Mugabe’s inglorious exit: The timeline

AFTER ruling with an iron fist for the majority of his 37-year tenure, a cornered and humbled former president Robert Mugabe resigned on November 21, sparking jubilant celebrations nationwide and across the country’s borders.

Owen Gagare

With military tanks stationed outside his opulent Borrowdale mansion, commonly known as the Blue Roof, and a parliamentary session in motion to impeach him, Mugabe threw in the towel as a face-saving gesture, after a series of embarrassments.

“Following my verbal communication with the Speaker of the National Assembly, Advocate Jacob Mudenda at 13:53 hours, 21st November, 2017 intimating my intention to resign as the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, I, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, in terms of Section 96, Sub-Section 1 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, hereby formally tender my resignation as the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe with immediate effect,” wrote Mugabe.

“My decision to resign is voluntary on my part and arises from my concern for the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe and my desire to ensure a smooth, peaceful and non-violent transfer of power that underpins national security, peace and stability.”

Mugabe’s resignation followed days of high political drama, as the Zanu PF succession battles which had simmered for many years — occasionally letting out lava — finally erupted with an ultra-plinian volcanic force.

The high political drama began with the attempted arrest of then Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantino Chiwenga at the Robert Mugabe International Airport on November 12 soon after his arrival from China.

A team from the police’s Support Unit details attempted to effect the arrest, but were stopped in their tracks movie-style by soldiers clad in National Handling Services worksuits. The soldiers had been deployed to shield the army boss from being apprehended.

The arrest was part of a plan to weed out former vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa’s backers, following his expulsion from Zanu PF and government.

On November 13, Chiwenga then held a press conference at the army’s KG VI headquarters in Harare, now renamed Josiah Magama Tongogara Barracks, warning the military could “step in” to avert a potential crisis caused by infighting in Zanu PF.

Chiwenga ordered Mugabe “to stop reckless utterances by politicians from the ruling party denigrating the military” and halt the purging of people with a liberation background in Zanu PF.

He called for “counter-revolutionary elements” in the party to be fished out and for the Zanu PF leadership to ensure that members go to the extraordinary congress with an equal opportunity.

On November 14, then Zanu PF youth leader Kudzanayi Chipanga attacked Chiwenga, labelling him a “rebel” and “criminal” who should be held accountable for the country’s missing diamond revenue.

Zanu PF later issued a statement describing Chiwenga’s utterances as “treasonous”.

The military responded by moving troops and equipment, including tanks, into Harare after which it secured strategic places such as the Munhumutapa Building, which houses the Office of the President, Supreme Court, parliament and state broadcaster ZBC.

The army advanced to Mugabe’s residence at around 10.30pm before descending on key G40 faction members between 2am and 2.30am on November 15.

The military also raided Chikurubi Support Unit base, where they took control of the police armoury.

By 3am, the army had secured all vital locations, prompting then Major-General Sibusiso Moyo (now retired Lieutenant-General) to announce an hour later that the army had stepped in to defuse a potential crisis. He emphasised that the military had not effected a coup and would not harm Mugabe.

“We wish to assure the nation that His Excellency, the President Robert Gabriel Mugabe and his family are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed. We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes,” he said.

“… To both our people and the world beyond our borders, we wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover of government. What the Zimbabwe Defence 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.”

The military, which insisted it had not effected a coup, negotiated with Mugabe with the help of emissaries including Catholic cleric Fidelis Mukonori, but he dug in his heels and refused to quit on their terms. Mugabe agreed to relinquish his post but said he would do so at the party’s extraordinary congress, which was held last week.

The army however had an escalation plan and, with the help of war veterans and Zanu PF structures, organised a march which was supported by opposition parties and members of civil society.

Thousands of jubilant people took to the streets in the country’s major towns on November 18, demanding Mugabe’s resignation, turning the tide in the military’s favour.
More pressure was piled on Mugabe when the Zanu PF central committee, the party’s de facto highest decision-making body outside congress, recalled Mugabe from the position of party first secretary and replaced him with Mnangagwa on Sunday.

The party also gave Mugabe an ultimatum to resign as state president by midday on November 20, failing which the party’s chief whip, Lovemore Matuke, would institute impeachment proceedings in line with Section 97 of the national constitution.

Mugabe however refused to resign and stunned Zimbabweans on Sunday night when he used a televised address, widely expected to be a resignation speech, to reassert his authority and announce he intended to preside over Zanu PF’s December congress as usual.

He was humiliated on Tuesday when ministers refused to attend a cabinet meeting he called at State House.

Later in the afternoon, lawmakers from both houses of parliament gathered at Harare International Conference Centre to debate a motion calling for his removal from power for shortcomings, including falling asleep in meetings and allowing his wife Grace to usurp presidential powers.

The motion was however abandoned after Mugabe sent his resignation letter to Mudenda, who read it, sparking wild celebrations which soon spread like a veld fire countrywide.

The military action followed Mugabe’s decision to fire Mnangagwa on November 6, for various reasons including “disloyalty” and “conduct inconsistent with his official duties”.

The dismissal was announced by Information minister Simon Khaya Moyo, at a press conference at his Munhumutapa offices.

“It had become evident that his conduct in the discharge of his duties had become inconsistent with his official responsibilities. The vice-president has consistently and persistently exhibited traits of disloyalty, disrespect, deceitfulness and unreliability. He has also demonstrated little probity in the execution of his duties,” Moyo said.

Mnangagwa was subsequently dismissed from Zanu PF at the party’s politburo meeting on November 8, by which time he had skipped the country’s border in dramatic circumstances through an unofficial exit point near Mutare. His aides disarmed police officers manning Forbes Border Post prior to his escape.

Mnangagwa raised the stakes soon after fleeing the country when he announced he would return “soon” to control the party and government.

“I will go nowhere. I will fight tooth and nail against those making a mockery of Zanu PF’s founding principles, ethos and values,” Mnangagwa said in a statement.

“You (Mugabe) and your cohorts will, instead, leave Zanu PF by the will of the people and this, we will do in the coming few weeks as Zimbabweans in general now require new and progressive leadership that is not resident in the past and refuses to accept change.

“… As I leave this post (VP) for now, I encourage all loyal members of the party to remain in the party, to register to vote, as we will, very soon, control the levers of power in our beautiful party and country.”

Mnangagwa was fired after his supporters booed the former first lady at a Zanu PF youth interface rally at White City Stadium in Bulawayo on Saturday, November 4.

“Did I make a mistake by appointing Mnangagwa as my deputy? If I did, then I can drop him, even tomorrow,” an emotionally charged Mugabe said.

“If they want to form their own party with those who support him, they can go ahead. We cannot have a party where we ridicule each other. I don’t like that…If things get to this stage, we say gloves are off and time is ripe to make a final decision.”
The next day Grace addressed thousands of apostolic sect members during her “Super Sunday Rally” at Rufaro Stadium in Harare, declaring that Mnangagwa should be fired from both government and Zanu PF, before the ruling party’s extraordinary congress.

“I moved to stop the issue of youths being expelled from the party and demanded that we deal with the head of factionalism. A snake is better dealt with by crushing the head,” Grace ranted, breaking into a rendition of singer Sulumani Chimbetu’s Batai Munhu hit song.

“His head must be crushed. I have said I will personally make sure disciplinary procedures are followed to deal with Mnangagwa even if everyone in the party is scared. I will not be intimidated.”

The military intervention, which many say was actually a coup, humbled Mugabe and Grace, enabling Mnangagwa to make good his promise to come back from exile and control the levers of power.

He was sworn in as president on November 24 at the National Sports Stadium in Harare, where he promised to re-engage the international community, revive the economy and conduct free and fair elections.

On November 30, he appointed a 22-member cabinet full of old Zanu PF faces, loyalists, as well as some officials known for wreaking havoc in their localities and others who can barely walk, attracting criticism in the process.

Two military commanders — retired Air Force of Zimbabwe commander Perrence Shiri and Moyo — were appointed into cabinet.

Chiwenga is likely to be appointed vice-president, a reward for facilitating Mnangagwa’s presidency.

It has been a bad year for Mugabe who was embarrassed in October after the World Health Organisation withdrew its decision to appoint him goodwill ambassador following widespread criticism from donors, human rights groups and several medical organisations.

His ouster was no doubt the most significant political highlight in Zimbabwe in 2017.

2 thoughts on “Mugabe’s inglorious exit: The timeline”

  1. Takudzwa Mangwana says:

    Does the author of this article understand the meaning of timeline? You started in the middle- the attempted arrest of Chiwenga and following events, then you went to the beginning, the fall out between Mugabe and Mnangagwa and subsequent firing etc, then you went to the end, the ascendency of Mnangagwa etc. This is a very confused article!

    1. Ingrid Tekere says:

      It’s a straight line story; you may start anywhere along that line and still come up with a coherent version.

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