President Robert Mugabe was born on 21 February 1924 in Kutama and has been the head of government in Zimbabwe initially as Prime Minister and since 1980 as first executive President. His father is believed to have been from Malawian descend and the young Mugabe was raised at Kutama Mission, Zvimba District, northwest of Salisbury (now Harare). He was raised as a Roman Catholic and was educated in Jesuit schools.
At the age of 17 he qualified as a teacher, and then went to study for a B.A. in English and history at Fort Hare University in South Africa, where he graduated in 1951. In 1952 he studied at Driefontein, in 1953 in Salisbury, in 1954 in Gwelo (all three locations in Zimbabwe), and between 1955-1957 in Tanzania. During these years he obtained a diploma and a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of South Africa (UNISA) and a further bachelors degree from the University of London. He then taught at a school in Accra, Ghana from 1958 to 1960. Here he married his first wife Sally Hayfron.
As a committed Marxist he returned to Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia) in 1960, and joined Joshua Nkomo and the National Democratic Party (NDP), which later became the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU). He left ZAPU in 1963, and established the opposing Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) with the Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole and lawyer Herbert Chitepo. During those years there was a definite split between the Ndebele and Shona tribes. Rev. Sitole designated Mugabe as ZANU’s Secretary General.
In 1964 Mugabe was imprisoned for ‘subversive speech’, and was set free in 1975. Together with Nkomo, they led the guerrillas of the Zimbabwe Patriotic Front against Ian Smith’s government. After the war Mugabe won a landslide victory in elections in 1980 held under British supervision, and he became Prime Minister (1980-7) and President in 1987.
He was re-elected in 1990 and again in 1995. The split in the nation still existed, and his dispute with Nkomo became worse. Joshua Nkomo retained supremacy of Parliament, and on the other hand Mugabe openly declared a Marxist one-party state as his sole purpose. He set up a ninety-member central committee with a fifteen-member politburo at a congress, which he held in 1984. In 1987 he was reconciled with Nkomo after a six-year period of near civil war, and an Accord of Friendship confirmed a ZANU-ZAPU Patriotic Front.
As a strong advocate of the Non-Aligned Movement as well as the Commonwealth, he actively took a stand in arranging sanctions against South Africa, being openly opposed to the policy of cooperation supported by British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. In 1991 he moderated his stance, doing away with the ideal for a single-party Marxist-Leninist state, and accepted multi-party politics. At this late stage Zimbabwe was already stricken by both drought and the Aids epidemic but he still had popular support, which increased his majority in the 1995 elections.
In strong contrast to the broad-minded constitution, which was introduced by President Nelson Mandela in the neighbouring post-apartheid South Africa, most critics, who point to his arrest of political opponents on treason charges and his ruthless opposition to homosexual rights, have seen his style of leadership as increasingly autocratic.
Zimbabwe is facing increasing international isolation since the beginning of a government-sanctioned land grab, which accompanied the general election of 2000. During recent years Mugabe has labelled the 4,500 white farmers “enemies of the people” and has turned a blind eye while the occupiers (thousands of purported “war veterans”) execute white landowners, rape women, and ignore court orders to disband.
In 1992 his wife Sarah died, and in 1996 he married his former personal secretary, Grace Murufu. During the same year he was re-elected president of Zimbabwe, and once again in March 2002 in a controversial election. The country has been suspended from the Commonwealth since Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, won the widely criticized presidential election in 2002.