WITH pressure mounting on him to agree to step down from power after 37 years in office, the outgoing president Robert Mugabe was in the company of close family members and negotiators who shuttled between his Borrowdale mansion and military offices to ensure his soft landing and safe exit.
By Bernard Mpofu
After a lot of engagement and persuasion, Mugabe’s two family friends, namely former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono and Catholic priest Fidelis Mukonori, managed to convince him on Tuesday to offer voluntary resignation at around 1:30pm.
The Speaker of Parliament was informed at 1.53pm.
Sources familiar with developments at Mugabe’s mansion said Mukonori worked closely with presidential spokesperson George Charamba and Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi. Other people who also played a role in negotiating Mugabe’s exit include Justice minister Happyton Bonyongwe, Central Intelligence Organisation acting director-general Aaron Nhepera, Attorney-General Prince Machaya and the chief secretary in the Office of the President and Cabinet, Misheck Sibanda.
While Mukonori’s role was well-known, Gono’s part only came to light on the day in question although he had been involved since last week Friday. Gono is a long-time friend of the Mugabes and also doubled as the family’s business advisor.
“Mugabe spent his last moments as president on November 21 before and after being pressured to resign at 1.30pm at his Borrowdale mansion in Harare surrounded by close family friends and members of negotiating team which was engaged in talks between him and the military,” one close family member said.
“He was with Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi, his spokesman George Charamba, Acting Director-General of the Central Intelligence Organistaion Aaron Nhepera and a close family friend, former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono who was invited to join the negotiating team by Mugabe’s family on Friday November 17, four days after the military intervention crisis.
“The negotiating team, which included Mukonori and Gono, among others, shuttled between Mugabe and Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantino Chiwenga and other top members of the command element, and later Speaker of Parliament, eminent church leaders and University of Zimbabwe vice-chancellor Professor Levy Nyagura, who is also close to the Mugabe family, to break the impasse. Other players who were involved in negotiations with Mugabe on his last day in office included Justice minister Happyton Bonyongwe, Secretary in the Office of President and Cabinet Misheck Sibanda and Attorney-General Prince Machaya,”a source said.
In March this year, the Zimbabwe Independent reported that rival Zanu PF factions, then battling to choose a successor to replace Mugabe, panicked after Gono held a three-hour one-on-one meeting with the long-serving leader at State House in Harare.
Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s only leader since Independence in 1980, had a fallout with the military after he sacked his deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa a fortnight ago. Mnangagwa fled the country and a Zanu PF faction coalesced around Mugabe’s wife Grace then turned the heat on Mnangagwa’s camp, forcing the military to put Mugabe’s house under siege on Tuesday night under a military mission code-named “Operation Restore Order”.
The long-time leader faced a barrage of attacks from the ruling party and nationwide protests for him to step down. But he stuck to his guns despite the immense pressure.
On Wednesday, a picture of Mugabe and wife surrounded by his confidantes in one of his living rooms went viral on social media. Before then, Mugabe had defied calls to step down, arguing that he had popular support and also saying the military takeover was a coup. The army denies that it was a coup.
Ever since last Friday’s Zimbabwe Open University graduation ceremony at which Mugabe officiated, the former president had been holed up in his mansion with several high-ranking officials coming in and out of the mansion to debrief him on the political developments.