via Tracing Mugabe’s fall – The Zimbabwean 11 February 2015
President Robert Mugabe’s fall last week on his return from Ethiopia where he had just been handed the African Union (AU) chairmanship is just a physical symbol of the big and tragic tumble that has always been coming.
It started in earnest in late 1997 when he agreed to pay ex-combatants gratuities for their participation in the war of liberation. On November 14 of the same year, the local dollar plummeted – marking the beginning of an economic meltdown that we have painfully lived with up to this day.
While the economy started experiencing a significant downturn from the mid-1990s when government adopted the ill-informed economic structural adjustment programme (ESAP), the decision to dish out gratuities to fake and real war veterans alike and the subsequent economic turmoil were sufficient to unclothe Mugabe as a fallible liberation and nationalist leader. It sprayed the first jet of acid on his political myth.
After the gratuities scandal the Dear Leader showed that he had not learnt his lesson fast enough. A year later, he unilaterally deployed Zimbabwean troops in the DRC, then under Laurent Kabila, putting a further but telling strain on the economy. This unpopular decision set the stage for direct and shock-inducing civil and political confrontation. The magnitude of protests that Mugabe faced in 1998 and 1999 was unprecedented. But that was just the beginning of the fall of the man many had considered larger than life, particularly in the period up to 1990, when an erstwhile comrade, Edgar Tekere, formed the Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM) after being expelled from Zanu (PF) for speaking against the one-party state that Mugabe was pushing for.
Then came the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in September 1999. For the first time in post-independence Zimbabwe, Mugabe faced a real, strong and pervasive opposition. MDC was unlike Joshua Nkomo’s Zapu, which tended to rely largely on one region for support—southern Zimbabwe—or ZUM, which was just a small protest movement whose main membership were excitable university students.
Civil society was also growing in strength and boldness. The collaboration between the MDC and CSOs, particularly the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), dealt Mugabe a fatal blow at the February 2000 constitutional referendum. The two successfully lobbied for a mass rejection of the constitution that Mugabe and his cohorts wanted.
Before that, the Dear Leader had never lost an election. All of a sudden, he was unmasked as a beatable father figure. The myth further dissipated. That put Mugabe in panic mode, hence the knee-jerk fast-track land redistribution programme to regain dwindling support, the vicious deployment of the military to cow the electorate and subsequent legislative measures to suppress dissent and the independent media.
The MDC more or less dominated parliament after the June 2000 elections and even though Mugabe was certified the winner in the 2002 presidential elections against Morgan Tsvangirai, there were loud whispers that the Dear Leader won through fraud and violence. More than a decade later, a South African team of judges’ findings were released after a heavy sweat – and they gave credence to those whispers. Subsequent elections were viciously contested, showing that Mugabe’s mystique as an invincible statesman had largely collapsed.
The real climax, of course, came with the 2008 general elections. Mugabe was beaten in the presidential poll in the first instance and only retained his position thanks to a murderous runoff in which Tsvangirai was cowed off the racing track. While he and Zanu (PF) were given the benefit of doubt in the 2000, 2002 and 2005 elections, 2008 removed all uncertainty. The message was clear; people did not want Mugabe anymore. He had outlived his usefulness.
A significant sideshow in 2008 further demystified Mugabe. This has come to be popularly known as “Bhora Musango”, whereby Zanu (PF) parliamentary candidates and their supporters clandestinely de-campaigned the Dear Leader. Most of these “saboteurs” are suspected to have been loyal to a the Mujuru camp that was peeved by the fact that Mugabe had refused to step down ahead of the 2008 elections. Bhora Musango, which denotes kicking the ball out of the field of play, came as a sequel to an equally significant development when two senior Zanu (PF) members, Simba Makoni and Dumiso Dabengwa, broke away from the party. The 2008 electoral sabotage whereby Zanu (PF) MPs won in constituencies where their leader lost dealt another body blow to Mugabe. His own comrades were rebelling against him.
This rebellion was again to play out in 2014 ahead of and during the congress. Mugabe, his wife Grace and the faction led by Emmerson Mnangagwa might have exaggerated the intentions that Joice Mujuru harboured in the succession race, but one thing that is clear is that Mugabe’s former deputy was indeed mobilising her supporters to take over from him.
As the onslaught from the opposition weakened, especially after the mysterious 2013 general elections, Mugabe found himself facing growing opposition from within his own party. A senior lieutenant who worked in his office and with whom he shared the trenches during the war, Didymus Mutasa, is now leading a campaign against him and has just come short of telling him that he is leading the party and government illegitimately.
Meanwhile, age is taking a big toll on Mugabe and everyone is noticing. His speech is slurring, he cannot walk easily and he loses his memory as he speaks. We don’t know how often he has fallen away from our glare, but one thing we are now sure of is that this Dear Old Leader is fallible. It is only a matter of time before he falls over the cliff. The myth is almost gone. – To comment on this article, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org