The people have spoken
Joy in streets as both sides of aisle prepare to impeach Mugabe
Tens of thousands of Zimbabweans marched through the streets of Harare yesterday in an unprecedented mass protest, demanding that President Robert Mugabe step down after a week of turmoil and a “soft coup” led by army leaders.
With Mugabe backed into a corner, the protesters were marching on his official residence, to which he has been confined under “house arrest” since army leaders moved against him earlier in the week.
With army helicopters flying overhead, the march, backed by Mugabe’s Zanu-PF, resembled a carnival as people sang, ululated and blew car hooters in anticipation of his inevitable stepping down from power.
Although this week’s military “coup” may have come as a surprise to many who had given up on Mugabe relinquishing power before he dies, the Sunday Times has learnt that the removal of Mugabe was plotted months ago, and kept a close secret by a small band of conspirators.
Mugabe, 93, was expected to be recalled by the Zanu-PF central committee today or tomorrow. If he refuses to exit gracefully, he will face an impeachment motion in parliament next week.
By yesterday, eight out of the 10 Zanu-PF provinces had passed a vote of no confidence in Mugabe and his wife, Grace.
The ruling party has a two-thirds majority and will be supported by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change when parliament resumes sitting on Tuesday after a two-week break.
MDC MP Ruth Labode said: “Right now anything that looks like a means of finishing Bob, I am in.
“As MDC MPs we having been caucusing with our comrades from Zanu-PF on how [we] move legislatively. Right now the goal is one, let us push him out.”
Willias Madzimure, another opposition lawmaker, said: “By Sunday or Monday the Zanu-PF central committee will have convened to recall Mugabe, and the first secretary of Zanu-PF [Emmerson Mnangagwa] will be voted to replace him.
“On Tuesday or somewhere there, a member of parliament will move a motion to impeach the state president. The motion will be fast-tracked. Remember the speaker of parliament is theirs. Meanwhile the president will remain in captivity. The whole idea is to avoid the ‘coup’ tag,” said Madzimure.
Zanu-PF spokesman Simon Khaya Moyo did not respond to calls.
There is consensus that the plan to oust Mugabe was hatched long before he fired Mnangagwa earlier this month. The military’s incursion into Harare in tanks and other military vehicles was the culmination of months of planning.
Disgruntled middle-ranking soldiers had planned to prevent Mugabe from returning to Zimbabwe after medical treatment in Singapore in March, but they were stopped by Mnangagwa, officials and other sources said this week.
Mugabe had left Harare for Singapore for medical treatment on March 1 after his 93rd birthday celebrations in Matobo near Bulawayo. He returned on March 6 and sources said it was on this day that Mnangagwa intervened to stop some soldiers preventing him from landing in Harare.
This was confirmed by Zanu-PF MP Terence Mukupe, who said Mnangagwa had prevented the earlier coup attempt and called for patience as he was convinced that Mugabe’s continued stay in power would be addressed through constitutional means.
“Everyone knew that the economic situation in the country was a result of the leadership and it had to be changed and there was so much disgruntlement and we knew only the military would be able to intervene.
“We could have had a coup as far back as March but Mnangagwa prevented soldiers from that,” Mukupe told the Sunday Times inside the Harare provincial head office of Zanu-PF on Friday.
Mnangagwa was fired on November 6 for displaying “traits of disloyalty, disrespect, deceitfulness and unreliability” — in effect paving the way for Grace Mugabe to succeed her husband.
His efforts to flee Zimbabwe were thwarted when he and his security detail were denied entry to Harare International Airport. They tried to hire a private jet but authorities denied the jet permission to use Zimbabwean airspace.
A border security memorandum, seen by the Sunday Times, shows Mnangagwa also tried to drive to neighbouring Mozambique.
On November 6, a silver Mercedes-Benz driven by a 51-year-old man, Hosea Manzunzu, arrived at the Forbes border post but turned around suddenly after receiving an urgent call. The following day — after officials had been told to be on high alert and monitor the movement of high-profile politicians — the same car and driver again tried to cross the border.
This time he had passengers, which officials verified were Mnangagwa and four bodyguards. As officials waited to hear from their bosses what they should do, Mnangagwa got out the car and a scuffle ensued between the bodyguards and border security. Mnangagwa then jumped into another car and sped off.
It is unclear how Mnangagwa finally managed to get out of the country, but he later reportedly travelled with General Constantine Chiwenga, to China, where the plan
to oust Mugabe was discussed. China — a key ally to Zimbabwe — gave its blessing provided the plan did not look like a coup.
When Chiwenga flew back home last weekend, police were waiting to arrest him.
Dramatic details of Tuesday’s military move on the capital reveal that Mugabe’s trusted lieutenant, Albert Ngulube, was the first to come across the soldiers. He was seized while leaving the president’s house at 10.30 on Tuesday night, taken to the Presidential Guard headquarters, stripped naked and “brutally assaulted”.
During a raid on finance minister Ignatius Chombo’s house that night, an Israeli security guard was shot dead in a gun battle.
“While raiding the house, the soldiers allegedly found $10-million [about R140-million] stashed in one of the rooms,” a source told the Sunday Times.
President Jacob Zuma said yesterday he was “cautiously optimistic” that Zimbabwe’s political crisis would be resolved amicably.
Zuma said he had spoken to Mugabe two days ago in his capacity as chairman of the Southern African Development Community.
Two special envoys deployed by Zuma met with Mugabe, some ministers and leaders in the defence force, he told a gathering of business people and politicians in Durban.
However, according to government sources, Zuma’s envoys faced a hostile reception in Harare.
Defence Minister Nosiviwe MapisaNqakula and her counterpart, State Security Minister Bongani Bongo, are said to have been kept waiting at the airport in Zimbabwe on their arrival on Wednesday.
“They were kept at the airport until the evening, checked into a hotel and the following day they met at State House.
“After the talks they were getting ready to fly to Botswana to brief Zuma, [then] they received a call that they have to go see Chiwenga again,” said one government source.
Clearance for Mapisa-Nqakula and Bongo’s aircraft was delayed on Friday.
Zuma will visit Angola tomorrow to consult President Joao Lourenco, who chairs the SADC organ on politics, defence and security co-operation. — Additional reporting by Thanduxolo Jika and Suthentira Govender
People cheer a passing Zimbabwe Defence Force military vehicle during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Zimbabwe’s president in Harare yesterday.
President Robert Mugabe at a graduation ceremony at the University of Harare on Friday.