Zimbabwe’s former leader Robert Mugabe, who ruled his country for 37 years from independence until late 2017, has died aged 95, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Friday.

“It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing on of Zimbabwe’s founding father and former president, Cde (comrade) Robert Mugabe,” Mnangagwa said via his Twitter account.

“Cde Mugabe was an icon of liberation, a pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people. His contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten. May his soul rest in eternal peace.”

Former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has died. Picture: Mike Hutchings/Reuters/African News Agency (ANA)

Mnangagwa gave no further details, but media reports said the increasingly frail Mugabe died in Singapore, where he had frequently travelled for medical treatment over the last few years.

Mugabe, who became Zimbabwe’s first black leader at independence from Britain in 1980, first as prime minister and then as president from 1987, was once touted for investing heavily in health and education in the early years of his rule, leaving his country with one of the highest literacy rates in Africa.

He however became increasingly unpopular as the economy began to wane, later facing charges of cracking down on his political opponents and rigging elections to stay in power. 

epa04694773 A handout picture provided by the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) shows Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (C) arriving at Waterkloof Airforce Base on day one of his state visit, in Pretoria, South Africa, 07 April 2015. President Mugabe is on his first state visit in 21 years to South Africa. He is due to meet President Zuma of South African tomorrow. EPA/Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) / HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

His government’s controversial programme of seizing white owned commercial farms for redistribution among blacks he said had been dispossessed of the land during colonialism triggered a sharp economic meltdown in 2000, from which Zimbabwe has never recovered.

He stepped down under military pressure in November 2017 amid infighting within his ruling ZANU-PF party which saw his deputy Mnangagwa, who was in a rival faction, take over as president.

People took to Twitter to send their condolences;

-ANA editing by Stella Mapenzauswa