This was a special kind of grace, not the cliche saving Grace, but a whirlwind ‘ending Grace’. By Maynard Manyowa
On Tuesday 21 November 2017, Robert Mugabe resigned.On Friday the 24th, his successor was sworn in. bringing an end to a 37-year rule of Zimbabwe, and over 4 decades at the helm of Zanu PF.
Mugabe dropped the mic. He jumped, but only because he knew was going to be pushed anyway. He found himself cornered by those that revered him. Those that weeks ago agreed to endorse him as the ruling Zanu PF party’s presidential candidate in 2018 shunned him.
A picture taken they very day he resigned showed Mugabe looking glum, alongside his wife Grace, who wore a smile that betrayed her visible pain. The great irony, was that, as Mugabe half sat / half lay on his couch, clearly in deep thought, the reason his reign had come to an end sat next to him.
This is what a top Zanu PF insider and central committee member.
“If it was not for Grace Mugabe, Robert Mugabe would be in power today. It is that simple. Everyone in Zanu PF has respect for our statesman, we were willing to allow him to finish his term as first secretary and leader of the party. But to allow his wife to insult senior members of the party, insult cabinet members….”
On the streets of Harare, many share this view. Thulani Mangena, a 27-year-old vendor, expressed gratitude to the former first lady.
“To be honest I thank her. Were it not for her, Mugabe would have remained till today. She stepped on everyone’s toes.”
When dynasties fall they tend to do so quickly, spectacularly, and without warning. They often fall like a deck of cards. Robert Mugabe spent years building an effective system, one that would allow to rule until the day he died.
His own system kicked him out. The rise of his wife, and her conduct, effectively ended his reign.
How it happened
Khuluma Afrika was told that the key pillars in Mugabe’s party, his government, and even the military while supporting Emmerson Mnangagwa’s presidency, were not keen on rushing it.
In early 2016, Grace Mugabe embarked on a nationwide tour, holding rallies and distributing raincoats (at the time Zimbabwe was in the middle of a drought). At those rallies Grace accused the top military personnel of trying to kill her last-born son Chatunga. She openly attacked the then Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, and his allies.
One rally held in Chiweshe in 2016 became the ‘sarajevo’ moment. Khuluma Afrikawas told that the Zanu PFs top 30 opposed Grace’s actions.
Mugabe was approached was advised that his wife’s actions, words and demeanor were dividing the party, and there was a risk of implosion. He temporarily suspended her rallies.
The rallies resumed this year, but this time under Mugabe’s name. ‘Presidential Youth Interface’ is what Zanu PF called them. The attacks continued, but under the veil of Mugabe, Grace continued her assaults.
In August this year, Mnangagwa was poisoned and only survived by the skin of his teeth, having been airlifted to South Africa. On his return three more rallies were held.
With one more provincial rally to go Mugabe threatened to fire his deputy on a Saturday. On Sunday Grace addressed thousands of apostolic sect members and mocked Mnangagwa.
Mugabe fired his deputy on Monday, sent hitmen to take him out, forcing his longtime friend to flee.
Those three days precipitated the end of Mugabe. Khuluma Afrikawas told that despite the vicious assault on the Vice President, efforts had been made to mend relations. However, Grace pressured Mugabe to fired Mnangagwa or / and have him killed.
At the root of these actions was Grace Mugabe’s ambition to rise to Presidency. She told those who gathered on the Sunday that Mugabe could now rest and leave her in power. Mnangagwa was considered a threat, largely because he commanded huge grassroots support.
In the end, in yielding to his wife’s demands, Mugabe alienated himself from the majority, and left himself isolated. The crown was swiftly taken from his head by people who state they would not have done so, had Grace not become de-facto president by proxy.
The actual negotiations
Robert Mugabe, on his last legs, attempted to negotiate a way back. Khuluma Afrikawas told that he even offered to expel his wife from the party, and send you to a foreign land. This was rejected by his party and the military.
As thousands marched outside his house, singing “zvikaramba toita zve jende (if it does not work we will use force), Mugabe was left hurt and broken. Having seen thousands gather to support him, he saw even more thousands march to reject him.
As his party moved to remove him as leader, and ban his wife for life. Mugabe became isolated politically.
Members of parliament moved to impeach him. He called for a cabinet meeting the next day. His own ministers instead chose to go and debate a motion to remove him, with only less than 5 attending.
At this point he lost all bidding power. In one last ditch attempt, he offered to reinstate Mnangagwa as Vice President. Mnangagwa refused, arguing that the sheer numbers that had thronged the streets were too large to be ignored nor to have their hopes crushed.
He told Mugabe that he would accept any kind of deal that does not see him step down.
Mugabe was left cornered on the top floor of power. With nowhere to go and his lawmakers coming to push over the edge. He chose the path of least resistance.
His loyal deputy whose rise he wanted to block in preference of his wife is the new President. None of this would have been predicted three weeks ago. But a Mugabe’s wife turned on the gas to stoke the fire on her rival, the hose turned right, towards Mugabe himself, charring him in the process.
This was a special kind of grace, not the cliche saving Grace, but a whirlwind ‘ending Grace’. People often talk of saving Grace. In some ways, Grace saved Zimbabweans from continued dictatorship under her husband. But to Mugabe, she became the wife that pulled the ladder from under her husband’s feet, making him fall from Grace.
- Maynard Manyowa is a journalist, and Khuluma Afrika’s founding Editor.