Few modern African leaders have been both so passionately supported and endlessly condemned as President Robert Mugabe, an ardent nationalist and black liberation figure who has ruled Zimbabwe since its independence in 1980. Despite the hardships and crippling hyperinflation brought on by Western sanctions as a result of ethnically polarizing land reform policies, Mugabe’s legacy as the country’s national liberator – as the man who laid down the core demands for national independence, and won – provokes an intense national fervor that has secured his victory in every election.
It wasn’t so long ago that every inch of Zimbabwe, once known as “Rhodesia” after the British mining magnet Cecil Rhodes, was owned by a clique of white colonialists who made up 4.3 percent of the population. The masses of black Africans were brutally enslaved and forced to live under punishing exploitation, while Zimbabwe’s land and natural resources were taken violently and divided amongst European settlers. The landslide victory of Mugabe in late July 2013 elections suggests that much of the population views him as the answer to the post-independence “black man's burden” – reaping meager profits from resources exploited by multinationals while continuing to be subservient to non-Africans who monopolize the continent’s most arable land.