Scottish Daily Mail - - News - by Ian Bir­rell

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.