Ex-Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe dies at 95 in Singapore

Adam Molai, Mugabe's nephew-in-law, speaks to media outside Singapore Casket on Sept 6, 2019. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
A woman embraces Adam Molai, Mugabe's nephew-in-law, at Singapore Casket on Sept 6, 2019. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
A man in a dark suit with a Zimbabwe flag pinned to his lapel, together with several other people, was seen next to a Singapore Casket van near the Gleneagles Hospital mortuary. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Former Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe was the African nation's first post-independence president, and ruled until he was ousted in 2017. PHOTO: AFP
Robert Mugabe waiting to address the 66th United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York on Sept 22, 2011. PHOTO: REUTERS
Robert Mugabe (right) meeting his Palestinian counterpart Yasser Arafat at the World Solar Summit in Zimbabwe, on Sept 15, 1996. PHOTO: REUTERS
Robert Mugabe meeting Princess Diana during her visit to Harare, Zimbabwe, on June 10, 1993. PHOTO: REUTERS
Robert Mugabe speaking to then US First Lady Hillary Clinton during her visit to Harare, Zimbabwe, on March 21, 1997. PHOTO: REUTERS

HARARE/JOHANNESBURG/SINGAPORE (AFP, REUTERS) - Former long-time Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe has died in Singapore at the age of 95.

His death was announced by current President Emmerson Mnangagwa on his official Twitter account on Friday (Sept 6).

"It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing on of Zimbabwe's founding father and former President, (Comrade) Robert Mugabe," Mr Mnangagwa wrote.

"(Comrade) Mugabe was an icon of liberation, a pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people. His contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten."

A Zimbabwean diplomat confirmed that Mr Mugabe died in Singapore, AFP reported.

"He died in Singapore around 10.40 (am) Singapore time," said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, adding that Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa was returning home from the World Economic Forum in Cape Town.

This was also confirmed by Singapore's foreign affairs ministry.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) expresses its condolences on the passing of the former President of the Republic of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe this morning at Gleneagles Hospital in Singapore," the ministry said

"The ministry is working with the Embassy of Zimbabwe in Singapore on the arrangements for the late Mr Mugabe's body to be flown back to Zimbabwe."

Mr Adam Molai, who is married to Mr Mugabe's niece Sandra Mugabe, said that his uncle-in-law died surrounded by family.

"He died very peacefully," Mr Molai told reporters outside the Singapore Casket building in Lavender on Friday night. Mr Mugabe's body will remain at Singapore Casket until it is flown back to Zimbabwe.

Asked if Mr Mugabe died from cancer or because of his age, Mr Molai said: "Age."

On Mr Mugabe's last words, Mr Molai said that "not many people speak as they're dying, it's not what happens". "But yes, during the course of the week, yes, we were talking to him," he said.

Mr Molai added that there are no plans to move Mr Mugabe's body until next week. Any further updates would come from the Zimbabwean government, such as whether there would be a state funeral for Mr Mugabe, he said.

Mr Mugabe had been battling ill health, and after his humiliating fall from office, his stamina seeped away rapidly. He was hospitalised in Singapore for months for an undisclosed ailment, Mr Mnangagwa had confirmed earlier this year.

No further details were immediately available about the circumstances of his death.

When The Straits Times visited Gleneagles Hospital, where Mr Mugabe had been known to visit for medical treatment, a van belonging to Singapore Casket was spotted near the mortuary accompanied by several people, including a man in a dark suit with a Zimbabwe flag pinned to his lapel.

"Respect our privacy at this time," one of the men said as hospital security staff kept journalists away.

In a statement, a spokesman for Parkway Pantai, which owns Gleneagles Hospital, expressed condolences to Mr Mugabe and his family.

"We are unable to share further, out of respect for the privacy of Mr Mugabe and his family," the spokesman said, directing media to the Zimbabwean Embassy.

The embassy told ST that it would not be fielding any queries on Friday.

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Asked if Mr Mugabe had been in the hospital since April, his nephew-in-law Mr Molai told reporters on Friday night that he was in hospital only this week.

As for what treatment Mr Mugabe was receiving in Singapore, Mr Molai said: "You know, as everybody ages, they naturally have afflictions that come with age. Normal afflictions of age. So it wasn't anything abnormal."

At the Singapore Casket building, journalists could be seen milling outside. Shortly after 3.30pm, three men left the building and drove off in a Mercedes Benz with diplomatic plates.

Mr Mugabe, who was the African nation's first post-independence president, ruled for nearly four decades until he was ousted in 2017.

Many paid tribute to the former guerrilla leader turned president.

Former Zimbabwe information minister Jonathan Moyo, a close ally of Mugabe, tweeted that "a dark cloud has enveloped Zimbabwe and beyond".

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta said Mugabe served his country with commitment and dedication.

"Words cannot convey the magnitude of the loss as former President Mugabe was an elder statesman, a freedom fighter and a Pan-Africanist who played a major role in shaping the interests of the African continent."

China hailed him as outstanding national liberation movement leader and politician.

"Throughout his life, he firmly defended the sovereignty of his country, opposed foreign interference, and actively promoted China-Zimbabwe and China-Africa friendship and cooperation," foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.

Russian president Vladimir Putin hailed Mr Mugabe's "great personal contribution" to Zimbabwe's independence, calling him a proponent of "friendly relations" with Russia.

Former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan wrote on Twitter: "Africa has lost a great nationalist. Robert Mugabe will continue to live in the hearts and minds of all lovers of freedom as the symbol of Zimbabwe's emancipation."

Mr Mwai Kibaki, Kenyan president from 2002 to 2013, said Mr Mugabe's death "marks the end of an era in Africa. It closes the chapter of Africa's founding presidents whose commitment to the emancipation of the people of Africa remains enduringly remarkable".

In Namibia, which cast off South African rule in 1990, a decade after Zimbabwe won independence from Britain, President Hage Geingob hailed Mr Mugabe as a warrior.

"Comrade Robert Mugabe (was) an outstanding revolutionary, a tenacious freedom fighter and dedicated Pan Africanist... President Mugabe made enormous sacrifices in the struggle against injustice and the liberation of Southern Africa from racist subjugation and colonial oppression."

The European Union said in a statement that it "will continue to stand by Zimbabwe and its people, to support reconciliation and to help ensure a united, prosperous, secure democratic future for all Zimbabweans".

Zimbabwe was one of the few countries that supported Moscow over its annexation of Crimea, voting against a United Nations resolution affirming the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

The Mugabe years are widely remembered for his crushing of political dissent, and policies that ruined the economy.

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The former political prisoner turned guerrilla leader swept to power in the 1980 elections after a growing insurgency and economic sanctions forced the Rhodesian government to the negotiating table.

In office, he initially won international plaudits for his declared policy of racial reconciliation and for extending improved education and health services to the black majority.

But that faded as rapidly as he cracked down on opponents, including a campaign known as Gukurahundi that killed an estimated 20,000 dissidents.

The violent seizure of white-owned farms turned Mr Mugabe into an international pariah - though his status as a liberation hero still resonates strongly in most of Africa.

Aimed largely at placating angry war veterans who threatened to destabilise his rule, the land reform policy wrecked the crucial agricultural sector, caused foreign investors to flee and helped plunge the country into economic misery.

All along, the Mugabe regime was widely accused of human rights violations and of rigging elections.

The topic of his succession was virtually taboo during Mr Mugabe's decades-long rule, and a vicious struggle to take over after his death became clear among the ruling elite as he reached his 90s and became visibly frail.

But as his health weakened, the military finally intervened to ensure that his second wife Grace's presidential ambitions were ended in favour of their own preferred candidate, Mr Mnangagwa, Mr Mugabe's vice-president.

Mr Mnangagwa took over in November 2017, and he went on to be elected in disputed elections in July last year.

"Mr Mugabe leaves a mixed legacy," Zimbabwean academic and independent analyst Austin Chakaodza told AFP on Friday.

"He was a liberator of this country who became its destroyer in his later years due to his policies.

"He put in place policies that made Zimbabwe a laughing stock of the world. If he had left in his heyday he would have died a great statesman."

Dr Ibbo Mandaza, the head of a political think tank Southern African Political and Economic Series, said: "We will remember him as a founding father along with (Tanzania's Julius) Nyerere, (South Africa's Nelson) Mandela and Joshua Nkomo.

"Unlike Nyerere and Mandela he stayed on. He would have had a much favourable obituary if he had left earlier," he told AFP.

Additional reporting by Choo Yun Ting and Tiffany Fumiko Tay

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