Tough-talking Mugabe shows no signs of slowing down

08 December 2012 - 17:27 By Sapa-AFP

Robert Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence 32 years ago and eying another term in office, wants full control of foreign firms, showing no sign of seeking to redeem his image as an international pariah.

Once a darling of the West, the 88-year-old who is Africa's oldest ruler, once said in jest that he would rule until he turns 100.

At home his championing of a controversial equity law, which forces foreign-owned firms to cede their majority shares to local people, has cemented his hero status among his ZANU-PF party faithful.

On Friday he told the party's last conference before 2013 polls that he plans to increase the foreign firm's takeover from 51% to 100% - in an apparent move to garner support ahead of the vote.

"I think now we have done enough of 51%. Let it be 100%," he told the delegates.

Known for his long-winded political speeches, punctuated with stinging criticism of his opponents, particularly Western countries, Mugabe's road to the top office has been marred with bloodshed.

In June 2008 he was re-elected to a sixth term after entering a presidential runoff uncontested.

His arch-rival Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew from the race citing state-sponsored violence against his supporters, including torture and killings. The two later formed an uneasy power-sharing government.

Born on February 21, 1924, at Kutama Mission northwest of the capital Harare, Mugabe was described as a studious child and a loner and qualified as a teacher at the age of 17.

An intellectual who initially embraced Marxism, he took his first steps in politics when he enrolled at Fort Hare University in South Africa, where he met many of southern Africa's future black nationalist leaders.

He then resumed teaching, moving to Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and later Ghana -- where he was profoundly influenced by the country's founder president Kwame Nkrumah.

As a member of various nationalist parties which were banned by the white-minority government, Mugabe was detained with other nationalist leaders in 1964 and spent the next 10 years in prison camps or jail.

But he used his incarceration to gather three degrees, including a law degree from London, by correspondence courses.

He also used that period to consolidate his position in the Zimbabwe African National Union and emerged from prison in November 1974 as ZANU-PF leader. He then left for Mozambique, from where his banned party conducted a guerrilla war.

Economic sanctions and war forced Rhodesian leader Ian Smith to negotiate.

After that ZANU, which drew most of its support from the ethnic Shona majority, swept to power in the 1980 election.

Mugabe also crushed dissent among the minority Ndebele people with his North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade in a campaign that killed an estimated 20 000 suspected "dissidents".

In 2000 he launched controversial land reforms, driving out white farmers and seizing their land. Some white farmers were accused of joining forces with his Western foes in a campaign to topple him using the opposition as a front.

"Our present state of mind is that you (white farmers) are now our enemy because you really behave as enemies of Zimbabwe," he said at independence celebrations in 2000, months after hordes of militant supporters began invading white-owned farms.

The implementation of land reform laws saw productive commercial farms re-distributed to his cronies, army veterans and family members.

The chaotic process plunged the former regional breadbasket into a decade-long crisis, with most rural dwellers relying on food handouts.

Under pressure to end the crushing economic decline, which reduced the exchange rate to nothing and caused inflation to gallop to over 230 million percent, Mugabe entered into an agreement with Tsvangirai to form a unity government.

But since its formation last year the unity government has been hampered by disagreements over key economic policies and the slow progress of human rights reforms.