Bookish and Scarred
Robert Gabriel Mugabe was born on Feb. 21, 1924, in Kutama, northwest of Harare, in an area set aside by the white authorities for black peasants. Educated by Catholic missionaries, he was a studious, earnest child who later recalled being happy with solitude as he tended cattle, so long as he had a book under his arm.
His father abandoned the family when Robert was 10, leaving him to deal with a mercurial and emotionally scarred mother, according to “Dinner With Mugabe” (2008), a biography by Heidi Holland.
“The color bar sliced through every domain of society,” he said of his childhood.
His political thought, like Nelson Mandela’s, took shape in South Africa at Fort Hare Academy, which he attended on a scholarship from 1950 to 1952, earning the first of a string of degrees in education, law, administration and economics.
“The impact of India’s independence, and the example of Gandhi and Nehru, had a deep effect,” Mr. Mugabe said in an interview with The New York Times before Zimbabwe’s independence. “Apartheid was beginning to take shape. Marxism-Leninism was in the air.”
“From then on I wanted to be a politician,” he said.
Mr. Mugabe taught in Northern Rhodesia, as Zambia was then called, and Ghana, where he met Ms. Hayfron, who would be his first wife. In Ghana, he experienced African independence for the first time and was impressed by the African socialism of that country’s first leader, Kwame Nkrumah.
Mr. Mugabe returned to Southern Rhodesia — the legal name of his country then, when it was still a self-governing British colony — in 1960. He was soon invited to address a rally organized by the National Democratic Party, led by his future ally, rival, mentor and enemy, Joshua Nkomo. Four months later he became the party’s publicity secretary, and his career in the fractious world of nationalist politics had begun.
In 1963, Mr. Mugabe sided with the Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole in a revolt by the more militant Shona-speaking clans, who made up a majority, against Mr. Nkomo, leader of the Ndebeles, who accounted for only 18 percent of the population. They formed a breakaway party, the Zimbabwe African National Union, or ZANU.
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