By Managing Director Matt Gillow, and Senior Campaign Agent Will Fawcett
Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s sole post-independence leader, has been placed under detention as the military takes ‘temporary power.’ The army stated that the apparent coup was in order to target criminals around the President, and appears to have been an attempt to resolve a bitter fight over who would succeed the 93-year-old head of state between his wife, Grace Mugabe and recently sacked Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Recently, Mugabe appears to have been attempting to clear his 52-year-old wife’s path to power after controversially sacking his Vice-President last week. The aspirations of Grace Mugabe have been clear for years, although she remains an unpopular figure in Zimbabwean politics with few friends regionally. Most notably she has been criticised for her lavish shopping trips and lifestyle whilst the vast majority of Zimbabweans live in dire poverty. More recently, she was alleged to have committed assault against a model in Johannesburg, but was contentiously granted diplomatic immunity and leave the country freely.
Mnangagwa, on the other hand, is a much more popular figure, particularly with the army after having served as Defence Minister, and bears the nickname “the crocodile” from his time fighting in Zimbabwe’s independence wars – a crucial aspect of the country’s post-colonial identity and history. Mugabe’s dismissal of war veterans in the upper echelons of the government culminated in an official break of ties between the veterans and the President in 2016. Mnangagwa was seen to be the logical choice to Mugabe’s shoes should the 93-year-old, the world oldest living leader, step down or pass away. Yet the former Vice-President remains unpopular in certain areas, notably Matebeland, after presiding over the brutal crackdown on dissidence in the region in the 1980s.
In the capital, Harare, soldiers have sealed access to both parliament and courts, in a move that many in the political sphere will signal the end of the dictator’s iron grip on power, which has lasted since 1980. Mugabe was the leader of one of the two rival anti-colonial parties, the ZANU, and succeeded in ending white-minority rule in the 1980 General Election against ZAPU leader Joshua Nkomo and the outgoing Ian Smith.
However, the armed forces have insisted that the current situation should not be described as a ‘coup.’ Representatives have stated that, upon the completion of the situation, Zimbabwe will be returned to normalcy. As for Mugabe himself, he currently remains in detention and has been in contact with South African President Jacob Zuma, who appears to support the intentions of today’s takeover.
The takeover has not been entirely peaceful, despite the fact that no resistance occurred. The youth-wing of the ruling ZANU-PF party condoned the violence in a move that threatened to spark issues between the military and politicians. Indeed, Zimbabwe’s opposing parties – which are all hugely fragmented and ineffective – have not condoned the move. The so-called coup is surprising since the cementing of democracy in Africa in the past decade, with many Africans having an aversion to the coups, takeovers and power grabs that gripped the continent in the 1960s and 1970s.
The Guardian has outlined one potential fallout; being that Mugabe reinstates the former Vice-President to his post and then doesn’t stand in future ‘elections.’ On the other hand, as previously mentioned, this could signal the end of Mugabe’s rule within weeks or months.
Mugabe’s tenure in office has been heralded by anti-colonial and anti-Western leaders, whilst many other observers look to the many human rights abuses his government have committed and having turned Zimbabwe, once considered the breadbasket of Africa, into a country completely on its knees, hugely dependent on foreign aid. His land reforms in the 1990s and 2000s were popular in ‘delivering back’ the agricultural farms previously held by white settlers, but caused widespread food shortages and starvation. With a poverty rate of 72.3% and Zimbabwe now being one of Africa’s poorest countries, it is certainly arguable that a fresh new face is needed in Zimbabwe’s top office.
Sources and Further Reading
- Kevin Sieff and Paul Schemm, In Zimbabwe, an anxious wait to see if Mugabe will return after military takeover, The Washington Post, 15 November 2017
- Jason Burke, Robert Mugabe's grip on Zimbabwe ebbing away after military takes control, The Guardian, 15 November 2017
Image: GovernmentZA @ Flickr