"Zimbabwe belongs to the Zimbabweans, pure and simple," he said in a 2009 interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour.
White Zimbabweans -- even those born in the country with legal ownership of their land -- have a debt to pay, he said.
Soon after, agricultural output decreased sharply.
'One of Africa's bad boys'
Despite his pariah status in the West, analysts say Mugabe's anti-Western tirades have propelled his popularity at home.
To some, he commands respect for challenging the status quo and retaining his image as a critic of former colonial powers, said Ayo Johnson, director of Viewpoint Africa, which sells Africa content to media outlets.
"Mugabe ... is one of Africa's bad boys and wears his medal with pride," Johnson said in a past interview. "He who stands up and shouts the most is usually revered."
Few African leaders have as willfully and spitefully taunted the West, a major source of donor aid, as Mugabe has.
His anti-West tirades especially target Britain and the United States, which he accuses of colonialism.
"Keep your pink nose out of our affairs, please," he told the United States last week in response to criticism of his push for elections without key reforms.
Agyemang says Mugabe's bold economic policies are moving the nation forward.
"Mugabe is more than just a politician, he leads a cause, or as his militant supporters would say, he has become the cause itself," Agyemang said in The Guardian piece. "And the cause has something to do with giving back the African his dignity well beyond symbols of nominal independence."
No longer a breadbasket
In recent years, political rivals have accused him of turning a nation once known as the breadbasket of southern Africa into one racked by hunger and once sky-high inflation.
But Mugabe has clung to power at all costs.
In 2008, his party lost to his closest rival, Tsvangirai, who did not get enough votes to avoid a runoff. Opposition party supporters were beaten, tortured and killed, rights groups said, and Tsvangirai withdrew from the runoff in protest. The post-election violence left about 200 people dead and thousands injured.
Regional leaders dismissed that election as a sham and pressured the two to form a power-sharing agreement, which led to a tense coalition in 2009. Mugabe's main opponent became his prime minister, and the squabbles continued.
Born in February 1924 in then-Rhodesia to a carpenter father, Mugabe spent his early career as a teacher.
His first wife died in 1992, and he married his current wife, Grace, four years later. They have two sons and one daughter.
Mugabe has university degrees in education, economics, administration and law from the University of London.
In 2002, the European Union imposed sanctions on Mugabe and his allies, including travel bans, accusing Zimbabwe of human rights violations.
In 2008, the United Kingdom stripped Mugabe of an honorary knighthood awarded by Queen Elizabeth II. Later that year, the nation plunged into post-election violence.
The European Union eased the sanctions after a successful referendum on a new constitution in March of this year but called for credible elections.