In the 1980 general election, Mugabe led ZANU-PF to victory, becoming Prime Minister with the country now renamed Zimbabwe. On December 31, 1987, he became Zimbabwe’s first executive president, effectively establishing one-party rule. In 1990 he was re-elected president in a multiparty election that was marked by intimidation and violence.
On This Day: 1924, Robert Gabriel Mugabe was born. He was a Zimbabwean revolutionary and politician who served as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe from 1980 to 1987 and then as President from 1987 to 2017.
Mugabe was born to a poor Shona family in Kutama, Southern Rhodesia. Educated at Kutama College and the University of Fort Hare, he worked as a schoolteacher in Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia, and Ghana. Angered by white minority rule of his homeland, Mugabe joined African nationalists calling for an independent state controlled by the black majority.
He returned to Rhodesia in 1960, and in 1963 he helped the Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole to form the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). In 1964 he was arrested for making anti-government comments and spent the next 10 years in prison. While still in prison he led a coup in 1974 deposing Sithole as ZANU’s leader. On release, he fled to Mozambique, established his leadership of ZANU, and oversaw its role in the Rhodesian Bush War, fighting Ian Smith’s predominately white government. He reluctantly participated in peace talks in the United Kingdom that resulted in putting an end to the war.
As Mugabe’s popularity declined over the years, his regime became increasingly brutal and repressive. Media freedom was curtailed, the opposition was harassed and beaten. The economy continued to decline, and in 2007 the country had the highest rate of inflation in the world, as well as one of the highest rates of unemployment.