Robert Mugabe , in full Robert Gabriel Mugabe (born February 21, 1924, Kutama, Southern Rhodesia [now Zimbabwe]), the first prime minister (1980–87) of the reconstituted state of Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia. A black nationalist of Marxist persuasion, he eventually established one-party rule in his country, becoming executive president of Zimbabwe in 1987.
The son of a village carpenter, Mugabe was trained as a teacher in a Roman Catholic mission school. He was introduced to nationalist politics while he was a student at the University College of Fort Hare, South Africa, and between 1956 and 1960 he taught in Ghana.
Mugabe returned to Rhodesia in 1960, and in 1963 he helped the Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole to form the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) as a breakaway from Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU). In 1964 he was arrested for “subversive speech” and spent the next 10 years in prison. During that period he acquired law degrees by correspondence courses. While still in prison he led a coup in 1974 deposing Sithole as ZANU’s leader.
In late 1974 Mugabe was freed. During the civil war that pitted Rhodesia’s black majority population against Prime Minister Ian Smith’s white-ruled Rhodesian government (1975–79), Mugabe was joint leader, with Nkomo, of the Patriotic Front (PF) of Zimbabwe. The party’s guerrillas operated against the Rhodesian government from bases in neighbouring Zambia, Mozambique, and Angola. Fresh negotiations in London in 1979 ended the war and led to new British-supervised parliamentary elections in February 1980. Mugabe’s party, now using the name ZANU-PF, won a landslide victory over the other black parties, and he became prime minister.
As prime minister, Mugabe initially followed a pragmatic course designed to reassure Zimbabwe’s remaining white farmers and businessmen, whose skills were vital to the economy. He formed a coalition government between his party, ZANU-PF (which drew its support from the majority Shona people), and Nkomo’s ZAPU (which drew its