Our expertise is bound to increase, as more and more educational and technical institutions are established to transform our skilled manpower. The whole world is looking on us this day.Robert Mugabe, in a 1980 speech to Zimbabwe celebrating its independence
Illustrations by Nusha Ashjaee | Photos by Linda Mujuru and Talent Gumpo, GPJ Zimbabwe | By Linda Mujuru and GPJ Staff
When Robert Mugabe came to power in Zimbabwe in 1980 after years of fighting for the country’s independence, he made one thing very clear: Black Zimbabweans would take advantage of all the benefits that had for so long been reserved for the white elites who ruled the country during the colonial era.
At the foundation of Mugabe’s promise to his people was a quality education system, which had for generations been out of reach for most of the country. (Read more about that here.)
Primary school would be free for every Zimbabwean, Mugabe said. Immediately, school enrollment exploded and schools were built to meet it.
It was an era of jubilation and optimism. Mugabe was widely revered as a hero.
Soon, though, the new system faltered. The breakneck speed of its expansion left schools overcrowded and with scant resources. Meanwhile, Mugabe fomented serious human-rights abuses. Opposition movements were violently quelled. Torture and disappearances were common.
Then came economic collapse. Hyperinflation made even the cushiest salaries insufficient for basic daily needs.
By the time Mugabe was pushed from office in late 2017, he was deeply feared by his own people, rejected by other world leaders and widely viewed as having destroyed his country’s once-significant potential for economic and social strength.