This is Zanu-PF playing musical chairs to a military tune
Zimbabwe has been ‘captured’ for years by its ruling party, which is not about to share power
Acoup or not a coup? That is the first question about Zimbabwe this week, and around this there has been a lot of confusion. There is a fissure between the situation on the ground and the official proclamation by the military brass.
On the one hand, the military has not formally removed President Robert Mugabe, although he has been under confinement.
On the other, the military have occupied national key points, from parliament and the judiciary to the airport in Harare, as well as the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.
Since the dawn of independent Zimbabwe, Zanu-PF has ensured there is no distinction between the party and the state. As a result, intra-party intrigues spill over such that the military, itself composed of Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army veterans of the Rhodesian war, has now entered the political stage.
The army must now seek a negotiated transition to avoid an official military coup, or risk further sanctions by the world and the region (at this point, ironically, Mugabe’s best leverage point), including by South Africa, which (despite its failings) cannot overlook an undermining of Zimbabwean democracy.
Mugabe, after all, was officially elected into power (at the latest poll, in 2013, by 61% of the official electorate).
Zanu-PF has no interest in opening up space for opposition parties to be part of the discussion about the future of the country, which is going to the polls again next year.
The Zimbabwean military wants continued Zanu-PF hegemony.
Therefore, the main option on the table for the military junta is to get Mugabe to resign — from the party leadership as well — and to place a new individual in both positions.
The most likely contender in this is former deputy president Emmerson Mnangagwa, but the prospect for a prolonged coup remains.
This carries many dangers for the country.
Should Mugabe dig his heels in, we may see the rallying of the masses on the streets — something that would seal in the junta and give it an air of popular legitimacy.
They could also impeach Mugabe through parliament, which would not be difficult as it already appears that the forces for change have gathered.
Mugabe and Mnangagwa once had one of the closest political relationships in African history. Having met in 1962 when both were political prisoners for opposing Ian Smith’s Rhodesia, they came to form a mentorprotégé political relationship.
Mnangagwa received military training in China and Egypt, earning his “Crocodile” nickname through his acts of sabotage against the Rhodesian government.
At Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, Mnangagwa was appointed minister of state security, a role he held until 1988 when he became minister of justice.
Mugabe sacked his deputy last week after harsh criticism and ridicule directed at Mnangagwa by the president’s wife, Grace — but the Mugabes miscalculated.
Mnangagwa’s level of influence within the party and the army, the result of decades of saturation, ensured that he could recuperate and, as he blatantly stated, “come back to lead Zimbabwe”.
But why now? What factors allowed this coup to happen when it did?
Students of politics know that shifts of this nature are usually the culmination of a number of factors rooted in both the domestic situation and the global arena.
What happened in Zimbabwe was enabled by a terrible economic context. Unemployment is officially estimated at close to 90%, some civil service workers are not getting paid, and the economy has been in free-fall since the early 2000s due to the application of the sort of 1970s and ’80sstyle Maoist policies that even China itself has moved away from.
The catastrophe is indicated most poignantly by the massive Zimbabwean diaspora.
Attempts at restoring the Zimbabwean economy have all but fallen flat, with the international donor community fatigued by the landlocked dictatorship.
What of the people? What does this mean for the average citizen of Zimbabwe?
More than 60% of Zimbabwe’s population are younger than 30 and have therefore known no other leader but Mugabe. For them, this moment offers some freshness in the political interface of the country.
Mugabe has been in power for 37 years and has virtually held the country hostage while he mismanaged the economy. He has also had many accusations of human rights violations levelled against him.
The current situation is likely to lead to a somewhat perpetual transition arrangement with the blessing of the opposition parties, who are already converging to try to cosy up to the junta.
There is much buzz about the coup being a necessary rupture to usher in an age of democracy. This is wishful thinking, however, and those who have fallen into it are in for some disappointment.
Indeed, the greatest sacrificial lamb in this entire process will be democracy itself.
What is taking place is nothing more than an intra-Zanu-PF game of musical chairs and restacking the deck.
The result that should be realistically expected is a perpetual “transition government” arrangement.
Zimbabwe’s story is in many ways similar to that of South Africa, and there is much cause for concern in this regard.
Zanu-PF quite clearly captured the state from the onset, leading to the outcome that we have seen.
Furthermore, the party lost vision, much as the ANC has done, and became caught up in the milieu of corruption scandals and self-aggrandisement by leadership.
Unsurprisingly, this led to a rot in the nation, in which we now find men in uniform taking over key state institutions and holding the president to ransom, directing civilians with the blessing of the international community.
Beyond this, the old guard needs to give way to the younger generation with proper succession plans so that power can move from the pioneer generation to the next.
This step would serve not only for a peaceful transition of power but also to ensure that liberation ideals are safeguarded.
Linked to this is the need for a clear economic vision to enhance economic development.
That is decolonisation in its truest sense, something that the ANC needs to bear in mind heading to its December elective conference.
Furthermore, the situation in Zimbabwe raises the question of how much the South African government itself is advancing the masses in terms of education — a huge point of national discourse right now — as well as health, and safety and security, and ensuring a sense of enfranchisement in the political and economic architecture.
South Africa should use the Zimbabwean events to understand and get ahead of regional and global trends, guarding its national interest in an era in which nations increasingly have to fend for themselves.
Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe with his former deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa, with whom he once shared an extremely close relationship.