Fall of a dictator

Mugabe: The epic fall of dictator

NewsDay By Richard Chidza

November 20, 2017

A SHORT video of ordinary Zimbabweans stamping on a road signage bearing President Robert Mugabe’s name, then a picture of the signage in a trash can summarise the long-time Zanu PF leader’s inglorious exit from the political scene.

Another had their car registration plate covered with a cardboard paper inscribed Zim 1 — a typical mocking gesture to Mugabe’s official limousine. It cannot get any better than this, it is symbolic and an indication of where Mugabe now belongs — history. This would have been unthinkable a week ago. It would have been considered a treasonous act.

Mugabe, 93, Zimbabwe’s only leader since majority rule from Britain 37 years ago has straddled the world’s political stage like a colossus for 54 years. Controversial, witty, intelligent, belligerent and brutal, Mugabe’s political life epitomises a true depiction of a tyrant.

He would have wanted to go out with a bang, but it has all gone awry, pear-shaped even after an ill-advised decision to worm his wife Grace into the presidency and in particular the sacking of sly Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa on November 6 2017. That singular act, triggered hell for Mugabe and might remind him of his time as a cattle herder in Zvimba communal lands in Mashonaland West during his formative years when an accidental clash with a hornet’s nest would mean trouble.

Mugabe’s fall is best illustrated by his unceremonious tumble at the Harare International Airport in March 2015 after a “triumphant return” from the African Union where he had served as chairperson for a year. It was a defining moment that probably served as a “sign of how times had changed” or worse still the coming of a bad omen. Enigmatic and “immortal” Mugabe was human after all. He had survived assassination attempts, some real, and yet others imagined just to soil his enemies, during and after the liberation struggle. Had outlived his most vocal critics in Zanu PF and the opposition and pacified the military into a malleable tool to entrench his rule.

Despite his avowed communist leanings Mugabe had the West eating from the palm of his hand and was knighted by the British monarchy. His call for reconciliation in the iconic “Ploughshares” speech at his inauguration as independent Zimbabwe’s leader after the first all-race election in 1980 earned him international plaudits.

Even a gut-wrenching and gruesome ethnic cleansing exercise targeting mainly Ndebele-speaking supporters of his nationalist struggle rival, the affable Joshua Nkomo that left no less than
20 000 people dead did not dent his image internationally.

However, towards the end of the last century, Mugabe’s grip on power began to loosen as the Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes prescribed by Bretton Woods Institutions failed and ordinary citizens began to feel the bite of economic liberalisation. The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions led by then fiery secretary general Morgan Tsvangirai fronted nationwide strikes that nearly brought down Mugabe’s government.

In anger, Mugabe invited Tsvangirai to form “your own party and join politics”. The invitation was accepted and by 2000 pro-democracy groups such as the National Constitutional Assembly and Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had forced Mugabe into agreeing to constitutional reforms resulting in a draft that was however rejected at a referendum in February that year.

It was the first time Mugabe had ever been defeated in an electoral process. His reaction was swift and brutal. The Zanu PF leader unleashed veterans of the liberation struggle to forcibly confiscate white owned farms in an orgy of violence that left scores dead and the country’s economic backbone decimated.

In 2004 Zanu PF held its congress and Emmerson Mnangagwa then viewed as Mugabe’s heir apparent was shoo-in to walk into the party’s presidium as deputy president. Mugabe pulled the rug from under his fit after forcing through a constitutional change that would require that one of his deputies would be a woman in the form of Joice Mujuru. A meeting arranged at Dinyane Secondary School with assistance of the witty Professor Jonathan Moyo to elevate Mnangagwa to vice president had been undone at the stroke of a pen. Mnangagwa survived, but his acolytes including Moyo bore the brunt of Mugabe’s vindictiveness.
It was the beginning of the end.

Mugabe turned from international darling to despot. He transformed Zimbabwe from one of the 21st century’s most promising states to a pariah, an axis of evil even. He was described as a dictator and his rights record was thrust into the international limelight.

Honours bestowed on him including the Knighting by the British Crown were quickly withdrawn, but he trudged on. Infamously telling then British Prime Minister Tony Blair: “We have not asked for an inch of Europe, so Mr Blair keep your England and let me keep my Zimbabwe”.

He used violence to win the 2000 parliamentary election and on the eve of the 2002 presidential election, the military rolled out tanks onto the streets of the capital and other major centres to cow Zimbabweans into voting for the Zanu PF leader. As if that was not enough the country’s top generals lead by now late Vitalis Zvinavashe appeared on national television announcing they would never salute anyone “without liberation war credentials” a euphemism for Tsvangirai.

The MDC leader was arrested for treason, the election went ahead and Mugabe won. Tsvangirai challenged the result and the case is still to be heard at the High Court.

The economy nosedived, but Mugabe clung on. The local currency went into comatose and has never recovered.

In 2008, Mugabe lost to Tsvangirai in the first round of voting, but reportedly cooked figures with assistance from the military and Mnangagwa who was then Defence minister. Results were announced after two months showing Tsvangirai had failed to reach the required threshold to assume power.

A run-off was called and Mugabe again unleashed an orgy of violence forcing Tsvangirai to pullout. The Zanu PF leader was announced winner and inaugurated at night. The result was rejected at home and abroad forcing Mugabe into a coalition government with Tsvangirai as Prime Minister.

Four years later a fresh election was called in 2013, Mugabe won with a landslide, but Tsvangirai again cried foul citing rigging.

Mugabe ignored him and continued as usual. Zanu PF began plans for its congress in 2014 and it emerged his wife had political ambitions. The plan was clinical. Oppah Muchinguri was forced to relinquish her position as women’s league leader to pave way for Grace.

Grace did not stop there, she wanted the ultimate prize, but few even in Zanu PF had anticipated this or saw it coming. The First Lady embarked on nationwide vilification campaign of Mujuru.

In December 2014, Mujuru was removed along with hundreds of her supporters including liberation war stalwarts Rugare Gumbo and Didymus Mutasa. Mnangagwa, Zanu PF’s political bogeyman nicknamed “Ngwena” (the Crocodile) was elevated to take Mujuru’s place. Mugabe’s succession conundrum seemed to have been settled. Or so it seemed. All Mnangagwa needed to do was bid his time an ailing Mugabe would surely step down sooner rather than later.

However, Zanu PF structures began agitating for Mugabe to stand as party candidate in election scheduled for 2018 even though they were some four years away. He would be 94. The internal jockeying continued and the factionalism that had resulted in Mujuru’s expulsion reared its ugly head again. Mnangagwa became the target of a fresh vilification campaign once more fronted by Grace.

The Vice-President watched as his supporters were purged, he was attacked in public by his juniors in some of the most humiliating political images to ever come out of Zanu PF. Mugabe did nothing, if anything he seemed to have tacitly applauded from the background or better still funded the same.

Grace attacked her opponents in the women’s league leading to the suspension of some of her hitherto most vociferous supporters among them Hurungwe East MP Sarah Mahoka and Bulawayo Provincial Affairs minister Eunice Sandi Moyo.

The First Lady had embarked on another round of meet-the-people rallies which she used to lash out at Mnangagwa, although without identifying him by name, and the military. Mugabe had also ordered the army off Zanu PF internal politics at the party 15 December 2015 annual conference. It was the beginning of the end of his relationship with this key State institution on which he had built his brutal rule stretching nearly four decades.

Mugabe also stocked another succession frontier after a nasty fallout with veterans of the liberation struggle. The former fighters were teargassed after trying to gather in Harare before they were allowed to meet Mugabe in April last year. The meeting yielded little and at the end of July the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) headed by Christopher Mutsvangwa lashed out at Mugabe in uncharacteristic fashion. Mugabe was described in the foul communique as a “genocidal and manipulative leader”. The war veterans demanded that he hands over power to Mnangagwa. The demands only served to embolden Mugabe’s resolve not to anoint Mnangagwa, but then he kept this to himself.

In May Mugabe embarked on youth interface rallies that initially looked innocuous but later morphed into a platform to attack Mnangagwa.

The ever witty Moyo had public spats with Chiwenga and other generals. Mnangagwa’s Team Lacoste faction with support from State agents tried to force the party to expel Political Commissar Saviour Kasukuwere to no avail. Moyo was hauled before the courts on allegations he had pillaged the Zimbabwe Manpower Development Fund (Zimdef) of over $400 000 to no avail. The two were protected by Mugabe and his wife.

But Mnangagwa remained a frontrunner to take over from Mugabe until June this year when Moyo dropped Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi into the ring at a public discussion and all hell broke loose. According to Moyo then, Sekeramayi was better placed to succeed Mugabe.

The youth rallies continued and Mnangagwa was allegedly poisoned at the Gwanda gathering, airlifted to South Africa and joined the bandwagon on his return. But internally Mnangagwa’s supporters had reportedly accused Mugabe and his wife of trying to kill Mnangagwa using ice cream from his Gushungo dairies. Mugabe was angry and forced Mnangagwa into a public apology as well as revealing his medical records.

At the Mashonaland Central rally Grace attacked Mnangagwa and the war officially began. She had pitched for his removal but Mugabe tried to act the devil’s advocate.

However matters came to a head in Bulawayo on Saturday November 4 after Grace was booed by a section of the crowd prompting Mugabe to threaten firing Mnangagwa.

The following day Grace addressed members of the apostolic sects at Rufaro Stadium and Mnangagwa’s fate was sealed. On Monday November 6, Mugabe announced he had sacked his deputy and most trusted lieutenant for over half a century. Two days later, Zanu PF’s politburo rubberstamped the decision forcing Mnangagwa to flee into exile.

There had been rumours Mugabe intended to decimate Mnangagwa’s support base in the military and when reports emerged that Major-General Trust Mugova had been deployed to the African Union while Commander Defence Forces General Constantino Chiwenga was away on government business in China, tensions rose.

Chiwenga returned on November 11 and was reportedly almost arrested at the renamed Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport. A near deadly scuffle ensued but Chiwenga survived. Two days later the military boss shocked the world after issuing a damning public rebuke of Mugabe and demanding an end to Zanu PF internal purges especially of people connected “with the liberation struggle”.

It was downhill from there. It was a question of who would blink first. After a stormy Cabinet meeting, Mugabe reacted by reportedly issuing an order for Chiwenga’s arrest and Information minister Simon Khaya Moyo issued a statement in his capacity as Zanu PF spokesperson describing Chiwenga’s conduct as “treasonous and not representative of the military’s command element”.

The die had been cast and the army in the dead of night moved in placing Mugabe under house arrest and hunting down leading figures in the G40 faction in scenes that shocked the world given Mugabe had shown the façade of someone with a stranglehold on the military apparatus. Mugabe had fallen!

It was the end.