Zimbabwe’s Mugabe era stumbles to a bumbling, dangerous last act
World | by Gwynne Dyer
“Someone, anyone, with close links, please make sure Uncle Bob reads the correct speech … Old man reads the 2013 inauguration speech and we’re in kak for another 5 years,” tweeted Mubaiwa Bandambira just before Zimbabwe’s beleaguered president, Robert Mugabe, went on television with what was supposed to be his resignation speech. After all, Mugabe is 93 years old, and he has read the wrong speech before.
He did it again, but it was not a mistake. With the generals who intervened last week to remove him from power ranged in chairs behind him, Mugabe stumbled and bumbled through a 20-minute speech in which he made no mention of resignation. No doubt his resignation was a key part of the speech they had agreed he would make, but he skipped those pages.
The Old Man is clearly delusional. He vowed to preside over next month’s congress of the ruling Zanu-PF party, although it has just fired him after 42 years as its leader. He ignored its threat to begin impeachment proceedings if he does not resign the presidency within 24 hours.
And his wife Grace, who was being positioned to succeed him as president but has now been expelled from Zanu-PF, is just as out of touch with reality.
It was Grace who persuaded Robert Mugabe to sack two vice-presidents in a row in order to take the job herself. This is what triggered the army’s intervention, because her second victim, Emmerson Mnangagwa, is an extremely powerful politician with close connections to the military. He had expected to succeed Mugabe when the old man finally died, and he took his dismissal personally.
Mnangagwa went into exile in Mozambique for a week, but then the army intervened on his behalf and the current crisis erupted. The generals hoped that they could get Mugabe to resign voluntarily, because they could then pretend that their action was not a military coup.
That was important, because the African Union no longer tolerates military coups in its member states and might even intervene against the generals. But Mugabe has tricked them, using his live television speech to declare that he plans to stay in power — and the soldiers are bound to conclude that it was Grace who put him up to it. She probably did.
Ten days ago, not knowing what was to come, I wrote a piece about Grace Mugabe and her ambition to take the presidency when Robert Mugabe finally dies. But she is hated in the party and deeply unpopular with Zimbabweans in general because of her greed and arrogance, and I ended the article by saying: “Once he dies, she will be lucky to get out alive.”
For a moment there, when the army intervened last week, I thought she might escape that fate. Uncle Bob would be offered a dignified exit from power, she would be excluded from the succession, and they would both go off to a comfortable retirement in Singapore or some other city where they already own very comfortable homes.
Well, that’s not going to happen. She has encouraged the old man to deceive the generals and cling to power, which wrecks their plans for a semi-constitutional transfer of power that doesn’t look like a coup. He will still be ejected from power, but no longer with dignity. They won’t kill him, because he is a hero from the time of the liberation struggle, but she is in mortal danger.
Emmerson Mnangagwa is now back in Zimbabwe, and will shortly be the president. He is known as “the crocodile”, and he has no reason to protect Grace Mugabe. Her best hope is exile, but she had better take the exit soon.
And what Zimbabwe will get is not an end of the dictatorship, but just a new dictator.
What is happening in Zimbabwe is not a popular revolution but a power struggle inside the ruling Zanu-PF party, and Mnangagwa is no democrat. He is a brutal political operator who directed the massacre of at least 20,000 people in the early 1980s, when the Ndebele people of southwestern Zimbabwe resisted the takeover of the whole country by Mugabe’s party.
Mnangagwa was also in charge of the military intervention in the 2008 election, in which so many civilians were assaulted, imprisoned or killed that the opposition leader withdrew his candidacy to save lives even though he had beaten Mugabe in the first round. Zimbabwe has always held elections, but there has never been any doubt about the result.
The Zimbabweans are celebrating Mugabe’s impending departure in the streets now, but there is no cause to believe that things will now get better for them. The same elite that has looted the country and run its economy into the ground will still be in power, led by a man more ruthless and violent than Mugabe.
Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.
Editor’s note: Robert Mugabe resigned as Zimbabwe’s president as this edition was going to press.