Biography of Robert Mugabe

Robert Mugabe. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

Robert Mugabe has been the president of Zimbabwe since 1987. He attained his job after leading bloody guerrilla warfare against the white colonial rulers of what was then Rhodesia.


Feb. 21, 1924, near Kutama, northeast of Salisbury (now Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe), in what was then Rhodesia. Mugabe quipped in 2005 that he would remain president until he was "a century old."

Personal life

Mugabe was married to Ghanian national Sally Hayfron, a teacher and political activist, in 1961. They had one son, Nhamodzenyika, who died during childhood. She died of kidney failure in 1992. In 1996, Mugabe married his onetime secretary, Grace Marufu, who is more than four decades younger than Mugabe, and with whom he had two children while his wife Sally's health was failing. Mugabe and Grace have three children: Bona, Robert Peter Jr., and Bellarmine Chatunga.

Political affiliation

Mugabe leads the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front, a socialist party founded in 1987. Mugabe and his party are also heavily nationalist with left-wing ideology, favoring land seizures from white Zimbabweans while claiming that doing so counters the nation's imperialist past.


Mugabe holds seven degrees from South Africa's Fort Hare University. In 1963 he was secretary general of the Maoist Zimbabwe African National Union. In 1964, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for "subversive speech" against the Rhodesian government. Once released, he fled to Mozambique to launch a guerrilla war for independence. He returned to Rhodesia 1979 and became prime minister in 1980; the next month, the newly independent country was renamed Zimbabwe. Mugabe assumed the presidency in 1987, with the prime minister role being abolished. Under his rule, annual inflation has soared to 100,000%.


Mugabe has faced probably the strongest, most organized opposition in the Movement for Democratic Change. He accuses the MDC of being Western-backed, using this as an excuse to persecute MDC members and order the arbitrary arrest of and violence against supporters. Instead of striking terror into the citizenry, this could further galvanize opposition against his iron-fisted rule. Action from neighboring South Africa, deluged by Zimbabwean refugees, or world bodies could also pressure Mugabe, who relies on the "war veterans" militia to help him keep his grip on power.


"Our party must continue to strike fear in the heart of the white man, our real enemy!" — Mugabe in the Irish Times, Dec. 15, 2000

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Johnson, Bridget. "Biography of Robert Mugabe." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Johnson, Bridget. (2020, August 26). Biography of Robert Mugabe. Retrieved from Johnson, Bridget. "Biography of Robert Mugabe." ThoughtCo. (accessed February 4, 2023).