Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Mugabe, Robert Gabriel (1924–)

Black South African nationalist, prime minister (1980–1987), and executive president of Zimbabwe (1987–). Born on 21 February 1924 at Kutama Mission in the Zvimba District of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Robert Mugabe earned a BA degree from Fort Hare University in South Africa in 1951. He then pursued additional studies in education and worked as a teacher in Ghana during 1958–1960.

Mugabe returned to Southern Rhodesia in 1960 a Marxist and joined Joshua Nkomo's National Democratic Party (NDP). In December 1961 the NDP was banned, and Mugabe became secretary-general of its successor, the Zimbabwean African People's Union (ZAPU), located in Tanzania. Deepening personal and ideological differences with ZAPU led Mugabe to leave the party in 1963. He immediately joined, as secretary-general, the newly formed Zimbabwean African National Union (ZANU). He returned to Rhodesia in 1964 and was imprisoned until 1974, when he was released by Ian Smith's white minority government.

Mozambique's independence in 1975 provided ZANU with a secure base in a neighboring country, and Mugabe quickly developed a close relationship with Mozambican President Samora Machel. From 1976 Mugabe was recognized as the head of the Zimbabwean African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) and emerged as a leading contender for the top leadership position within an ever-fragmenting nationalist movement. Supported by the People's Republic of China (PRC), ZANU became the leading guerrilla force in Zimbabwe. The escalating war gave rise to sustained regional and international attempts to secure a negotiated settlement between the Smith regime and the two main nationalist groups, ZANU and the Zambia-based ZAPU.

During the September 1979 Lancaster House talks, which led to the end of white rule in Rhodesia, Mugabe was persuaded to accept the terms of a political settlement. Unable to resolve long-standing differences with Nkomo, ZANU ran as an independent party (ZANU-PF) in the February 1980 elections. On 18 April 1980, Zimbabwe declared its independence, with Mugabe as prime minister.

In late 1987, the position of prime minister was substituted for that of executive president, which combined the posts of head of state and head of government. Mugabe thus gained more power. His attempts to introduce land reform brought disaster. Farm productivity plummeted, resulting in widespread food shortages. His regime has also grown more repressive and corrupt, drawing the ire of Zimbabweans and regional leaders alike.

Peter Vale


Further Reading
Meredith, Martin. Our Votes, Our Guns: Robert Mugabe and the Tragedy of Zimbabwe. New York: PublicAffairs, 2003.; Smith, David. Mugabe. London: Sphere, 1981.
 

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