On November 22nd 2017, after a little over 37 years in power, Robert Gabriel Mugabe resigned as the President of Zimbabwe. On the 24th of November, Emerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s ally of over 50 years, and the ex Vice President that Mugabe had accused of treachery and dismissed a mere 19 days before, was sworn in as the new President of Zimbabwe. It all came about in a “coup that was not a coup”. Willy the bard if he could, would have come back without a ‘mortal coil’, to write this piece of history as drama. Hamlet, Macbeth, and all the rest of his work would look like nursery tales next to this.
Mugabe’s fall from ‘Grace’ bordered on the weird and the farcical.
The origins of this can be traced to a much earlier period, and even if hindsight were to go missing or AWOL, everybody knew this outcome had been hanging around, just waiting for the plot lines to fall into place. The more recent and bizarre beginnings to this was the alleged poisoning of the then Vice President Mnangagwa by the President’s wife ‘Grace’ Mugabe, at a rally for the President in August of this year!!!! Mnangagwa was flown out to a hospital in South Africa, supposedly to clean out the poison from his system. Word was put about that the poisoning was Grace Mugabe’s doing.
The fallout between them had been percolating for years in the realms of the whispered, the implied and the unsaid, all of it having to do with succession. However shortly after the incident Grace went public and denied that she had tried to poison the Vice President saying “Why should I kill Mnangagwa? Who is Mnangagwa on this earth? Killing someone who was given a job by my husband? That is nonsensical.” Things went one way from there with her going onto say that the snakes head needed to be crushed and so on. Mugabe who had stayed above it all as he had always done, letting others do the tactics and talking, leaving no fingerprints, now came out in support of his wife and on November 6th he dismissed Mnangagwa from the vice presidency.
The newly sworn in President Mnangagwa had over the years been Mugabe’s bodyguard, personal assistant and a commander in the liberation army. He was part of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) negotiating team led by Mugabe, which was one of the parties amongst the liberation movements, at the 1979 Lancaster house conference in London, which brought about democratic elections, a ZANU victory and Robert Mugabe on the 18th of April 1980, becoming the first Prime Minister of an Independent Zimbabwe. Mugabe appointed Mnangagwa as his security minister (1980-1988). Mnangagwa then went onto become the Justice Minister (11989-2000 and 2013-2017), acting finance minister (1995-1996), speaker of the house (2000-2005), defence minister (2009-2013) and finally Vice President 2014 onwards till he was fired by Mugabe on Nov 6th. Within an hour of being dismissed, Mnangagwa claimed, he had been alerted about threats to his life. It was reported that he drove to the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique, walked across the border on foot to avoid the checkpoints, and later surfaced in South Africa.
Meanwhile back at the ranch in Zimbabwe, vitriol about Mnangagwa was being spewed by Grace and her cohorts nicknamed the G40 (Generation 40) group, referencing a younger faction most of who had not been part of the Liberation struggle. The idea was that Grace and the G40 group would now be in line for taking over the reins of power when and if Mugabe now 93 and ailing, saw fit or was unfit himself to continue. It was not to be.
Mnangagwa is also known. by another name in the Shona dialect. “Ngwena” and It translates as Crocodile/Alligator. A name that was bestowed but also manufactured. It was given to describe his guile, patience and survival instinct. It was also meant to instill fear about the commander of the praetorian guards. On his arrival in South Africa he hit back at Robert and Grace Mugabe, saying that both ZANU and Zimbabwe were not Mugabe’s private property and that he would be back.
There was an air of the “same old we have been here before” until on the 13th of November when the head of the Army Constantino Chiwenga and reputed ally of Mnangagwa spoke out saying that the army would not hesitate to intervene to calm the tense political situation. It was the Lacoste crew as Mnangagwa’s faction are known putting the markers down. The Lacoste crew known as such for the Crocodile logo, were the veterans of the struggle, along with many in the security apparatus, the military, and former heavies in ZANU who had been marginalised by Mugabe at the behest of his wife Grace and the G40 crew. It was now the Lacoste turn to make their moves. In the early hours of the 15th some in Harare were awakened by the sound of sporadic gunfire. By the time the rest of the country awoke the army had quietly surrounded the headquarters and main locations of the police, the presidential guard and the secret service. The internal state security apparatus was now completely powerless. They had also surrounded the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC). Later in the day, ZBC broadcast an army spokes person announcing that the President was safe and secure, whilst they were proceeding with apprehending the criminal elements around the president and commander in chief. He then went onto emphasise that it was not a military takeover. The ‘coup that was not a coup’ was now fully in place. It’s intent was to make sure that the international community would not condemn it and in particular the African Union (AU) which had precedent in suspending countries where military takeovers had taken place, would not act against Zimbabwe.
Meanwhile Robert Mugabe was under house arrest whilst still being referred to as the President and Commander in Chief by the Military commanders. There followed the usual repeated gush of news re-runs, rumours, speculation, mixed in with gibberish being spewed out by all and sundry. All of this plugged with close ups, pull backs, and selfies of crowd shots. There was a palpable excitement in the Mainstream global news along with the social media platforms that had an air of the ‘hurry up and wait’ with the ‘enough already’ theme resonating through. On the 16th photos of the army commanders shaking hands with Mugabe were published. The ‘not a coup’ scenario was being branded with a photo-op. The people, by now hoping for a more “just do it’ touch to the strap line, were excitable enough to air their views and hopes, with the force that comes from having their sultry sulky silence, brewing in an air tight chamber, for far too long. There was dancing and tears and anger and fear and hope all letting one or two off!! Regime change is the stuff of social, political, cultural and historical flatulence. It sometimes helps to clear the system!!
Negotiations with Mugabe, the wily one, did not all go according to plan. He was resigning and then he wasn’t. On the 17th taking the surreal to new heights Mugabe attends a graduation ceremony at the university to hand out the degrees. He was greeted with polite applause. The military still referring to him as commander in chief. The ‘coup’ for all intents and purpose remained ‘not a coup’. Not much somuch as a peep from the international community apart from Zuma the president of South Africa who is facing a meltdown of his own on all fronts there, sends two envoys who are told, politely of course, to run along, after being served tea with his Excellency the President and still but now a bit more like a Commander in Grief . The surreal is now in the realms of the comical bordering on satire all dressed up as reality that is unreal.
On the 18th, Harare the capital city, is filled with people out on the streets asking for Mugabe to go!! They hug the soldiers who of course not used to affection from the peeps, who they have at other times beaten to a pulp, look awkward and taken aback by the warmth. Still It remains without rancour or trouble.
On the 19th the ruling party ZANU recalls Mugabe as party leader. Later that evening Mugabe speaks to the nation and rambles on reassuring everybody that it is not a coup, that his authority was not being challenged by the military, but that they were doing this “not a coup’ out of love and patriotism for the country, and that it would all be sorted at the ZANU party conference in December which he would chair!!! It was bizarre and strangely satisfying to see a live broadcast of a despot reduced to senile rambling. So no announcement of his resignation as was expected. We are told that he had agreed to resign, but had not shown the speech to the generals, that it was the wrong speech, that he got all the pages mixed up so he missed a few and in fact there is a moment when one of the military heads points him to the correct point in the notes of the speech. Anyway he is seen and heard at the end of the broadcast speaking to the generals, saying to them, that any mistakes or gaps was theirs to correct. How accommodating of him!!!
I did however note that even that far gone Mugabe was still a damn sight more articulate, erudite and precise than Donald Trump or Narendra Modi could be if any one of those qualities were surgically attached to either of tham. This of course is not saying a lot as standards are not a pre requisite in public life these days!!
On the 20th the Ruling party ZANU now chomping at the bits with no resignation from Mugabe, says it will begin impeachment proceedings against Mugabe. On the 21st late afternoon as the parliament is in session, grappling with the impeachment protocol, the speaker of the parliament is handed a letter from the President. He interrupts the proceedings to read it out. “I Robert Gabriel Mugabe …..hereby formally tender my resignation as the president of the Republic of Zimbabwe……My decision to resign is voluntary on my part and arises for my concern for the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe….”.Mugabe’s reign is over.
The end was not pretty according to reports from those around him. It had the ring of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez story. Mugabe had always had a sixth sense for survival but at 93 it must have been difficult to maintain the focus. He had also chosen over the last few years, to live in the bubble that Grace his wife, now nowhere to be seen, and her crew the G40, had created for him. Wallowing in the platitudes of sycophants completely unaware of the storm that was brewing he was unable to read all the signals that had been out there from a few years ago. Now however he was shattered by the sudden realisation of how weak and fickle his position had become and the veritable stroll in the park it had been for his adversaries to usurp his power. He broke down frequently during the negotiations, rambling incoherently at times, and other times calling out for his first wife Sally who had died from cancer in 1992, and a 3 year old son he had lost to Malaria in 1966. During the discussions he would lose his train of thought and stare off into the distance vacantly. When the negotiations had begun a few days before, a Catholic minister had been chosen to help with the mediation as he was trusted by both Mugabe and Chiwenga the military commander, both practicing Catholicol. This Jesuit priest assisted Mugabe in the discussion bringing him around from his incoherent rambling and the emotional turmoil of his demise, often even having to remind him to clean himself, eat, bathe etc. .
That’s it. No it’s not. There is much more to come and much more that has passed that will haunt this beautiful land whilst it struggles to keep the next pack of wolves at bay.
Mugabe’s descend into tyranny had begun even before Southern Rhodesia a British territory was born again as a free Zimbabwe.
I need to digress into history to give context and perspective. Cecil John Rhodes that carpetbagger from back in the day when the British decided that history only began when they arrived on the scene, had managed to get a mandate from Her Majesty’s Government to colonise and administer most of what is today Southern Africa through a company called the British South African Company(BSAC). BSAC was modelled on a charter similar to the East India Company. The intent was to exploit the gold and other precious minerals that were there, and of course also to set up empire. I will cut a long story short but suffice it to say that the standard operating procedures was put in place to subjugate the locals, allow the robber barons along with their coterie of shysterhustlers to settle in, rip of the people, nick the land, and proceed to rise above their stations from whence they had come all with the blessings of the British Ruling class who of course had to be allowed to keep their hands on and in the till.
So cut to post world war two and by this time these lands had long since passed on from BSAC and were part of the British empire, now referred to as the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. It consisted of three territories the British Protectorate of Northern Rhodesia ( called Zambia today), the self governing territory of Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Nyasaland( called Malawi today). The Empire after the war was in deep shite and debt, finding itself having to dispense with its spend to maintain the colonies, so they could get their hand on the badly needed loan from the US of A through the Anglo American plan. Add to this the growth of the resistance and calls for independence from those resisting their rule, meant that the British try as they might, could not hold on to their empire. India was the jewel and it had to be let go two years after the big war. Of course, they then tried, for as long as they could, to hold onto elsewhere. The idea was to time the exit without paying the tab they had been running up for centuries, along with still having a say in who owned the land, and how it was run. The fly in the ointment of the handing over of independence to the indigenous in Africa, after long and protracted acts of deceit, treachery, betrayal, and violent repression against the indigenous was the European settler, symbolising not the brutish bigotry that was its stock in trade, but a benign and benevolent shepherd tending to that flock of a darker hue. All of course for the sole purpose of keeping their hand on and in the till in the name of global free trade.
That fly in the ointment turned into a wasp by the name of one Ian Smith an ex RAF pilot. Smith and his cohort of local white folk made good, who ran the self governing territory of Southern Rhodesia, could not fathom the thought of being ruled by the “hewers of wood and the drawers of water’’ as the good book had all too conveniently stipulated in the scriptures. They were petrified with the idea of an independent African country where they would be sharing their inbred lifestyle and culture with the native people of that land. This was further compounded by the idea of losing their palanquin bearers (who would of course become too uppity if given self rule), along with the land they had nicked from them. On 11th November 1965 Ian Smith leader of the Rhodesian Front (RF) announced a Unilateral Declaration Of Independence (UDI) for Rhodesia from Britain. It was a white minority government led by Ian Smith predicting “ I don’t believe in black majority rule ever in Rhodesia—not in a thousand years. “!! His minority government lasted all of 15 years!!
Whilst this was being played out between the British government and the Rhodesian government the two main liberation movements of the day were organising themselves. The Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU) led by Joshua Nkomo and the Zimbabwe African National Union led by Mugabe. There was no love lost between the two. ZAPU was backed by the Soviet Union and ZANU had the backing of China.
A brutal guerrilla bush war, an international campaign of sanctions, the coming of Independence brutally, to most nations around a landlocked Rhodesia, all brought about the Lancaster house conference, Independence and Mugabe as the first Prime Minister.
ZAPU and ZANU came together to form the patriotic front for the negotiations but fought the elections as separate parties and whilst Mugabe and Zanu won the election, Nkomo and ZAPU retained its base in Matabeleland in the south of Zimbabwe and home of the Ndebele people. Mugabe belonged to the Shona tribe which were the majority.
Right from the outset the trouble that had been brewing from many years before, between the two liberation movements ZANU and ZAPU and thereby the two largest tribes the Shona’s and the Ndebeles, came to a head. Frustrated with the marginalisation, some in ZAPU, had begun to speak out demanding their rights. With no considerations being given to their needs but instead being subjected to police crackdowns and imprisonment both of themselves and their leaders, a few of them chose to hit back. Small attacks and uprisings took place in Matabeleland. Nkomo the leader of ZAPU condemned them, but also spoke out against Mugabe and ZANU saying that it was failing many and favouring only ZANU leades and their families. Mugabe and his allies in ZANU responded by imprisoning Nkomo and other leaders of ZAPU, charging them with treason, and unleashing the notorious North Korean trained 5th Brigade known as the Gokurahundi. Gokurahundi translates from Shona as the first rains that cleans the chaff. They reported directly to the Prime Ministers Office (PMO). This ‘first rain’ of the 5th Brigade descended on villagers in Matabeleland and proceeded to burn, rape and kill whole villages. 1983 to 1985 were the worst years. More than 20000 Ndebele villagers in Matabeleland were slaughtered. The current head of the Air Force Air Marshall Perence Shiri and one of the leaders of the ‘coup that was not a coup’ was the commander of the 5th Brigade at that time whilst the newly elected President Mnangagwa was the Minister for State Security.
Meanwhile Joshua Nkomo along with other ZAPU leaders accused of treason, thrown in prison and put on trial were cleared by the courts. Although cleared and no evidence brought to bear they were still held in prison using the draconian laws that the white minority government had once used against the indigenous Africans. It all ended when the government of national unity was formed and an amnesty signed for all. Joshua Nkomo and ZAPU had merged with ZANU to becoe ZANU PF (Patriotic Front) once again. They took their seats in Parliament. Mugabe had won complete power.
What happened after that is the tale of Mugabe’s ruthlessness as he changed the constitution to become President of the country and concentrated power in the executive with parliament tagging along. . Opponents were silenced or disappeared over the years. It got a lot worse after his wife died in 1992. The country began its slide into a full breakdown. One piece of history that does stand out as it changed Mugabe for the worse, was the issue of Land Reform and the required compensation for the farmers (mostly white and only 5% of the population who still owned 70% of the land which was also the most arable) whose land would need to be taken back to redistribute amongst the indigenous population for farming. During the Lancaster House conference that brought about independence, the then prime minister of Britain Margaret Thatcher. had promised to provide the required money, for the compensation of farmers, whose land would be taken back when the time came. That promise was reneged on by Tony Blair’s government in 1997. It had the impact of turning Mugabe’s fury into a populist and often violent land grab and occupation by veterans of the struggle who were loyal and had been waiting for what they thought was just dessert for services and sacrifices rendered. Most of the takeovers ended up in the hands of Mugabe’s people along with ZANU PF leaders, ministers and their extended families.
The country spiralled into a complete breakdown, became a pariah state, inflation was beyond six fugure amounts and the local currency was drpped and the US dollar and at one time even the Indian Rupee became legal tender. In the middle of all this Mugabe had got the army fully involved in a neighbouring war to defend the government in the Democratic Republic of Congo, mostly to have a stake in the diamond mines there. Meanwhile in Zimbabwe an epidemic of AIDS along with famine a breakdown of most state services combined with violent repression against any who spoke out all compounded by abject poverty and unemployment caused the migration of most of its skilled and semiskilled workforce to neighbouring African countries and elsewhere in the world.
The marriage to Grace Mugabe a secretary in the President’s office was by Mugabe’s own admission done when Sally his first wife. lay dying of cancer. He says he told Sally, explaining to her that he needed to have sons before it was too late, but he is somewhat reticent on what her response was. All this while he was playing with all the ministers around him who were all jockeying for power and largesse from him, by moving them up down and sideways so he could keep them all in their place, and they were never a threat to his power. However from 2008 onwards it became a grind, when ZANU PF lost overall majority in an election he could not coerce into submission. Suddenly he found he had to share power with a new party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by one Morgan Tsvingarai. It was mostly a sham though, as Mugabe clung on, using the state security apparatus ruthlessly against the MDC leaders and their members, whilst egging the Veterans on, into more farm take overs whilst keeping the rural villages under manners with the help of the traditional leaders, the security apparatus and straightforward bribes much like the European settler population had done before. Morgan Tsvingara the leader of the MDC and main opposition leader was himself not much to write home about. The joke was Tsvingarai couldn’t run a bath let alone a country.
This situation got a lot worse with the help of Grace Mugabe who now fancied her chances at succeeding him, which was not surprising given the incompetent sycophants around him. The G40 began to come about and flex it’s muscles whilst their opponents, team Lacoste well ensconced in the corridors of power, particularly within the security and military apparatus, began to see that they had competition. As far back as 2009 there were already reports and shenanigans to look at how policy changes and curtailment to Mugabe’s power could be brought about. It still took a further 8 yea and the dismissal of two vice presidents to arrive at today.
A long suffering people had begun to throw spanners in the works by engaging in sporadic acts of defiance. The social media along with both music and comedy countercultures had begun to take hold too. This along with the diaspora scattered around the globe campaigning to keep Mugabe and the rot in the news whilst also enabling and resourcing their families back home with remittances and other support. Mugabe was mostly oblivious to this.
There were more pronounced signals from 2015 when the factions came out in the open against each other, whilst Grace and Mnangagwa jockeyed for position to be in line for succession. It was also the time that reports started to appear in certain global trade bulletins like Reuters about whispers that detailed reports and intelligence papers were afoot and doing the rounds amongst the overlords of global capital, at how inward investment could be brought back and farming could be revived by compensating farmers whose farms had been taken over. This “coup that was not a coup” had a blueprint that had been in the making for some time. Its finer points were to be shaped by events and conditions that have came to pass in the last month. It is almost certain that whilst Mnangagwa was in temporary exile a plan that had been thought through, was certainly being put into place. Chiwenga the leader of the ‘coup that was not a coup’ and head of the army had been to see the Chinese. It is not just highly probable but almost certain that he had alerted them to the situation, as China bank rolls Zimbabwe with what little inward investment there is there and sought their plausibily deniable support. They would of course have wanted to be kept up to speed on any changes to the status quo, and no doubt the Chinese who know a thing or two about how it’s all supposed to work. had alerted the necessary players like the US of A that a ‘coup that was not a coup’ was in the offing and could bring about a constitutionally correct procedure for a ‘regime change that was not a regime change’ which is of course irony that is not irony at all gone ape!.
Mugabe is gone and that is a start but the system that kept him there all these years is still in place and the question is how the folk that are now in power will deal with the even bigger reptiles in the shape of global financial capital that they will no doubt have to turn to. All the ingredients are there for a smooth transition from pilfering of one kind to pilfering of another kind, unless civil society awakens to the challenge after the euphoria has settled.