by Dr Heike I Schmidt
Robert Gabriel Mugabe gained leadership over ZANU during Zimbabwe’s liberation war in 1976 after its party chairman, Herbert Chitepo, was assassinated in Lusaka, Zambia, in March 1975. Imprisoned from 1963 to 1975 by the Rhodesian settler regime, he managed to flee the country for Mozambique that same year. Two years later, in 1977, Mugabe was declared party president by ZANU’s central committee, something that the previous president, elected at the inaugural party congress in 1963, Ndabaningi Sithole, always contested. Consequently, Mugabe renamed the party ZANU-PF for the independence elections in April 1980 when he won the majority which laid the groundwork for his and his party’s 37-year rule.
Zimbabwe’s first decade was characterized by reconciliation, a tremendous effort to enhance the living standard of all Africans who had been so brutally discriminated against during minority rule, and a flourishing small scale agricultural sector. It was also during this decade that Robert Mugabe as head of state, with Emmerson Mnangagwa his Minister of State Security, carried out Gukaruhundi, the genocide in the south of the country, aimed primarily against his political opposition, ethnically mostly Matabele, killing up to 20,000 Zimbabweans.
In the year 2000 Robert Mugabe declared the Third Chimurenga, with the first the anti-colonial war of 1896-97 and the second the liberation war of the 1960s and ‘70s. Now the goal was to decolonize Zimbabwe economically and culturally. Part of this was land reform, long overdue with the legal barriers removed at independence but the de facto separation between commercial and small scale producer land along racial lines still largely in place. However, both land seizures, without compensation, and land resettlement involved force and violence and overall lacked organization and provisions that would have made this an economically and culturally successful exchange of resources. Emmerson Mnangagwa stood by Robert Mugabe’s side through much of those developments, earning him the nickname ‘the enforcer’. Meanwhile Zimbabwe’s economy collapsed with the sad world record hyperinflation rate of 79.6 billion percent by November 2008 which left the country without its own currency.
What did lead to political change after 37 years of ZANU-PF and Mugabe rule? The trigger was the first lady’s ambition to succeed her husband, compounded by her conspicuous consumption which earned her the nickname Gucci Grace and her sense of impunity.
In September 2014 Robert Mugabe, Chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe, capped his wife Grace who earned a doctorate in sociology after apparently only two months in the program. It should be mentioned that Grace and Robert Mugabe married in 1996 in the Catholic cathedral in Harare in a lavish wedding with their two first born children present which they conceived while the 41-year younger Grace was working as his secretary in state house and while both were married to other people.
In February 2017 Grace Mugabe declared that her husband should run in the planned 2018 general elections even ‘as a corpse’. This led to wide-spread speculation that she had now firmly set her eyes on becoming her husband’s successor.
The next step in the drama began 13 August 2017 when Grace Mugabe visited their sons in a South African hotel room and allegedly attacked their female friends, hitting one of them, Gabriella Engels, so hard with an extension cable, that she split her forehead open. Engels filed charges, Grace Mugabe said she would report to the police station the next morning, and when she failed to do so, President Mugabe entered the country early on a planned visit which afforded his wife diplomatic immunity. To be continued…