For two weeks since November 15, Zimbabwe claimed the attention of the world above North Korea and the Middle East.
Simbi Mubako,Zimbabwean diplomat
People watched the fall of Robert Mugabe in slow motion. No one had expected him to disappear from the Zimbabwe political scene which he had dominated for 37 years, to go in seven days deserted by his security forces, his cabinet and the people of Zimbabwe. No one, except his nephew Patrick Zhuwao and his son Chatunga, raised a voice in his defence.
I was at the Zimbabwe Grounds at Highfield and attended the Zanu PF central committee meeting the following day.
The rally was a mammoth crowd of people of diverse political and religious persuasions united in the one desire to see the back of Mugabe. The crowd compared favourably in size with that which welcomed Mugabe when he returned from Mozambique at the same venue, 37 years ago. Back then people were scrambling to see the returning conquering Julius Caesar who proclaimed Veni Vidi Vici (Latin for I came, I saw, I conquered). This time the crowd only chanted Ngaende, Ngaende! (He must go! He must go!)
The central committee meeting was united in rejecting Mugabe and the hated members of the G40 cabal. All the organs of Zanu PF sang the same monotonous tune to denounce their former leader. All the 10 provinces (including Mugabe’s home province Mashonaland West), the women’s league led by his wife, and the youth league, all demanded the recall of the president from the party and government positions.
The sharpest vitriol of the delegates was reserved for his wife whom some called Dr DisGrace, together with other members of the G40 mafia. These were stripped of all their positions and suffered expulsion from the party. Mugabe was blamed for failing to restrain his wife’s revolting lust for power. In the end, Grace brought down Mugabe from State House as surely as Eve brought down Adam in the Garden of Eden.
Political pundits and historians will continue to debate whether the fall of Mugabe should be called a “coup d’etat” or the November Revolution. Debate had started in Sadc, the African Union and the rest of the international community on how to react to developments in Zimbabwe. True, there were men in uniform and a few armoured vehicles on the streets of Harare. Change of rulers was happening, but there was a remarkable absence of violence or looting. Instead, life went on as usual for most people and the generals continued to salute the president.
The military made it clear that their only objective was to remove the G40 cabal which had captured the party and the government. One of the G40 ministers was arrested for common law crimes having allegedly been found with US$10 million in his house. At least two others went into hiding.
As for the president, he was reported to be under house arrest, but he was seen presiding over a student graduation ceremony and receiving Sadc emissaries just as in the past. The military denied that the President was under arrest. They said they had to guard him for his own safety. They could not take any chances lest he was harmed.
They would be blamed for it.
Finally, there was a replacement of one president by another from the same party. It would be stretching definitions to call such a scenario a “coup”. When British Prime Minister Margret Thatcher was removed from power with tears on her cheeks, no one called it a “coup”.
In this country, Garfield Todd was pushed from office by his cabinet and nobody called it a “coup”. These were sudden changes of rulers which were devoid of physical violence.
The change in Zimbabwe was of the same category. The president was forced to resign ultimately by a Zanu PF resolution and a credible threat of impeachment in parliament — all political and constitutional processes.
While the military maintained their gentle pressure and the massive popular support helped to make up the president’s mind, these never went beyond the level of civil protests and demonstrations.
To confound the pundits further, Mugabe himself wrote that his “decision to resign is voluntary 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”. This surely throws the issues outside the definition of a “coup”.
The AU and Sadc leaders soon realised that the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) intervention in Zanu PF politics did not constitute a military coup d’état. There was no intention “to seize power through unconstitutional means”, but only to pressure the politicians to resolve their differences constitutionally before they erupted into public violence like what happened in South Sudan. Sadc quickly withdrew from any involvement in what was a purely domestic mediation by the ZDF, for which they received massive popular support.
Some commentators have claimed that the events will introduce wide ranging changes in the Zimbabwean political and social scene. Although Mugabe’s departure might resemble the fall of Louis XVI and Czar Nicholas II, no 21st Century French Revolution or Russian Revolution will follow the accession of Emmerson Mnangagwa to power in Zimbabwe.
The authors of the change have only announced the limited objective of returning the ruling party to its liberation ethos and legacy. Mnangagwa has spoken of a new democracy. No doubt Mugabe’s departure will allow the dawn of a new era in human rights, in the economy, and personal style. But all this was unlikely to amount to a revolution.
The constitutional path
One week of political activism has demonstrated the Zimbabwean people’s attachment to constitutionalism.
The generals and the masses took measured and restrained action to keep within the law. They tolerated Mugabe’s stubborn antics to cling to power until legal steps were set in motion by the party and parliament to remove him. In the end, like Richard Nixon, Mugabe “voluntarily” tendered his resignation to the Speaker of Parliament in terms of Section 96 of the constitution.
Henceforth, events followed a transparently constitutional path. Legal succession is laid out in the Sixth Schedule, Section 14 (4) and (5). On the resignation of the president, the existing vice-president automatically becomes acting-president for up to 90 days during which period the party which elected the president will nominate an interim president.
The discordant factor was that the only sitting vice-president was Phelekezela Mphoko who had been recalled by the ruling party.
No one would have wanted him to act for any length of time. To forestall that, the ruling party notified the Speaker their nominee for interim president immediately after Mugabe’s resignation was announced.
The new president-elect, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was sworn in on November 24. Mphoko would have acted as president for three days. He was in fact out of the country during all that time. Zimbabwe’s first transfer of power was completed smoothly, peacefully and constitutionally.
Mugabe is gone
Mugabe was a great man, but his accomplishments can be narrated another day. Here we can only summarise what led to the regrettable manner of his demise.
His greatest mistake was to cling to power beyond reasonable limits. The accepted democratic limit which is reflected in Zimbabwe’s constitution is two terms or 10 years, but Mugabe had found ways to exempt himself. Thirty-seven years in power is far too long in a democracy.
His latest mistake was to bring his wife into politics. She turned out to be totally unqualified and wildly lustful for power. She was tactless enough to declare her determination to succeed her husband by destroying any perceived rival. Mugabe proved unable or unwilling to restrain her and the nation’s anger boiled over against both.
The underlying cause of the fall was failure to refloat the economy during the last 17 years. Hyperinflation resulted in the loss of the nation’s currency, de-industrialisation led to record unemployment and now severe rationing of cash. There is no remedy in sight.
In light of these woes, Mugabe and his wife would only denounce their perceived rivals in their party. They saw threats to the president’s power under every bush, and ignored the people’s economic hardships.
At the same time, democracy within the party died. Most positions were filled by presidential appointment. The slogan was “there is only one centre of power — the president”. Even at provincial level, elected officers were dismissed supposedly by presidential “fiat”, but in fact by the G40 cabal.
A combination of these factors led the party and the nation to ditch Mugabe and his wife. They had become separated from the life of the ordinary Zimbabweans. The nation simply had enough of them but the Mugabes did not see the signs.
Professor Mubako is a lawyer, lecturer and retired diplomat.