KUTAMA, Zimbabwe (Reuters) – In the dusty village where Zimbabwe’s founding father Robert Mugabe grew up, family members speak of the deep bitterness Mugabe felt from his ousting as head of state two years ago until his death in Singapore on Friday.
Mugabe, who died aged 95, was a totemic figure for his role in the struggle against white minority rule, leading Zimbabwe from independence in 1980 until he was toppled by his own army in November 2017.
He was feted in the early years of his rule but his reputation was later severely tarnished by his disastrous handling of one of Africa’s most promising economies and by a series of brutal crackdowns on opponents.
For relatives such as Leo Mugabe, the former president’s nephew, the manner in which he was removed from power by the army and replaced by his former deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa left a sour taste.
“He was bitter. You can imagine, the people that you trusted, the people who were guarding you, the people that were looking after your security are the same people that turn against you,” he told reporters outside Mugabe’s homestead in Kutama village, 85 km (52.8 miles) from the capital Harare along the Robert Mugabe Highway.
“He was very bitter and it dented his legacy, … it was not an easy thing for him,” Mugabe’s nephew said on Saturday. His uncle’s health deteriorated quickly after his ousting and he was hurt that those who removed him never apologised, he added.
Mnangagwa declared Mugabe a national hero within hours of his death and promised days of national mourning. It is still unclear when Mugabe’s body will be flown back from Singapore and where he will be buried.
Mugabe’s neighbours in Kutama said the government should treat him with respect.
“The government should name important monuments after him, his name should be eternally remembered,” said Richard Shumba, 57, speaking across the road from Mugabe’s sprawling homestead.
“A father gets old and when that happens we don’t expect that he be abused,” Shumba said, breaking into a wartime song that venerated Mugabe’s Marxist ideology and quest for a one-party state in the early years of independence.
‘EASE OUR HARDSHIPS’
Mnangagwa promised reforms that would lift economic growth and create jobs but he has made little progress.
The unemployment rate remains stuck around 80%, people struggle with shortages of basic goods such as fuel and triple-digit price rises mean most people are now worse off than when Mugabe stepped down.
Mugabe’s relatives repeated a common refrain in Zimbabwe: that Mnangagwa’s government should do more to control price rises.
“If the government could intervene to ease the hardships so that prices don’t continue going up,” said Moses Zvarevashe, adding that he was a distant relative of the former president and that he was one of the first to seize white-owned farms in the area, one of the Mugabe-era policies that contributed to the country’s precipitous economic decline.
“Even boarding a bus to Harare is now 25 (Zimbabwean) dollars (around $2), so if they can bring public buses here it would help. We used to pay three (Zimbabwean) dollars during Mugabe’s rule,” Zvarevashe said.
On Friday, even Mugabe’s opponents acknowledged that the former statesman had made a huge contribution to Zimbabwe’s development. But they said he was a liberator who lost his way and ended up relying on repressive tactics.
Leo Mugabe disagreed, when questioned by reporters on Saturday. He said people around Mugabe were at fault.
“The architects of violence are still there, it was never him,” he said. “People would do things in his name.”