Zimbabwe: A Coup by another Name

The surreal recent developments in Zimbabwe do not portend the long-awaited dawn of democracy. Rather it signals the transition from one-man rule to one-party rule. The role of the opposition parties in this charade is to provide legitimacy to the process of usurping power by Emmerson Mnangagwa. Perhaps the only heartening news of this “non-coup” is that the 37-year dictatorship by a senile despot is at an end and that Mugabe’s former secretary, now wife, is no longer the preferred and only candidate as future president.

Main picture:  Zimbabwe unplugged referring to Grace’s attack on a model with an electrical extension cord

A Fraught Legacy

Like a latter-day Hitler, Mugabe will never be remembered for his early good deeds. Rather he will be recalled as dictator who destroyed Zimbabwe’s economy. Instead of the promised nirvana, his legacy will be a de-industrialised country unable to feed itself. If nothing else, the primal need to survive in an informal economy has placed regime change as a low priority for its citizens.

Robert Mugabe supposedly resting his eyes

For the first 20 years of Mugabe’s rule, the remaining Whites in Zimbabwe were a useful scapegoat for all the country’s ills and its lack of progress in attaining its developmental goals. By the year 2000, those excuses had worn thin. The final stroke was to remove the Whites from the land and replace them with ill-equipped peasants or non-farming ZANU-PF officials & elite.

Mugabe’s longevity was also dependent on the likes of Emmerson “Ngwenja” Mnangagwa. Mnangagwa’s role in perpetuating the rule of Mugabe and the manner in which he did so, precludes him from being the saviour of Zimbabwe. Mnangagwa, 75, is hardly an improvement. Being Mugabe’s closest ally and aide, he possessed the same temperament as Mugabe. In addition, he could be relied upon to suppress opposition to ZANU-PF in the most atrocious manner, hence the nickname “Ngwenja” or Crocodile.

Emmerson Mnangagwa – the sweat smile belies a ruthless streak

As Mugabe’s right-hand man and the country’s first security minister, he ran the special units that suppressed tribal resistance to the rule of Mugabe’s party. These units forced villagers to dance on the freshly filled graves of their relatives, chanting pro-Mugabe slogans. His fingerprints are all over the massacre of the Matabele shortly after independence. Observers have described him as a cruel, spiteful man. In her book, “Dinner with Mugabe,” Heidi Holland wrote that “The opposition candidate who defeated him in Kwe Kwe Central after a bitter campaign in 2000 narrowly escaped death when Zanu-PF youths who had abducted him and doused him with petrol were unable to light a match.”

Eviction of White farmers

According to BizNews, Mnangagwa’s political ambitions grew, and in 2005, Mugabe slapped him down, taking away his senior post in the ruling Zanu-PF party following a play for the vice president’s post. But he survived the demotion and ended up rising to the vice presidency anyway in 2014. It was clear that, despite his lack of political prowess — he’s lost elections twice in his home constituency — Mugabe saw him as a potential successor.

Another worrying factor is the role of the military. Previously they have publicly announced that they will refuse to serve under a non-ZANU-PF government, hardly a shining example of a democrat. Furthermore, as the president’s authoritarian grip on the state has been gradually slipping in the face of growing opposition, the military has grown more and more involved in politics. As Charles Mangongera, a Zimbabwean researcher, wrote in a 2014 paper: Military elites have gained institutional vetoes and blocked the country’s transition to democracy through the militarization of key state institutions and the use of state-sanctioned violence against Mugabe’s challengers. In return, those military elites have been rewarded with lucrative government contracts, access to prime land, mining concessions, and other perquisites from the predatory state presided over by the Mugabe regime.

Zimbabwean soldiers stand by an intersection as they regulate civilian traffic in Harare on November 15, 2017.
Zimbabwe’s military appeared to be in control of the country on November 15 as generals denied staging a coup but used state television to vow to target “criminals” close to President Mugabe. / AFP PHOTO / – (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)

This is an ominous prediction which has significant heft in the current circumstances. Mnangagwa has demonstrated his staying power by building ties and accumulated favours in various parts of the Zimbabwean establishment, while simultaneously Mugabe was growing more dependent on the military. Undoubtedly Mnangagwa is now equally beholden to the military. Should any of these favours be retracted or phased out, would his replacement he foistered onto Zimbabwe under yet another sham coup by another name.

The Future Redux

Instead of Grace Mugabe, with her violent temper and love of luxury, waiting in the wings, what can Zimbabwe expect over the short term. The focus ironically will be on Robert Gabriel Mugabe as the Military maintain their stance of constitutionality. While under “house arrest” in Harare, he will be strong-armed into agreeing to a number of changes. This veneer of constitutionality will suffice to legitimise the “coup.” Firstly, his former lover, now wife, Grace Mugabe, will have to be removed as Vice-President and Mnangagwa reinstalled. What will stick in his craw, will be the final demand. Mugabe will be told that he must resign in order that, in terms of the ZANU-PF constitution, the Vice President, Mnangagwa, can occupy the position as President.

Grace Mugabe

How will Mugabe be coerced into such actions? The military’s playbook probably has SADAC in the role to mediate the exit of Robert Mugabe. If SADAC truly has the interests of the Zimbabwe people at heart, they will insist as part of the quid pro quo that ZANU-PF establishes a Government of National Government with all the opposition parties. Only when the Military have acquiesced to this request, should SADAC’s final demand be tabled: elections within 90 days.


Will Zimbabwe be able to finally celebrate?

Is it a Faustian Bargain, a Curate’s Egg or a Poisoned Chalice or another metaphor of ambivalence that Zimbabwe has inherited? Possibly. Zimbabwe deserves better but Mugabe has yet again placed his nation on the cusp of disaster. With cash unavailable, yet another economic catastrophe is imminent. Instead of staring into the abyss as a disdainful Mugabe would have, Mnangagwa has already grasped the nettle in declaring before his dismissal as Vice President that white farmers must be returned to the land. In contention is whether political rhetoric can be translated into economic reality. Will the newly land-owning elite willingly return the expropriated land back to the farmers or will the land be returned subject to onerous restrictions such that it does not make economic sense for them to do so. Who knows? The devil is always in the details.

A vision of a stronger Zimbabwe and a prosperous future

What about Mnangagwa’s egregious human rights record? For the sake of progress, it will have to be wilfully ignored. If anything, it will be a new beginning after 37 years of Mugabe’s misrule. Having viewed the destruction of Zimbabwe and the deleterious effects of Mugabe’s inane economic policies, perhaps he will reverse direction and implement pro-economic freedom policies.

It is far too early to break open the champagne just yet? What I would suggest, is that the citizens invest whatever cash they possess in Bitcoin as no property be it tangible or intangible, is worth anything.

For true democracy and freedom, Zimbabwe will have to wait yet again.

Hopefully not for another 37 years!

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