Internal power struggles inside the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) have become, by all appearances, an ongoing coup. The military of Zimbabwe, historically a strong defender of the Mugabe regime, seems to have turned on the world’s oldest president. Military officials put the 93 year old Mugabe under house arrest as the army seized the country’s airwaves amid reports of escalating tensions, gunfire, and explosions in the capital, Harare. Soon after, the military took control of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), which has been accused of bias towards Mugabe and his interests. This bias showed in their refusal to publicise a statement the military issued on Monday, the day before Mugabe’s detainment.
This came in the wake of a report from the government that the military detained Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo. Minister Chombo, a leading member of the ‘G40’ faction of the ruling ZANU-PF party, was speculated to be vying to succeed Mugabe.
The military spokesperson , Major General SB Boyo, shocked the world in a televised statement at the crack of dawn on Wednesday, 15th November, assuring Zimbabweans that “Comrade Robert Gabriel Mugabe and his family are safe and their security is guaranteed.”
The spokesperson continued, attempting to give some reasoning for the military’s actions, “We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic sufferings to the country, in order to bring them to justice,”
There was also an appeal to the military as a whole in the statement, “To members of Zimbabwe Defence Forces, all leave is cancelled and you are all to return to your barracks with immediate effect.”
There was also a clear carrot and stick approach to make security forces fall in line in the statement. They asked security forces to cooperate and focus on ending threats to human security, but also warned that any provocation would be met with an ‘appropriate response’. The military also expressed a desire to reform the government and distribute powers more fairly, telling members of parliament that they were committed to goals that would allow them to more freely serve the people according to democratic tenets.
This comes against the backdrop of longstanding public outrage. The Mugabe regime is infamous for its harsh repression. The military has backed the regime as it instituted crackdowns on freedom of expression, political associations, and fundamental human rights. As a result, there is little surprise that the streets of Harare have remained deserted despite military officials calling on the people to continue with their normal activities as usual.
The military spokesperson further asserted that the intervention “was not a military takeover of government”, but a pacification of the increasingly dire political situation in the country. The statement seems fairly disconnected from the reality on the ground, as the recent events bear the markings of a coup.
A Brief Summary of What Led to the Coup
On monday the ruling party, the ZANU-PF, accused the military chief General Chiwenga of treason. A day later, armoured vehicles were spotted making their way to Harare, in what was widely viewed as a military intervention in response to systematic purges within the government. These purges targeted veterans of the Zimbabwe liberation war, and included the Vice President, Emerson Mnagangwa. Mnagangwa is a fierce figure, and he earned the moniker ‘the crocodile’ for his quiet demeanor and his role in multiple massacres carried out by forces under his control. In his dismissal, the deposed Vice president was accused of disloyalty and deceit.
Earlier this month, he became the second Vice president dismissed in 3 years. His expulsion was the final straw for the military, and they finally mutinied against the dictatorship and treachery of Mugabe. General Chiwenga, a long standing political ally of Mnagangwa and Chief of the Army, had earlier warned that the military would not hesitate to step in to end the purges of former Liberation fighters.
“We must remind those behind the current treacherous shenanigans that when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in,” said Chiwenga.
Mnagangwa was widely perceived as heir apparent until recently. The First Lady, Grace Mugabe, who has flown to Namibia for asylum, continues to attract attention in Zimbabwe following her ascent to the leader of the women’s league within the ZANU-PF party. She ran spirited campaigns to oust Mnagangwa and referred to him as a snake “which must be hit on the head” . She’s widely expected to be chosen at the upcoming party Special Congress in December to fill the gap of the Vice president, although recent developments may change those plans. However, she does enjoy strong support from the party’s youth league, and she has already received endorsements from factions allied to Mugabe within the party structures.
But how powerful is Mnagangwa? The current happenings seem to play heavily in his favour. A veteran liberation fighter and a former consummate army official, he enjoys significant support from the current security establishment. Before the coup, he spoke out against Mugabe, accusing him of treating Zimbabwe like a personal property. He also assured his supporters that he would come back home to take back the “hijacked” party and lead the people of Zimbabwe. He looks to be keeping his promise, at least for now.
All of this comes after nearly four decades of tyrannical rule by Mugabe. Under his control, a once rich country has become a pale shadow of its former self. He was able to maintain power in the face of Zimbabwe’s decline due to the fact that he never took chances. He would raise potential successors, only to betray them and destroy their political future. He met dissent with seething wrath. In a state blighted with cancerous corruption and widespread poverty, estimated to be about 80%, Mugabe has wielded state power and abused resources to consolidate and retain power since independence.
The intervention of the military, if handled well, could be a breakthrough for an impoverished country yearning for change. It could see Zimbabwe begin the path back to economic recovery, robust development and democracy! A coup may have been necessary to topple the dictatorial regime and salvage the country from collapse. However, the future of the south African country remains uncertain.