He has ruled - and ruined - Zimbabwe for all of its 37 years since winning independence, a victory for which he claimed much of the credit.
He has been variously described as ‘the lion of Africa’ and ‘a wily old crocodile’, known as ‘Uncle Bob’ to supporters and ‘Mad Bob’ to critics - and he had plenty of both, after seizing unprecedented power but bankrupting his country and brutalising millions.
Mineral-rich Zimbabwe used to be known as ‘the breadbasket of Africa’, prosperous on the back of its diamond and gold mines and expanses of fertile land.
But under Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party it has become one of the world’s poorest - with infrastructure left to rot, schools and hospitals neglected, families left in near-famine conditions and opponents bullied, tortured and murdered.
A cholera epidemic in 2008 killed almost 4,300 people, at a time of economic meltdown when inflation soared as high as 500billion per cent, ransacked supermarkets lay empty and bank queues for the following morning would begin to form each afternoon.
An undercover visit by Metro in December 2008 when foreign journalists were banned found piles of unburied corpses dating back weeks, hospital patients languishing outdoors attached to drips looped around branches, and children obliviously swigging from rubbish-crammed, contaminated streams.
‘Oh, it’s been a tough time,’ sighed an assistant at Beitbridge’s hospital morgue, while swinging open three fridge doors to reveal 18 corpses.
Another hospital official revealed: ‘I can go to any cholera outbreak in the world after this, knowing I can’t see anything worse.’
Opposition activists described their ordeals of torture and imprisonment - some in their seventies told of being attacked with cane sticks matted with thorns and left for dead miles from their homes, with bullets placed ominously in their bruised hands.
Many more were not so fortunate, finding themselves or loved ones mercilessly murdered.
Grace Nyamayaro, the same age as Mugabe, told how his ZANU-PF thugs abducted and killed both her husband and her son, leaving her to bring up alone her HIV-positive grand-daughter on the outskirts of Bulawayo.
She declared: ‘He’s a devil, a devil. He’s killing people. He’s killing his own people.’
Zimbabwe just about held back from the brink of collapse back then, with Mugabe making some concessions.
He entered into a power-sharing agreement with opposition party Movement for Democratic Change, appointing MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai as his deputy in 2009 - although many saw it as a tactical move, allowing Mugabe to shift the blame for his country’s struggles.
Mugabe was rewarded with a more convincing majority in 2013 elections, despite official observers raising concerns about widespread irregularities, many voters blocked on spurious grounds while others were registered despite being long-dead.
Mugabe had initially become a hero not only to black Zimbabweans but also many across Africa for victory in the country’s independence wars of the 1970s.
After gaining several correspondence course degrees - including one from London University - he worked as a teacher before becoming more politically-active in the 1960s, first with the National Democratic Party and then the banned Zimbabwe African People’s Union.
He served several spells in political detention but escaped to Mozambique in 1974 and led the armed struggle against Ian Smith’s white supremacist rule over what was then Southern Rhodesia.
Margaret Thatcher’s government brokered a deal in 1979 that toppled Smith and the following year Mugabe became prime minister of newly-independent Zimbabwe.
His title became president in 1988 and he has been the country’s presiding force throughout, ruthlessly purging opponents both outside and within his ZANU-PF party - until now, that is.
He turned his back on early promises to co-operate with Zimbabwe’s wealthy white minority, sending in independence war ‘veterans’ to violently seize farms especially from 2000 onwards - action that left many areas ruined, causing widespread food shortages.
Claims of vote-rigging also saw Zimbabwe suspended in March 2002 from the Commonwealth, which he has dubbed an ‘Anglo-Saxon unholy alliance’.
Britain has been the target of many splenetic Mugabe rants and in 2008 he dismissed Zimbabwe’s cholera epidemic as a UK plot and pretext to invade.
But others have suggested his British obsession comes from a desire to be honoured by the Queen and welcomed by a nation where he and his wife Grace enjoyed shopping at Harrods, in stark contrast to the starvation and suffering back home.
Wellington Chibhebhe, a regular target for state persecution during his time as secretary-general of the Zimbabwean Congress of Trade Unions, told Metro: ‘Whoever’s seen to be anti the regime here now is automatically labeled “British”.
‘But this all comes not from Mugabe’s hatred for the British, but his love for the British – he just feels neglected by the country.
‘He’s described himself as the biggest admirer of the Queen, and Harrods records show he was one of their best customers.
‘Even if he was traveling to somewhere like China, he’d go through London to do his shopping.’
Just days ago the Harrods-loving shopaholic first lady dubbed ‘Gucci Grace’ looked like getting her hands on that most prized possession: the presidency of Zimbabwe.
The flamboyant second Mrs Mugabe has drawn global attention for her shopping sprees abroad - especially her love of Ferramago heels - which have inspired nicknames including ‘Gucci Grace’, ‘DisGrace’ and ‘The First Shopper’.
Until yesterday at least, she was also that rare figure - someone in Zimbabwe who could tell Mr Mugabe what to do.
In a tape recording from 2014 that only emerged last year, he can be heard complaining his wife seldom cooks for him, before adding: ‘She is strong-headed. She is someone who if she says I want this, she will not back down and you will have to give in, in order to maintain peace in the family.’
Mrs Mugabe has also emerged as a formidable political figure - and fighter - in her own right back home, where her cultivation of support among the ruling ZANU-PF party’s youth wing aroused suspicion among military chiefs.
When Mr Mugabe dismissed vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa last week, he was planning to install his wife in the role instead - lining her up to succeed her 93-year-old husband when he dies.
Those ambitions now appear to lie in ruins, however, after yesterday’s military coup by Mr Mnangagwa’s own supporters - many of them veterans of the 1970s independence war that brought Mr Mugabe to power in the first place.
Both Mr and Mrs Mugabe had been married before - he to the late Sally Hayfron, she to air force pilot Stanley Goreraza - but began their affair when Sally was dying from cancer, while Grace was working in the president’s typing pool.
Their extravagant wedding in 1996 - when she was 31, he 72, and they already had two of their children together - included a Catholic mass at a church and 40,000 guests including Nelson Mandela.
Mrs Mugabe’s overseas shopping trips have contributed to her reputation for wanton excess.
Visiting Paris in 2003 she spent a quickfire £75,000, while both she and her husband have made clear their fondness for Harrod’s in London - close to their favoured, four-star St James’s Court Hotel near Buckingham Palace.
The European Union imposed sanctions in 2002 that banned the couple, as well as dozens more Zimbabwean officials, from travelling within the EU - but this did not stop the Paris trip the following year.
And Mr Mugabe was also given permission to attend Pope John Paul II’s funeral in Rome in 2005, where he ambushed Prince Charles with a handshake.
Ordinary Zimbabweans plunged into poverty and famine have been given plenty of cause for resentment, as she oversaw the building of two opulent new palaces for the couple - rich with gold leaf and marble columns, although one would be sold to Libya’s late dictator Colonel Muammar Gadaffi.
She has also stage-managed ostentatious public birthday parties for Mr Mugabe, with his 93rd last February costing a reported £2million and featuring a 93kg cake and 150 cattle local farmers were told to donate.
Mrs Mugabe has often appeared impervious to criticism and ridicule from outside Zimbabwe, whether for her spending or the doctorate she celebrated receiving in 2014 just two months after notionally beginning her University of Zimbabwe studies.
She and her bodyguards were accused of lashing out at a photographer in Hong Kong in 2009, causing cuts with her sharp diamond rings, and this August she was alleged to have attacked a young model in South Africa with an extension cord’s plug.
And her support for her husband at least has remained steadfast - he approvingly greeted one speech she gave in his honour last February by laughing: ‘Fireworks, isn’t it?’
Not so amusing for anyone else.
Andrew Maziye Sithole, a 70-year-old veteran of repeated beatings, told Metro in 2008: ‘Zimbabwe is a country with a heart of gold - but the teeth of Mugabe.
‘‘He’s killing innocent people. Every day they’re dying. Only when he leaves will we see the sun rise.’
Even if Mugabe’s long and grim reign really is now over, however, the horizon still looks gloomy across a ravaged nation.