There’s no question that the late Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, is known as a controversial figure around the world, to say the very least. But there are several lesser-known facts about the late Robert Mugabe’s background, some of which might surprise you and perhaps explain some of his more eccentric characteristics and antics.
1. Robert Mugabe came from a highly dysfunctional family background.
Robert Mugabe was reported to have had two older brothers when he was a young boy, both of whom died while they were still only children. Around the time of the second child’s death aged 10, his father abandoned the family in 1934. Robert Mugabe’s mother had to start a new family thereafter, and so she went on to bear new children from another husband.
His stepfather was a strict and fanatically religious man and made sure that Robert Mugabe was brought up in line with the Catholic faith, sending him to a Jesuit school, where discipline was of paramount importance, instilling some ‘tough love’ values in Mugabe, which he says have guided him throughout his life.
2. Robert Mugabe’s own definition of ‘family values’ may be somewhat loose.
While his wife Sally Hayfron was battling terminal cancer, Robert Mugabe started having an extramarital affair with his private secretary, Grace Marufu. It wasn’t long until the world found out that Grace was disgracefully pregnant with a girl. Ignoring popular opinion, he married his erstwhile secretary in 1996, a few years after Sally, regarded as the mother of the nation, had died. Considering Mugabe’s long-standing objection to gay and lesbian relationships, which led to his enacting harsh sodomy laws in Zimbabwe 1987 accordingly, it would appear that there’s only a thin line between bigamy and bigotry in his thinking.
Mugabe’s previous marriage with Sally Hayfron had somewhat been rocky on account of the political circumstances of the times: Mugabe was imprisoned for ten years during the marriage due to his political activities in the 1960s and 1970s, causing a palpable strain on the relationship. During this period, their only child, Michael Nhamodzenyika, died from Malaria aged three, which caused the couple further distress and reportedly drove them apart, especially when Mugabe wasn’t granted permission to attend the funeral.
3. Doctor Honoris Causa and rebel without a cause.
Education has always played the most important role in all of Robert Mugabe’s social policies, for which he has earned himself widespread recognition around the world while raising the literacy levels in Zimbabwe to an unparalleled 90 percent – the highest in all of Africa. Originally trained as a school teacher himself, he has also managed to gain a choice a few university degrees in his own time – mainly while completing correspondence courses during his time spent in Salisbury prison (now Harare). Mugabe holds a total of seven degrees, including a Bachelor of Laws and a Masters of Laws from the University of London. His other degrees cover the academic fields of economics, education, and administration.
But on top of all his own merits, he was also awarded several honorary degrees as well as other official honors – many of which have since been revoked on account of the human rights violations in Zimbabwe under his rule. Both the University of Massachusetts and Michigan State University in the United States withdrew Mugabe’s honorary doctorates as well as the University of Edinburgh in the UK. Even the Queen stripped him of his knighthood in 2008 after 14 years, which doesn’t seem to faze Bob Mugabe a lot.
4. Robert Mugabe was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Yes, this is God’s honest truth. Robert Mugabe was shortlisted for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1981 after his election victory as Zimbabwe’s first democratically elected president following the country’s independence. His initial rhetoric based on reconciliation garnered him much positive regard and undivided attention at first. But the tide turned against him in the course of the 1980s, when political infighting and the Matabeleland Massacres, which saw more than 20,000 civilians massacred and scores tortured in internment camps, began to paint the political leader in a much different light. His attitude toward white Zimbabweans must also have undergone a major shift at the time, marked by his land redistribution policies and provocative quotes like “The white man is here as a second citizen. The only man you can trust is a dead white man.”
However, the Nobel Peace Prize has come under frequent scrutiny throughout history, with nominees including such historic figures as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini, Evita Peron and, more recently, Vladimir Putin. So Robert Mugabe’s joining the club should not perhaps come as such a surprise after all.
5. Robert Mugabe does not seem to care much about proper travel documentation.
The year was 2013. The occasion: the inauguration of Pope Francis in Vatican Square. Despite the fact that Mr. Mugabe was pretty much listed on every no-fly list in the Western world and is still not allowed to enter the EU on account of hefty sanctions imposed on the Zimbabwean leader, he still somehow managed to sneak in and out of Italy on his way to the Vatican in order to witness the pontification of Francis.
Citing religious reasons, he managed to subvert the ban and attend the ceremony like a true pilgrim of faith. He may have received his blessing and even his absolution while he was at St Peter’s Basilica, but whether he will truly be forgiven for all his sins is an altogether different question, which we can’t even begin to answer. But when in Rome…
7. Robert Mugabe won a lottery in 2000
In 2000, when Zimbabwe was barely managing to come out of its worst famine and one out of two Zimbabweans was suffering from continuous unemployment, Robert Mugabe’s name was the one that was miraculously drawn by the national lottery in Zimbabwe, winning 100,000 Zimbabwean dollars (the equivalent of about $2,500 today). The entire country was surprised at the time but with the lottery being drawn by the country’s Reserve Bank, and with many of its directors having direct ties to or careers in government that surprise turned out to be short-lived.
However, Mugabe’s lucky win in the 2000 lottery was nothing compared to the lavish spending on his 90th birthday celebrations, which was assumed to have run a total bill of over $40 million, pulled together from party funds, municipal money and ‘donations’. When it comes to money, our man Bob was certainly not short of creative ideas.
8. Robert Mugabe on the silver screen
Don’t get your hopes up – the biopic of the late Zimbabwean President has not been produced yet. It could easily run into a trilogy or a mini-series with all the events and revelations of his life taken into account.
However, the 2005 Hollywood thriller “The Interpreter” is said to be loosely based on an actual assassination plot that had once been planned against Mugabe. The fictional president character featured in the film is supposed to represent Robert Mugabe so succinctly well that the movie had to be banned in Zimbabwe altogether. The producers of the movie have never confirmed or denied the coincidences and similarities between Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe and the persons and events depicted in the film, but audiences can watch it and make up their own minds – as long as they reside outside of Zim.
9. Boulevard of Broken Dreams
Namibia’s capital Windhoek features an homage to the Zimbabwean president with its very own Robert Mugabe Avenue, which seems to run for miles and miles from one end of the city to the other. Quite a central feature in downtown Windhoek, the “Mugavenue” runs past several Namibian landmarks such as the country’s Supreme Court, the Parliament Gardens and numerous foreign embassies, forming one of the main arteries through town.
In an ironic twist of town planning, however, Robert Mugabe Avenue actually happens to intersect with another iconically-named city infrastructure in Windhoek, Fidel Castro Street, saying perhaps a little bit more about the commonalities between the two revolutionary leaders than either one of them might find comfortable.
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