Zimbabwe’s ‘slow motion coup’: Zanu-PF hardliners and opposition call for Mugabe’s ouster


Thousands of demonstrators are expected to rally in Harare on Saturday as an unprecedented alliance of Zanu-PF hardliners and opposition activists seek to force Robert Mugabe step aside as Zimbabwe’s president, the Daily Telegraphs reports:

The rally, which has been organized by the country’s influential War Veterans association but endorsed by opposition parties and civil society groups, is intended to convince Mr Mugabe he has lost public support and lend an air of legitimacy to the de facto military coup that saw him placed under house arrest. The march comes as further details emerged of plans by Zanu-PF, the party Mr Mugabe has led for four decades, to impeach him if he refuses to resign voluntarily.

Veneer of constitutionality

It is likely that Zimbabwe would head into a transitional process with an acting government that would include the opposition, civil society and members of the ruling party who were interested in reforming, one observer told Quartz.

Zimbabwe’s military is still negotiating with Mugabe because of its desire to preserve what opposition leader Welshman Ncube called “the veneer of constitutionality”. That could slow — or even derail — what had appeared to be the army’s plan to replace him with Emmerson Mnangagwa, the vice-president and former intelligence chief whose sacking last week triggered the crisis that led to the military’s intervention, the Financial Times reports:

Mr Ncube, spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said that this week could still be a huge turning point for the country. “This might be the beginning of a different direction altogether, never mind the intention of those who have started the process,” he said, referring to the army’s presumed purpose of keeping Zanu-PF in power. Whatever happens next, he said, he saw no way back for the man who had overseen Zimbabwe’s turbulent fate for the past four decades. “I don’t see that there can be a return to Mugabe’s dictatorship and Mugabe’s rule.”

Much will depend “on whether Zimbabwe is willing to draw on the experience of other countries that have managed peaceful transitions from autocracy to democracy and avoided chaos or civil war,” said Princeton Lyman (left), a former board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group. “It will be essential that the country move out of military control soon at a minimum to meet the mandate of the African Union not to recognize governments that come to power by unconstitutional means. How this is managed will say much about Zimbabwe’s future,” he told a USIP forum on the crisis.

Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) called for a peaceful return to constitutional democracy on Wednesday after an overnight military coup against 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe, Reuters reports:

The MDC, the main political challenger to Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party for the last two decades, also said it hoped the military intervention would lead to the “establishment of a stable, democratic and progressive nation state”.

“What has happened in Zimbabwe is a military takeover of the state,” said McDonald Lewanika, a political analyst. “It is a coup, a veto coup to be precise, one that is aimed not at addressing poor governance but at pre-emptive action aimed at anticipated actions against the interests of the army.”

A joint statement from civil society groups, including several grantees of the National Endowment for Democracy, called for a “peaceful and constitutional resolution” to the crisis and for the “immediate return of Constitutional order and democracy.”

“I am happy with what’s happened but today is a comma not a full stop. We need real change,” said Chipo Parirenyatwa, Chair of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Organisation.

“I don’t know how the army will do but I am optimistic there need to be elections in a peaceful manner with the international community involved. I think there is a fifty-fifty chance of that happening,” she told the BBC.

Learn more about the situation in the BBC’s interview with Glanis Changachirere (left), founder of Zimbabwe’s Institute for Young Women Development and a member of the World Movement for Democracy Steering Committee.

Zimbabwe’s fragmented opposition has not publicly condemned the military move. Nelson Chamisa, the deputy head of the opposition MDC party, called for “peace, constitutionalism, democratization, the rule of law and the sanctity of human life,” The Guardian adds.

Opposition leader Tendai Biti called for a “roadmap back to legitimacy”. “What is key is that a transitional authority is set up which is inclusive with the opposition and the ruling party … We need a dialogue too with [regional organizations], the African Union and the United Nations. We can’t solve this problem on our own,” Biti said.

“What we’re seeing is really the long-term result of the blocking of any kind of democratic transition in Zimbabwe. The army is now stepping in on behalf of the factional leader [Mnangagwa] in the name of the constitution and Zimbabwe’s democratic ideals,” says Professor Brian Roftopoulos, a leading researcher on Zimbabwe from the University of the Western Cape.

“This is of course all very ironic, seeing that the military has been using violence to keep Mugabe in power indirectly and Mnangagwa has played a key role in supporting him, despite him previously losing the elections.”

Mnangagwa has been Mugabe’s most brutal henchman for the past 37 years, a [London] Times reporter notes. “They don’t call him ‘the crocodile’ for nothing,” I was warned by a businessman who knows him well. “He never says a word but suddenly he bites. He’s very dangerous.”

Though a veteran of the governing ZANU-PF party, Mr. Mnangagwa is known to be on good terms with Morgan Tsvangirai, the longtime MDC leader, the New York Times notes. Mnangagwa’s biggest challenge is legitimacy,” said Dewa Mavhinga, a researcher on Zimbabwe for Human Rights Watch. “That’s why he is likely to try to accommodate Tsvangirai.”

A recent analysis suggested that “the support of most of the leaders of Zimbabwe’s security establishment would seem to give the Lacoste faction around Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa the upper hand over the G40 group supporting First Lady Grace Mugabe” (right).

Political analyst Mike Mavura said it was important for the military to say this was not a coup for reasons of international legitimacy.

“We are not in the 1960s and 1970s anymore, when coups in Africa were left, right and center — I think they are trying very hard to appear progressive,” he told The Washington Post. “However, of interest to democracy, the elections scheduled for next year, will they take place?”

Grace Mugabe’s political career is probably over, Bloomberg adds:

Mugabe wed Grace (left), his former secretary, in 1996 after the death of his first wife. Nicknamed “Gucci Grace” for her extravagant lifestyle, she used her position as first lady to kick-start a political career and was elected head of the ruling party’s women’s league. Her presidential ambitions were backed by members of a ruling party faction known as the G-40, who are now also likely to be sidelined.

Political repression, chronic poverty, a worthless currency, hyperinflation, collapsing education and healthcare, homelessness and high unemployment have earned Zimbabwe, formerly known as the food basket of southern Africa, a reputation as a basket case of a different type, The Guardian adds.

“The old man should be allowed to rest,” said Biti, a former Zimbabwe finance minister. Mugabe is a “very intelligent man who must know the die is cast.”

Solidarity Center

Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU – a partner of the Washington-based Solidarity Center) president Peter Mutasa told NewsDay in an interview that intra-elite schisms which resulted in the recent axing of Mnangagwa had left workers and other citizens suffering.

“We have over the years been noticing that government has been running away from its responsibilities about citizens and has instead been concerned about individuals who are the few elites that want to hold onto power,” Mutasa said. “Nothing has changed since 1980, and all the bickering is happening at the expense of citizens and workers who have suffered economic hardships for a long time with their wages now cut by 60%, while a lot of other workers are working without pay.”

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