For 37 years 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 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 none of those strategies worked, he resorted to using outright violence and strongmen 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 very 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, Mugabe’s wife Grace, flanked by Mugabe himself, has used 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, from an unknown location, after facing a second assassination attempt within weeks, and just days after being dismissed. 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 the purging of war veterans come to an end completely.
The next day, Mugabe, being 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 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 on early Wednesday morning. Allies of Mugabe’s wife had their residences stormed, while Mugabe himself was detained at his own home. At 4am 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 quite knew what to 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,” ZANU-PFs Nick Mangwana said.
On the streets, life went on. Civilians cheered the men in camo. Police were nowhere to be seen, so where the infamous central intelligence organisation 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 underestimated 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 the 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 or 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 meantime, hundreds of thousands of people are set to convene and demonstrate against Mugabe. For so long he has relied on anti-riot police to quash demonstrations against him, while using force to coerce people to attend his own rallies.
With police activities suspended, and Mugabe unable to quash the demonstrations, it is likely that the whole country might show up in protest, leaving SADC and the AU with egg on their face.
For all their love for Mugabe, his own citizens do not want him anymore. They are supporting the army, whom they refer to as ‘brave men and women’.
– Maynard Manyowa is a journalist, and co-editor of Khuluma Afrika – a nonpartisan center for investigative journalism, political analysis and commentary.