WILL HIS HATED WIFE BE THE TYRANT’S DOWNFALL?
WITH tanks on the streets of Zimbabwe and enemies at the gates of his plush mansion, are we witnessing the end of Robert Mugabe’s remarkable and blood-stained rule over Zimbabwe?
Only one thing was clear last night as rumours swept Harare: after 37 years running the nation, the old despot’s vice-like grip on the shattered ‘breadbasket of Africa’ is weakening.
And the cause? His loathed second wife, Grace. At stake is not just control of poor, battered Zimbabwe – a country tortured by Mugabe’s decades of disastrous rule – but also the vast flow of money from diamond mines that have turned many of his senior aides into multi-millionaires.
Just days ago, it seemed Grace – 41 years Mugabe’s junior was winning a power struggle worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy to succeed the ailing 93-year-old president. But with the sensational events of last night, it seems the balance might be tipping in favour of her rival for the crown – a brutal former spy chief nicknamed ‘The Crocodile’.
His real name is Emmerson Mnangagwa, a long-standing supporter of Mugabe until the president sacked him as vice-president last week. Soon after, amid death threats against him, he fled to South Africa.
Mugabe had accused his former deputy of plotting to take power from him, while Grace Mugabe referred to him as a snake that ‘must be hit on the head’.
Yet the combative Mnangagwa, 75, who recently survived a poisoning blamed on ice-cream from Mugabe’s own dairy, has been telling allies he would return rapidly and everything would soon be ‘sorted’.
He also publicly warned Mugabe the ruling Zanu-PF party was ‘not personal property for you and your wife to do as you please’. Now it appears The Crocodile’s friend, Zimbabwe’s military chief General Chiwenga, has mobilised his forces after issuing a threat earlier this week that the army would not tolerate Grace’s planned purge of 300 senior party figures linked to her rival.
One influential Zimbabwean business figure said last night Mugabe was ‘in lockdown’ at his 25-bedroom mansion in Harare’s Borrowdale suburb. There were reports of roads to the building being sealed off, with 30 troop-filled trucks patrolling the streets backed by 21 tanks and, of the state broadcaster being taken by troops. ‘It is believed they are negotiating an exit plan for him, to be effective immediately – and Grace has not been allowed to sit in those meetings,’ said the businessman.
Other sources in Harare said the presidential guard had been withdrawn from Mugabe’s side yesterday morning and strategic locations secured by the military.
The army chief issued his warning to Mugabe at a press conference, tellingly flanked by 90 senior officers. ‘The current purging, clearly targeting members of the party with a liberation background, must stop forthwith,’ he warned. Many of those targeted for purging from the party were ‘war veterans’, infamous for their seizures of white-owned farms, yet still influential in Zimbabwe. Six days ago, their leader declared they ‘completely disowned’ Mugabe following the exile of The Crocodile.
SO can these two military leaders reach out for power without getting their hands chopped off? Certainly, they have the loyalty of the all-powerful army, and are widely feared across the country after careers steeped in blood.
They were both linked to massacres in the Matabeleland region of the country that killed 20,000 supporters of a rival faction in the years after Zimbabwe won independence from Britain. But last night their allies were stressing need for a peaceful transfer of control.
It’s unlikely, however, that ‘Gucci Grace’ – as she is dubbed for her love of shopping – will go easily.
Some fear Mrs Mugabe and her socalled ‘G40’ group may try to get Zanu-PF youth gangs out on the streets to back her.
Three years ago, a woman named Joice Mujuru was sacked as vicepresident after being accused of plotting against the president.
Her husband, a former army chief said to be the only person brave enough to stand up to Mugabe, died in a suspicious house fire in 2011 amid reports of gunfire. (One diplomat told me there were rumours his will was worth an astonishing £7billion, underlining the corruption among supposedly communist comrades.)
Grace was expecting to be appointed vice-president at a party congress next month. The trouble for her is that she is widely hated, unlike Mugabe’s first wife.
Her recent escapades include seeing a journalist detained for saying she donated used underwear to supporters, and relying on diplomatic immunity to evade charges for assaulting a model in South Africa.
The 52-year-old has bought homes in Dubai and South Africa, spent £3million of state funds on her daughter’s wedding, and recently bought a £300,000 Rolls-Royce.
Her three sons, one from a previous marriage, angered Zimbabweans by flaunting their wealth. One receipt posted online showed a single night’s spending of $3,000 – three times the average annual income. The youngest recently filmed himself pouring expensive champagne over a diamond-encrusted watch, bragging he owned the timepiece because ‘daddy runs the whole country’.
Mugabe’s mismanagement has wrecked Zimbabwe, a well-educated nation with many natural resources.
He sparked history’s second-worst hyper-inflation, while seven in ten citizens are stuck in poverty.
That’s why, as the tanks roll in and rumours spread like wildfire, there will be few tears shed if this is indeed the end-game in an epic power struggle that leaves ‘the Old Man’ and his despised wife finally thrown from power.