Robert Mugabe, the man who has ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist for decades, delayed wishing condolences on the occasion of President Nelson Mandela’s passing in South Africa last week. State-run media in Zimbabwe reported that Mugabe had been consumed with “weighty domestic matters,” including a general’s funeral.
Mugabe may also harbor some resentment towards Mandela, who not only overshadowed him as a liberation leader, but also became critical, once he left office, of Mugabe’s refusal to step down. In 2000, after losing a constitutional referendum that would have expanded his powers, Mugabe launched a nationwide campaign to expropriate white-owned farmland, most of which was redistributed to ruling party cronies and now lies fallow. The “land reform” campaign was accompanied by systematic repression of unions and the political opposition.
In the past several years, negotiations and interim power-sharing arrangements have kept Zimbabwe’s political crisis in check, but its economy remains devastated and its future looks bleak as Mugabe clings to power.