally played a pivotal role in Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle, and she was a beloved figure in the nation. The couple married in 1961, and their union endured through many challenges, including periods when Mugabe was imprisoned.

Sally was active in politics herself. She held the position of Secretary for the Women’s League in the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and, after independence, became the First Lady of Zimbabwe when Mugabe took office as Prime Minister in 1980. Sally was known for her charitable works and was deeply involved in initiatives to better the lives of women and children in Zimbabwe.

Tragically, Sally Mugabe passed away in 1992 from a chronic kidney ailment. Her death was a significant blow to Mugabe, who often referred to her as his most trusted and closest advisor. After Sally’s death, Mugabe later married his former secretary, Grace Marufu, in 1996.

His first wife, Sally Hayfron, died in 1992. She was a Ghanaian national and was considered Mugabe’s confidante and political advisor. His only son with Sally, named Michael Nhamodzenyika Mugabe, died aged just three from cerebral malaria. Image: Robert Mugabe’s first wife, Sally Hayfron, in 1983

Anglophile traits

Robert Mugabe, despite his often adversarial relationship with the British government, especially during and post-Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle, exhibited certain characteristics and preferences that could be considered “Anglophile.” An Anglophile is someone who admires England, its culture, and its people.

He was often seen wearing well-tailored suits and was known for his sartorial elegance, which echoed British styles. The African leader was a fluent English speaker and was known for his eloquence. He often used the language, even in international platforms, to articulate his thoughts and address global issues.

Under Mugabe’s leadership, Zimbabwe maintained many aspects of the British legal and educational systems, including the use of English as the primary language of instruction.

Finally, Mugabe was known to enjoy his tea, a British cultural staple.

Robert Mugabe: Fast Facts

Born: February 21, 1924

Place of birth: Kutama, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe)

Died: September 6, 2019

Aged: 95

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

Possible explanation for Mugabe’s Anglophile traits

Some historians have opined that Mugabe’s Anglophile tendencies were a reaction to the anti-black racism he experienced in Rhodesian society. This point offers a deeper look into the psychological and cultural implications of colonial rule.

Growing up in Rhodesia, a society dominated by a white minority that consistently subjugated and marginalized the black majority, individuals like Mugabe would have been exposed to systemic racism. This racism would often be internalized, leading to feelings of inferiority or “self-loathing.”

In such a context, embracing “Englishness” or British cultural traits could be seen as an attempt to gain a sense of dignity, respectability, and self-worth within a society that regarded British or English standards as superior.

By adopting and excelling in the English language, appreciating English sports like cricket, and immersing himself in British academia, Mugabe might have been trying to counteract the derogatory stereotypes and prejudices against black Africans. In essence, he might have seen “Englishness” as a way to elevate himself in a society that otherwise looked down on his racial identity.

This perspective offers a nuanced understanding of Mugabe’s character. It suggests that his embrace of certain British cultural elements was not simply about admiration but might have been a complex coping mechanism in response to the racial prejudices of his time.

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