Thursday,21 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1370, (23-29 November 2017)
Thursday,21 February, 2019
Issue 1370, (23-29 November 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Grace and disgrace

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe faced impeachment after supporters within the ruling party threatened to oust him but he voluntarily resigned on Tuesday, and by extension his loathed wife was disgraced, writes Gamal Nkrumah


Grace and disgrace
Grace and disgrace

The Zimbabwean crisis has been elevated by the Zimbabwean Defence Forces — or high-ranking generals to be precise. The military’s forthright intervention was unprecedented in Zimbabwe and southern Africa. However, military takeovers, invariably violent, were until recently prevalent in west, central and east of the Sahara.

The generals indicated that they are not interested in power per se, but rather have temporarily taken control of the country to “target criminals” around the president. It may be possible to achieve limited compromises on a somewhat larger and more complicated basis.

The key character, sacked by Mugabe barely a week ago, is the onetime heir apparent Emmerson Mmanagawa, a former close political ally of Mugabe and comrade-in-arms during the Zimbabwean Chimurenga, the War of Liberation from white rule. 

The jubilant Zimbabweans danced and waved placards in Africa Unity Square in the Zimbabwean capital Harare. 

Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party, which stripped Mugabe of the party’s leadership last week, said it will impeach him if he does not step down by 12pm local time (10am GMT) Monday. But, Mugabe tendered his resignation voluntarily the following day. The deadline set by ZANU-PF for Mugabe to resign passed. Party stalwarts voted Tuesday for his impeachment. It is not clear what would become of Mugabe. As Al-Ahram Weekly went to press it was not known if he was still under house arrest.

Mugabe is reputed to be a most stubborn man, as indicated in his speech in which he refused to resign. He has been in power since 1980. But so too was Mmanagawa until the First Lady Grace, 40 years Mugabe’s junior, schemed to oust him and anyone else who stood in her way. She is widely loathed because of her extravagant lifestyle and mesmeric control over her husband. Her whereabouts are unknown, even though she is rumoured to have fled to neighbouring Namibia.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that since Mugabe’s speech Sunday, footage has emerged appearing to show his generals “swapping” paperwork just before he made his address, leading to speculation it may have been tampered with. So, are the generals in cahoots with Mugabe?

Mmanagawa urged the nonagenarian to accept the will of the people of Zimbabwe. As negotiations continued, the future of the world’s oldest head of state remained uncertain. Mugabe continued to be held in military custody and there is no sign of the recently fired deputy Mnangawa, who fled Zimbabwe last week. Yet Mugabe appears to be held in high esteem by a significant section of the Zimbabwean population.

The Zimbabwean political crisis reveals an urban-rural divide. The urban population in large cities such as the Zimbabwean capital Harare and the country’s second largest city Bulawayo are decidedly anti-Mugabe. The rural areas are sympathetic to Mugabe and he is widely respected for leading the War of Liberation.

The situation in Zimbabwe is reminiscent of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. China has taken a keen interest in the Zimbabwean political crisis. Beijing is Zimbabwe’s most important trading partner and arms supplier. The Chinese protests in 1989 were forcibly suppressed after the Chinese government declared martial law. Troops with assault rifles and tanks killed at least several hundred demonstrators trying to block the military’s advance towards Tiananmen Square. The current crisis in Zimbabwe has not yet reached this scale, but it might.

“Had Mao died in 1956, his achievements would have been immortal. Had he died in 1966, he would still have been a great man but flawed. But he died in 1976. Alas, what can one say?” Chen Yun, a leading Chinese Communist Party official under Mao and Deng Xiaoping mused.

Mugabe is still hanging on to power and dear life. Pressure from army is fast escalating. Army General Constantino Chiwengaza pledged that Zimbabwe will return to “genuine democracy”.

Mugabe called a cabinet meeting for Tuesday morning. Cabinet meetings are usually held at Munhumutapa Building in the centre of town, but an armoured vehicle and armed soldiers are camped outside the offices. 

Mugabe appears to be increasingly isolated. Indeed, ZANU-PF’s deputy secretary for legal affairs, Paul Mangwana, declared that lawmakers would move a motion for impeachment and set up a parliamentary committee.

On Wednesday, the committee would report back to all lawmakers and “we vote him out”, Mangwana boasted, according to AP and other local and international wire reports. He said Zimbabwe needs deep change while calls for radical restructuring have been touted.

Mangwana accused Mugabe, 93, of “allowing his wife to usurp government powers” and said “he is too old and cannot even walk without help”. 

Grace Mugabe, known derisively in Zimbabwe as Gucci Grace, was nominated head of ZANU-PF’s Woman’s League in 2014. The couple who have three children, Bona, Robert Junior, have been humbled. Grace Mugabe once boasted that her husband could even win votes as a corpse. The former first lady is a persona non-grata in South Africa after assaulting a model and is wanted on criminal charges. 

Mass demonstrations of protesters of all walks of life, and students in particular, display great courage hitherto unheard of in Zimbabwe since the Lancaster House agreement brokered by Britain, the former colonial master, ended white majority rule in what was then Rhodesia.

People power has taken Zimbabwe by storm. But there is little reason to foresee a fully-fledged revolutionary movement taking hold. Nonetheless, the economy is in shambles and the unemployment rate in Zimbabwe now stands at a staggering 90 per cent. The military must give a clear signal that the post-Mugabe period will see progress on the political and economic fronts.

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