The independence icon turned authoritarian leader, who was ousted in a military coup in 2017, had a powerful influence on many who live in the UK.
The reaction to his death has been far from clear-cut – a fact acknowledged by the British government in a statement from No. 10: “There will be mixed emotions in Zimbabwe at today’s news.”
But the mixed feelings are not unique to those living in Zimbabwe, where he ruled for 37 years. Zimbabweans who moved to the UK during Mr Mugabe’s presidency spoke to the BBC about how they will remember him.
‘A sour taste’
Tabetha Darmon was born in Rhodesia in the 1960s. She moved to the UK in 1988 – eight years after the country gained independence from Britain and was internationally recognised as Zimbabwe – and intended to return home. But during the 1990s, she says, the country changed drastically.
“The economy went down, healthcare collapsed,” she adds.
“Nobody intervened. Mugabe then turned into a dictator. He forgot the people that he fought for.”
Had he died 30 years ago, she would have mourned his death, but she says: “But he’s lived until 95. Our children and grandkids in Zimbabwe won’t see 50.”
Six of Ms Darmon’s family members who remained in Zimbabwe died as a result of poor healthcare and no access to HIV treatment, leaving her 19 child relatives to provide for.
“I have to try and balance my life here and provide for those people at home,” she says.
“His legacy now with his death has left such a sour taste in my mouth.”
Among the former president’s most controversial actions was the seizure of land from thousands of white farmers between 2000 and 2001 under a government programme of land reform.
Veronica and David Madgen ran one of the largest farms in Zimbabwe, but fled to the UK in 2001 after it was taken over by Mr Mugabe’s supporters.
“The tractors [were] being burnt, the motorcycles [were] being burnt, stones [were being] thrown through the window… it was very difficult to actually come to terms with what was happening,” Mrs Madgen says, speaking on BBC Breakfast.
“As a result of the economy going into decline, my husband did a forecast and he said to me, ‘We’re not going to be able to survive here.’ The farm was slowly being carved into pieces.”
Despite this, Mrs Madgen says she is “sad for him and his family”.
“For the first 20 years that he governed that country, he was a good leader, his wife, Sally, beside him, and his mother. He was a very good leader, until that threat of losing that election got hold of him and he turned.”
‘A contested legacy’
Dr Knox Chitiyo, an associate fellow at Chatham House and president of the Britain Zimbabwe Society, moved to the UK in 2005 to study.
He frequently returns to Zimbabwe, not only for work, but also to see his mother and sister.
“I’m from the generation who was actually there, I was there at independence at Rufaro Stadium in 1980 when independence happened,” he says, noting that younger Zimbabweans are likely to be more critical.
He says that Mugabe’s first government was inclusive, and made significant achievements in education and healthcare in the 1980s and 1990s.
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“And he did bring a sense of worth for Africans which cannot be underestimated. When you compare with how we were treated in Rhodesia [to] what came afterwards, certainly that sense of identity and African worth, I think, cannot be understated,” he says.
However, for Dr Chitiyo, the positives must be balanced against human rights violations, such as the massacres carried out in Matabeleland by the National Army in the 1980s. Thousands were killed and many were tortured.
The declining economy, too, he says, will have a lasting affect on his legacy.
“I don’t think there is any Zimbabwean who can say that the declining economy in the 2000s had no impact.”
Mugabe was a “hugely influential” figure and leaves behind a “mixed legacy of both achievement and failure”, he says.
“[His] legacy doesn’t just end now because he’s died. It’s still a contested legacy both in Zimbabwe and abroad.”