Sunset on the Mugabe era: Long-serving President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe resigns from office, heading off impeachment proceedings
In mid-November 2017, long-serving President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe was detained in his home as an apparent military coup unfolded in that country.
The action occurred when Grace Mugabe -- the wife of the president and likely "heir apparent" to the ruling Zanu-PF party and the presidency -- was out of the country in Namibia. It also ensued in the days following the firing of the president's deputy Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Of note was the fact that the military's apparent coup action occurred when Mnangagwa returned to Zimbabwe from South Africa, where he had recently fled.
The military insisted that it was guarding the president in his residence while it dealt with corrupt members of Mugabe's Zanu-PF party, and it was not carrying out a takeover.
In a national address broadcast via the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, Major General Sibusiso Moyo said, "We wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover of government. What the Zimbabwe defense forces is doing is to pacify a degenerating political, social and economic situation in our country, which if not addressed may result in violent conflict." Moyo also said, "We are only targeting criminals around him (Mugabe) who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice." He added, "As soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy."
However, the actions by the military -- placing the president under house arrest and taking control of state media -- were trademark characteristics of a coup d'etat. It was unclear if the military leadership directing these moves aimed to depose Robert Mugabe completely, or, simply to prevent Grace Mugabe and the anti-Mnangagwa faction of the Zanu-PF from being able to assume power. Either way, though, it was apparent that the Mugabes were under pressure.
Meanwhile, armoured vehicles and military troops were reported to be patrolling the streets of the capital city of Harare, essentially blocking government buildings, parliament and the presidential residence.
In the days after the military held Mugabe under house arrest, the Zimbabwean leader was able to talk to his South African counterpart, Jacob Zuma. In that call, Mugabe confirmed that he was being detained at home but noted that he was fine. There were reports that South African emissaries had traveled to Zimbabwe to arrange negotiations between Mugabe and the military leadership.
In Zimbabwe, the main opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change, said that it hoped the military intervention would lead to the "establishment of a stable, democratic and progressive nation state."
At the regional level, the African Union called for calm. At the international level, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged a peaceful resolution. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson described the situation unfolding in Zimbabwe in an address before parliament as follows: "We cannot tell how developments in Zimbabwe will play out in the days ahead and we do not know whether this marks the downfall of Mugabe or not. We will do all we can, with our international partners, to ensure this provides a genuine opportunity for all Zimbabweans to decide their future."
It should be noted that Mugabe has maintained considerable support among the base of his Zanu-PF party. He has held onto that support due to his status as a liberator from colonialism -- and despite the president's problematic policies. Those problematic policies have included a land redistribution program that forcibly ousted white farmers from their properties, essentially destroying the agricultural sector in a country once known as the bread basket of Africa. The natural corollary was colossal damage to the overall economy of Zimbabwe, manifest by food and currency shortages, unemployment north of 80 percent, and an exceedingly high rate of inflation (around 100,000 percent) effectively plunging the country into an utter economic crisis.
Despite these realities, Mugabe stalwarts and Zanu-PF loyalists stuck with the president and the party. But Mugabe's moves to sack Vice President Mnangagwa while elevating his wife, Grace Mugabe, were not well-received. Thus the action by the military.
Soon, Mugabe's own ruling ZANU-PF party appeared to grasp the political damage that might occur from sticking with him. As such, by Nov. 17 2017, the Zanu-PF party was calling for Robert Mugabe to resign and for his wife, Grace Mugabe, the exit the party. The shock desertion by the Zanu-PF served clear evidence that Mugabe's influence and authority was waning, and the Mugabe era was in its sunset hour.
The military was meanwhile giving indications that it wanted to see Vice President Mnangagwa take power.
On Nov. 19, 2017, the Zanu-PF party of Zimbabwe officially sacked Mugabe as its leader, expelled Grace Mugabe from the party, and named Emmerson Mnangagwa as the new Zanu-PF leader. Various spokespersons from the party hinted that the move was a precurson to Mugabe's resignation from power. On the same day, thousands of protesters took to the streets to hail the collapse of the Mugabe era. The rally in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare indicated that a movement was building to see Mugabe gone.
Despite this clearly unfavorably political climate, Mugabe showed no signs that he would be voluntarily stepping down.
Flanked by military generals, Mugabe issued a national addess from the State House office on Nov. 19, 2017. In that speech, he acknowledged that there had been criticisms from theZanu-PF, but he stopped short of actually resigning from office. In fact, Mugabe appeared to verbally reify his own authority as he declared that the events of the past week were not "a challenge to my authority as head of state and government." Mugabe also indicated that he would be present, as head of state, at an impending gathering of Congress.
The reaction from Zimbabwe at large, and certainly those in the political field, was pure shock. Opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, said in an interview with Reuters: "I am baffled. It's not just me, it's the whole nation. He's playing a game. He is trying to manipulate everyone. He has let the whole nation down."
It was to be seen how the Zanu-PF would deal with Mugabe's intransigence. Reports indicated that Zanu-PF gave Mugabe 24 hours to resign as head of state or face impeachment. In an interview with Reuters News, a source from the Zanu-PF party said the Zimbabwean leader could be fired and/or even impeached. Chris Mutsvangwa, a leader of a liberation war veterans group that was behind its own effort to oust Mugabe, echoed this possibility. Mutsvangwa said that plans to impeach Mugabe in parliament would go forward.
Indeed, the ruling Zanu-PF party made clear that impeachment proceedings against President Robert Mugabe would begin on Nov. 22, 2017. The charges would include allowing his wife, Grace Mugabe, "to usurp constitutional power." The procedure could be completed in a matter of days.
While there was likely wide support at home in Zimbabwe and and abroad internationally to see the Mugabe era come to an end, it was unclear as to if a Mnangagwa regime would present a sharp break. On the one hand, there were suggestiong that Mnangagwa might reverse some of the worst abuses of white farmers suffered under Mugabe, which gave rise to a national economic crisis. But on the other hand, Mnangagwa's background as a state security hardliner was not something to be ignored. Indeed, Mnangagwa was the mastermind behind the Gukurahundi crackdown, when approximately 20,000 people were killed by the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade in Matabeleland in the early 1980s.
Alert: On Nov. 21, 2017, Robert Mugabe has resigned from office, effectively heading off impeachment proceedings that were set to commence against him. Mugabe indicated that his decision was voluntary and was intended to facilitate a smooth transfer of power. That being said, it would simultaneously foreclose what could be an embarassing impeachment process. As expected, the ousted vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was set to succeed Mugabe, who had been in power since 1980. In the Zimbabwean capital of Harare, people took to the streets to celebrate the end of the Mugabe era.
-- Nov. 21, 2017
Denise Youngblood Coleman, PhD.
President and Editor in Chief