Notable Deaths ›

Robert Mugabe (1924–2019), former president of Zimbabwe

Getty Images / Michael Nagle

His controversial legacy swung from liberating Zimbabwe from colonial rule to ruling it himself with an iron fist

Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s former president, has died September 6, 2019 at the age of 95, according to his successor, President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

His legacy was a controversial one, in a career that swung from liberating Zimbabwe from colonial rule to ruling the country himself with an iron fist.

Mugabe was a 1960s activist against British rule of the country that was then known as Southern Rhodesia. While imprisoned for his revolutionary activities, he rose to rule the Zimbabwe African National Union. He became a political leader of the guerrilla fighters who waged war against the ruling class in the 1970s, winning independence in 1980.

When Zimbabwe had its first democratic election in 1980, Mugabe was a natural choice for prime minister, and he won. And in 1987, he was elected Zimbabwe’s first president. It was a title he intended to keep for life, whether his countrymen liked it or not. He said in 2003, “I am not retiring. I will never, never go into exile.”

Mugabe’s style of governing became more and more dictatorial, characterized by corruption, electoral fraud, and human rights abuses. After leading Zimbabwe for almost 40 years, he was ousted in 2017, replaced by his former vice president. He insisted he would run for president again in 2018—and win—but he was placed under house arrest and forced to step down.

What other newsmakers died this week? See more