Sources in Zimbabwe indicate that former president Robert Mugabe will be allowed to stay in country and granted immunity from prosecution.  Mugabe is the only president an independent Zimbabwe has ever known. Mugabe, at age 93, has told negotiators that he had no plans to live in exile and wanted to die in Zimbabwe. Being an ex-dictator is always fraught with peril.

Mugabe has been a controversial and divisive figure. Hailed as a revolutionary hero of the African liberation who freed Zimbabwe from British colonialism and white minority rule, he has been stern a dictator responsible for economic mismanagement and violent suppression of his opponents. He has plenty of enemies.

Mugabe was born to a poor Shona family in Rhodesia. Working as a school teacher, he chaffed at white minority rule and embraced Marxism.  After being jailed between 1964 and 1974 for making anti-government comments, he fled to Mozambique and established the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) to fight Ian Smith’s white government.

Even before the arrival of whites, the Shona and Ndebele peoples had struggled for dominance. Mzilikazi was a lieutenant of Shaka Zulu who rebelled and left the kingdom. His name means “the path of blood.” Fighting his way north with his Ndebele speaking warriors, Mzilikazi took what became known as Matabeleland away from the Shona in 1840.

Divided by language and culture, colonial rule in Rhodesia did not bring the two groups together. As U.S. President Carter’s foreign policies encouraged communist expansion across the globe, Rhodesia was attacked from all sides. Each tribal group fought a separate guerrilla war against the Rhodesian Security Forces.

Mugabe’s ZANU fighters were mainly Shona and were supported by the People’s Republic of China and North Korea. They operated from bases in Mozambique and were ineffective militarily.

The Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) political organization formed an armed group based around the Ndebele ethnicity, led by Joshua Nkomo. These fighters were trained and supported by the Soviet Union and East Germany. Working from sanctuaries in Zambia and Angola, by the time of independence they had a modern military with of Soviet-made Mig jet fighters, armored infantry, tanks and artillery units.

Both organizations fought the Rhodesian Bush War. Mugabe took part in the peace negotiations brokered by the United Kingdom. White minority rule was ended and Mugabe won the 1980 general election.