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Robert Mugabe: The Early Years

An Introduction to the Man & the Myth

“Dictator”, “Madman”  “his Excellency”,Africa’s most eloquent speaker; father of the nation; “liberator” are all adjectives that have been used to describe the man who has ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist for over 30 years. Now that it seems the sun is setting over the reign of Robert Mugabe it is becoming apparent that we must take an in-depth analysis at the multi-faceted man we call Robert Gabriel Mugabe. Much of his early life is not public but this is what we have managed to piece together. In this first article we will discuss his early life before politics.

Robert Mugabe was born 21 February 1924 in the Zvimba district of Zimbabwe of Mashonaland province to father known only as “Gabriel Matibili” and his mother Bona for whom his daughter is named after. The circumstances surrounding his early formidable years are sketchy, more myth than reality. Robert Mugabe even in his younger days was conscious about image. He was often a loner and liked his own company; many say that he was highly introspective though some of his actions do not reflect this characteristic.

It is believed that “Matibili” abandoned the family and Mugabe was raised by a single mother who took him to be educated by the Franciscan brothers at Kutama College where he acquired his Catholic faith. At this time during colonialism, Churches were the only ones that educated natives. He was an exceptional scholar and was one of the first Africans to study English at Fort Hare University in South Africa at a time when there were very few Africans to go to tertiary institutions let alone universities. His education at a time when the majority of the people were illiterate gave him access to positions of leadership and position himself to help the plight of his people. The colonial education system limited the number of Africans who attained higher education through a system of quotas.

Mugabe worked at Chalimbana Teacher Training College, in Zambia from 1955–1958, thereafter he taught at Apowa Secondary School at Takoradi, in the Western region of Ghana after completing his local certification at Achimota School (1958–1960). While in Ghana he met his first wife Sarah Hayfron affectionately known as “Sally” whom he married in 1961. Their only child Nhamodzenyika died after only a few weeks of being in the world from cerebral malaria. Ghana was a newly independent country at the time so when Mugabe met Kwame Nkrumah he was inspired to make changes in his native Zimbabwe and remove the shackles that were binding his people just as Nkrumah had done in Ghana. He was immediately attracted to the Pan Africanist Movement.

In Zimbabwe known then as Southern Rhodesia independence would come 20 years later after much fighting and turmoil. Mugabe also earned a Bachelor of Administration and Bachelor of Education from the University of South Africa and a Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Laws, Master of Science, and Master of Laws, all from the University of London External Programme. The two Law degrees were earned while he was in prison, the Master of Science degree earned during his premiership of Zimbabwe.

Mugabe spent 10 years at Hwahwa prison from 1964 to 1974 which was ample time to plan and re-plan his ascension to unquestioned power. Mugabe is perhaps the most educated leader of any nation holding up to 7 earned degrees and giving him competitive advantage over his opponents and helping him clinch the title of the oldest and Africa’s longest serving dictator/leader.

During the 1980s Mugabe had an aura around him of control and excluded power, most Zimbabweans were in awe of him and in their eyes he could do no wrong. They would often recall memories of the past before independence and conclude that though things were getting tough in Zimbabwe it was nothing compared to life under the oppressive colonial regime. This was not difficult for him as a student of history he knew just what needed to be done to suppress the masses. He was always crafty enough to hold elections so as to try and legitimize stolen elections. Through the 1980s into the 1990s we saw the transformation of a man from wearing safari suits to Armani custom made.

In the next article we will talk about his political career.

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