So this past week in Zimbabwe, a “coup that isn’t a coup” took place. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace were placed under house arrest by the Zimbabwean Military, and Mugabe is being pressured to resign.
On Tuesday evening and early Wednesday morning, Zimbabwe Defence Force vehicles entered Harare and started taking control of Government Offices, including the Zimbabwean Broadcasting Corporation. They also took control of State House, the President’s Offices.
One of my colleagues was in Zimbabwe when the coup began. To our great relief, he was able to leave and arrived back in South Africa on Wednesday.
What is Robert Mugabe’s history?
Robert Gabriel Mugabe was born in 1924 in what was then Southern Rhodesia. He is a qualified Schoolteacher. He is also a hero of Zimbabwe’s fight to end white minority rule, and served 10 years in prison for sedition.
In the first democratic elections held in Zimbabwe in 1980, Mugabe’s ZANU party won and he became Prime Minister. He has ruled Zimbabwe since then, first as Prime Minister and then as President. In 1992, while his first wife was dying of Cancer, he began an affair with Grace, whom he married in 1996.
At 93 years old, Mugabe is becoming increasingly frail. He regularly travels overseas for medical treatments and rumours suggest that he keeps nodding off in Cabinet Meetings.
When and how did things go wrong?
Very early on in Mugabe’s reign.
Opposition to Mugabe in Matabeleland led to the Gukurahundi genocide, where thousands of Ndebele civilians were murdered by the North Korean trained Fifth Brigade. This was overlooked by other African countries and by the West. The former overlooked it as Mugabe was still a hero to them, and the latter probably because the victims were black.
During the 1980’s, Britain agreed to fund the Zimbabwean Government’s buy back of land from white farmers so that black Zimbabweans could purchase it. But after the first few payments, it emerged that the monies were being embezzled. Britain stopped payments and refused to pay any more until Zimbabwe could guarantee that any further sums would be used in the way intended. No such guarantees were forthcoming, and the payments never resumed.
In 2000, a new Zimbabwean Constitution was submitted for a vote. Included was a section that would have permitted appropriation of land without compensation. The Zimbabwean Electorate voted against it. Almost immediately, “War Veterans” began invading white owned farms. A short while later, Mugabe signed the section permitting appropriation without compensation into Zimbabwe’s Constitution anyway. The timing of all this was very suspicious.
The consequences for Zimbabwe’s economy were disastrous. Crops, including tobacco, were the main goods exported by Zimbabwe. With the commercial farmers driven out or murdered, Zimbabwe went from the Breadbasket of Africa to an importer of food. In addition, the foreign currency earned by crop exporting disappeared, as the people moved on to the farmland didn’t know how to work it. Thousands of Zimbabweans fled the country, and the currency went into a period of hyperinflation not seen since post World War One Germany.
In 2002, Mugabe faced a challenge to his rule by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), headed by Morgan Tsvangirai. Mugabe used violence, electoral fraud, and claims that the MDC were “Agents of the West” to maintain his rule. In this, he was shamefully helped by then South African President Thabo Mbeki, who refused to see that Mugabe, once a hero of the Liberation of Africa, was by that point a despotic tyrant desperate to hold on to power, and who, under the mask of “quiet diplomacy”, refused to act.
What was the tipping point?
Mugabe had started purging the Government of high ranking officials in a move (it is suspected) to clear the way for his wife Grace to succeed him as President. When he dismissed Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the Military decided enough was enough and put in motion this coup.
Will Mugabe remain President?
No. The Military, and the Veterans of Zimbabwe’s War of Liberation, which for a very long time were his strongest means of support, have now turned against him. In addition, ZANU-PF, the Political Party he headed, has now begun the process to impeach him. If Mugabe refuses to step down, he will be removed. As I write this, ordinary Zimbabweans are protesting in front of State House and in Bulawayo, among other places, demanding that Mugabe go.
After Mugabe goes, what will happen?
The rumours are that there are discussions to form a Government of National Unity while elections are organised. Both ZANU-PF and Opposition Parties will be in it, and Emmerson Mnangagwa, the Vice President fired by Mugabe, will be the acting President until the elections can be held.
Will Mugabe leaving power solve anything?
Unfortunately, probably not. Emmerson Mnangagwa, the Vice President whose firing precipitated this and who has been suggested as the head of the transitional Government of National Unity, is one of the architects of the Gukurahundi Genocide. In addition, the Zimbabwean Generals have declared that they will not obey any leader who is not a hero of the Liberation Struggle.
I hope that things will now get better, but this looks like a case of a different Ringmaster in the same Circus.
Mugabe has resigned
Shortly before six o’clock on the 21st November 2017, Jacob Mudenda, the Speaker of the Zimbabwean Parliament, announced that Mugabe had resigned the presidency of Zimbabwe.
“I Robert Gabriel Mugabe in terms of section 96 of the constitution of Zimbabwe hereby formally tender my resignation… with immediate effect,” said speaker Mudenda, reading the letter from Mugabe.