Robert Mugabe, 93, is undoubtedly a controversial figure, but many are familiar only with the details of his public life. 

Both his childhood and adult life are filled with surprises, many of which influenced decisions during his numerous terms as Zimbabwe’s president.

Here are 10 things you didn't know about Africa's most-talked-about former president.

1. Mugabe is a product of a religious upbringing

Both of Robert Mugabe’s parents were extremely religious, and strict with their son.

Throughout his childhood, he attended Jesuit school, and credits an Irish priest as one of his most influential mentors in his youth.

2. Has a strong background in education

Many are aware that Mugabe has always been a strong proponent of education.

Zimbabwe’s literacy rate reached the highest of any African country during his presidency.

This is in large part due to the fact that Mugabe worked as a school teacher prior to beginning his political career, first teaching in Ghana (he also taught in Zambia) and then returning to Zimbabwe to join the revolution against the white government of Rhodesia.


3. He has seven university degrees

Six of Mugabe’s university degrees were actually earned while he was doing distance learning in prison.

They cover a broad range of topics including education, economics, administration, and law.

Degrees include: a Bachelor of Laws and Master’s of Laws from the University of London’s external program, earned during his stint in a Salisbury prison.

4. Escaped Zimbabwe with the help of a white nun after his release from prison

Though the Rhodesians did release Mugabe from prison, he was not supposed to leave the country.

A white nun helped him to cross into Mozambique, where he was able to rejoin the revolutionary armies.

5. He was a Nobel Peace Prize nominee

In 1981, Mugabe was on the short list for the Nobel Peace Prize for his initial stance about reconciliation following Zimbabwe’s independence and his election as the country’s first president.

He said, “Our people, young and old, men and women, black and white, living and dead, are, on this occasion, being brought together in a new form of national unity that makes them all Zimbabweans.”

6. He had an extramarital affair while his wife was dying of cancer

While his first wife was struggling with her cancer, Mugabe started up with his private secretary, Grace.

When it came out that she was pregnant with his child, he ignored popular opinion and married her in 1996.


7. Mugabe traveled to Italy despite an E.U. travel ban

The European Union issued a travel ban against Mugabe that would prevent him from entering any member countries.

However, he was able to subvert the ban on religious grounds in March 2013 in order to attend the inauguration of Pope Francis in Italy.

8. Built a kitchen hut 

Mugabe's mother's cousin, Cecilia Mupariwa said that Mugabe built a kitchen hut at the family homestead in Kutama (about 80km south of Harare) when he was a teenager.

She says the hut still stands today. It's proof, Mupariwa says, that Mugabe is a "consistent man". A good builder, anyway.

9. Likes beef but doesn't eat much of it

It's one of the things Mugabe thinks has helped him live so long. He told state TV on his 91st birthday that he'd been "bred on beef".

But he said he'd learnt to limit the quantities so he didn't get gout. 

10. He won the lottery

In 2000, Mugabe won the state lottery, raking in about 100,000 Zimbabwe dollars (the equivalent of $2,600 American dollars).

His name was reportedly drawn from thousands of contestants, and many people were stunned. The lottery was organized by the Zimbabwe Banking Corp.

About half the country’s population is unemployed.

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