by Dr Heike I Schmidt
In 2014 Robert Mugabe removed Joyce Mujuru from office as Vice-President. She had become a close confidante and started to be seen as a possible successor. Her rivalry with Emmerson Mnangagwa and Grace Mugabe came to a head when she was accused of treason for plotting a coup. Mugabe replaced her with Mnangagwa in December 2014, the same month when Grace Mugabe made her political ambitions clear as newly appointed leader of ZANU-PF’s Women’s League, the first political position she ever held.
Things between the Mugabes and Mnangagwa came to a head – over ice cream poisoning. In August Mnangagwa attended a rally and was taken very sick. Rumours circulated that he accused Grace Mugabe of having tried to poison him with ice cream. After denials on all sides that ice cream was even consumed, Grace Mugabe began arguing that Mnangagwa’s insinuation against her was indicating his desire to depose her husband. The conflict came to a head 6 November 2017 when Mugabe removed Mnangagwa from office as vice-president and the latter fled the country.
On 13 November 2017 General Chiwenga, head of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, in the presence of about ninety military leaders, announced that the military would intervene in the political process if necessary. The following day, the military moved armoured vehicles to the capital of Zimbabwe, Harare and seized the government broadcasting station, ZBC.
On the morning of 15 November 2017 Major General Moyo declared that the Mugabes were safe and detained.
Moyo emphasized that this was not a coup, but that the military acted to correct decisions that had been made by party leadership.
On 19 November the Central Committee of the ruling party met and decided to expel Grace Mugabe and some of her followers and to remove Robert Mugabe as party president. They threatened impeachment should the president not step down voluntarily. As the nation and the global community hoped for Robert Gabriel Mugabe act, the world had to wait until the evening of the same Sunday.
It is fair to say almost everybody was surprised when Mugabe read a speech in which he reasserted his leadership of the party and the country, acknowledged that change had to be made but not before the party conference, scheduled for December. The nation wept.
Both chambers of parliament convened Monday 20 November and in a surprise decision decided that with the venue too small, the assembly needed to move to the Rainbow Towers Hotel. The moment the impeachment proceedings began, the letter of resignation by Mugabe arrives and is read aloud by the speaker of house.
The Mugabe era came to an end after 37 years. President Mugabe and his wife Grace will receive full benefits from the Zimbabwean government, including an entertainment allowance for the former first lady. Their private property apparently remains untouched. The High Court declared that the military’s actions were justified.
Beginning in Harare, the nation began celebrating as soon as the military moved into the capital city, realizing that some change was in the air but the tremendous joy when Mugabe resigned cannot be overstated.
The single most stunning aspect of these developments is that the opposition had no say in this whatsoever. The end of the Mugabe era and any changes coming with that are the result entirely from within the ruling party. The same members of parliament who had cheered their leader just a week before jumped up in jubilation when his letter of resignation was announced.
President Emmanuel Mnangagwa was inaugurated Friday 24 November 2017. In his speech he thanked Robert Mugabe emphasizing he needed ‘be lauded and celebrated for all times.’ He continued to characterise their relationship as Mugabe remaining to be his ‘father, mentor, comrade-in-arms, and … leader’. Mnangagwa also promised economic recovery, re-entry into the international community, compensation for seized farms, and a united, inclusive nation with elections going ahead as planned next year.
Mnangagwa is said to have given himself the nickname ‘the crocodile’. Zimbabweans widely associate with the nickname the hunting habits of this animal that stalks its prey and then ambushes it, pounces quickly and decicively. There are rumours that the president gave the nickname to himself to lay claim to his participation in the operation of the famous Crocodile Group that operated in eastern Zimbabwe in 1964 which led to the first killing of a white person in the liberation war.
At the end of his inaugural speech President Mnangagwa said ‘The voice of the people is the voice of god.’ That claim can be read to mean that Mugabe was deposed and that Mnangagwa was anointed by god with whatever implications that may have for Zimbabwe’s democratic future.