Tables turn on Mugabe, and this time he may be really finished

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe. File photo: Philimon Bulawayo. Credit: REUTERS
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe. File photo: Philimon Bulawayo. Credit: REUTERS

Zimbabwe’s President, Robert Mugabe has led his country on the back of brute force, incredible wit, and constitutional gamesmanship. When tables have turned on him, he has, used his ‘flowery tongue’ to convince his opponents to turn them right up, or he has bent rules and treaded the line of rules to have the turning of the tables nullified, or deemed unfair, or reversed, all within the confines of the law. When neither of those has worked, he has resorted to using outright violence and very strong men to turn the tables back up

But soon, and very soon, that looks more than likely to be coming to an end.

For a man who ruled for so long, his downfall has come so fast. About 11 days ago, he fired his longtime right-hand man and ally, former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Mnangagwa’s firing itself was not surprising. For two years, Robert Mugabe’s wife, flanked by Mugabe himself, have used the platform of rally after rally, to undermine Mnangagwa, insult him, mock him, and threaten to fire him. It was a long time coming.

Mnangagwa released a statement, form an unknown location, after facing a second assassination attempt within weeks, and just days after being dismissed. Days after he was fired, he promised he would return within two weeks to instigate a comeback.

He has not returned yet, at the time of writing, but his allies have mounted a serious come back, bigger than anyone ever saw. They are not just pushing for his reinstatement, they have gone for the jugular; Mugabe’s own head, on an expelled and impeached platter.

Last weekend Mnangagwa’s own powerful ally, Commander of the Defense Forces, General Constantino Chiwenga returned to the country his friend had just narrowly escaped from. When Mnangagwa was poisoned months ago (the first assassination attempt), it was Chiwenga who forced military choppers to air lift his mate from the scene of the attempt to a nearby town, then the capital, then South Africa. When his mate was fired he was in China, on an official visit, and unable to save him.

When he returned, Mugabe had instructed the Police Commissioner to attempt to arrest him. It did not work. The police officers assigned to do the job were just too afraid, and watched the General walk into his vehicle and leave.

On Monday, the General released a statement, in the company of all his deputies, and juniors. It was not even his statement, but the army’s statement. Without mentioning Mnangagwa by name, or his allies, they demanded that purging of war veterans come to an end completely.

The next day, Mugabe, in his stubborn self, called their bluff and sent leader of the youth league, Kudzai Chipanga to denigrate the military and threaten to take to the streets in protest. It was the first of his final mistakes.

As Mugabe chaired his routine cabinet meetings, the generals made their move. Tanks, armored cars, and heavily armed military personnel left Inkom Barracks, an army base a few kilometers out of Harare.

While the world, local and abroad wondered why military vehicles were heading for the city, and more specifically the second Presidential Guard Barracks, Mugabe sent his Minister of Information, Simon Khaya Moyo to read another statement, accusing the commander of the forces of treasonous conduct, and suggesting the army was divided.

The Generals, whom insiders had told Khuluma Afrika were done talking, made their move. Around midnight, and on early Wednesday morning they made their move. Allies of Mugabe’s wife had their residences stormed, while Mugabe himself was detained at his own home. At 04:00 the generals appeared on state broadcaster ZBC and announced they were protecting the president for his own safety, and going after criminal elements.

The world screamed coup! The army insisted no coup! And so the bickering began. SADC issued a statement, so did South Africa’s President, Jacob Zuma (Zimbabweans love to call him butternut), the AU, UN, etc… but no one knew what to quite call it.

Zanu PF, Mugabe’s party, insisted it was not a coup.

“The President has not been detained, he has been protected. He is allowed to leave his house depending on the destination. This is not a coup but re-alignment”, were the words of Zanu PFs Nick Mangwana.

On the streets, life went on. Civilians cheered the men in camo. Police were nowhere to be seen, so where the infamous central intelligence organization operatives. Harare was peaceful, lawful, and thrilled.

Word went around that a delegation would arrive and discussions were in place. Mugabe spent the first day holed up in his house. On the second day, a delegation arrived.

Mugabe was allowed to leave his house and hold discussions at the State House. He rejected a deal allowing him to retire, while SADC held an emergency troika. The mood in Harare changed drastically.

Mugabe is famous for always keeping one trump card.

“One more twist. One more twist.”, wrote political commentator Prince Noble on Facebook.

Rumors swelled that SADC would not allow an unconstitutional grab of power. There was suspicion that the generals had played their cards too soon, and that Mugabe would delay all processes and tilt this in his favour, like he always does.

But on Friday morning, it became clear that Mugabe may have under-estimated his opponents. His own party, Zanu PF began processes to expel him from it. Yes, you read that right, expel Mugabe.

At a press conference held in Harare, War Veterans echoed that they wanted Mugabe gone.

“There is no going back.”, said Chris Mutsvangwa, the chairman.

During the press conference, breaking news filtered through that 4 provinces had passed resolutions through their provincial coordinating committees, demanding that Mugabe be fired.

By end of day, all 10 provinces had passed the same resolution, effectively meaning that the central committee, the most authoritative body in the party would be forced to convene on Sunday to enact the resolutions of the PCC.

Almost immediately, the world was reminded that parliament would convene this Tuesday. The implication being that when Mugabe is fired from Zanu PF on Sunday, he will no longer be the Zanu PF Presidential candidate voted in just 4 years ago.

Zanu PF MPs are then set to impeach / recall their own president in Thabo Mbeki style. It’s a constitutional ace.

Mugabe’s last trump card was to force the army to engineer a full coup, which would invite isolation or intervention, and leave his opponents in jail for treason.

He had not seen the constitutional ace his opponents held.

In the meanwhile, at hundreds of thousands of people are set to convene and demonstrate against Mugabe. For so long Mugabe has relied on anti-riot police to quash and demonstrations against him, while using force to coerce people to attend his own rallies.

With police activities suspended, and Mugabe unable to manipulate violence to quash the demo, it is likely that the whole country will storm the country against him. It leaves SADC with egg on the face, and the AU.

For all their love for Mugabe, his own citizens do not want him anymore. They are supporting the army, whom they refer to ‘brave men and women’.

Botswana’s Ian Khama has also come out in support of Mugabe’s ousting. SADC which relies on member consensus will find this a stumbling block.

It leaves Mugabe in a place we never thought he could be found. Stuck in no man’s land. Journalist Hubert Sithole described it ‘a point of no return’.

“Robert Mugabe is stuck in no man’s land. All boats have sailed off. And even if he tries to swim, it seems there is no water. His party wants him gone. His war veterans want him gone. The citizens in Zimbabwe have always wanted him gone. The military has blocked Mugabe from sending police to beat them, so now they want to express themselves tomorrow. Within SADC and AU, Mugabe has enemies who will block any move to frustrate Zimbabwe’s aim for change. It is incredible.” 

There is no better way to put it really. Mugabe was for long seen as the twisted genius who wins by all costs and at all costs. He always kept one card in his locker. He played the final card yesterday, only to find out his opponents have united, and among them they have several cards to play, and each of them have a joker. After 37 years, the joke is finally on Uncle Bob, except that for someone who oversaw such immense destruction, this is no joke.

  • Maynard Manyowa is a journalist, and co-editor of Khuluma Afrika – a nonpartisan center for investigative journalism, political analysis and commentary.