How the Chi­nese helped de­pose the doz­ing despot

As Mugabe falls asleep at first pub­lic ap­pear­ance since coup, we re­veal ...

Daily Mail - - News - from An­drew Malone

As he was driven back to his op­u­lent palace in harare on Tues­day, sur­rounded by body­guards in mil­i­tary fa­tigues and wear­ing mo­tor­cy­cle hel­mets, Robert Mugabe had no rea­son to sus­pect that his 37-year rule was about to end.

hav­ing been in power since 1980, Mugabe — not to men­tion Grace, his high-handed, grasp­ing sec­ond wife — thought he was in­vin­ci­ble. Just days ear­lier, he beamed with sat­is­fac­tion at a cer­e­mony to change the name of Zim­babwe’s main air­port to the Robert Mugabe In­ter­na­tional air­port.

he be­lieved he would be pres­i­dent of the for­mer Bri­tish colony un­til he died, and had once pro­claimed ‘not even God’ wanted his mur­der­ous reign to end. his wife, mean­while, had called for a Mugabe fam­ily ‘dy­nasty’ to run the coun­try for ever.

But what nei­ther knew that sunny after­noon was that Mugabe’s loyal pres­i­den­tial guard had been swapped for mil­i­tary per­son­nel who were in league with his en­e­mies — the very gen­er­als who had pre­vi­ously been loyal to the despot since he came to power af­ter the bush war against white rule.

The first sign of any trou­ble was when Mugabe’s con­voy ar­rived at his home in a sub­urb of the cap­i­tal city, and the men ac­com­pa­ny­ing him ar­rested the se­cu­rity of­fi­cers on duty there.

The 93-year-old pres­i­dent was then hus­tled into the house and, a short time later, the man in charge of Zim­babwe’s armed forces ar­rived to break some rather bad news to Mugabe.

a fear­some in­di­vid­ual known for his vol­canic tem­per, Gen­eral Con­stantino Chi­wenga is one of the so-called ‘Dirty half Dozen’ — six sin­is­ter mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence chiefs whose junta has kept Mugabe in of­fice for decades, ter­ror­is­ing op­po­nents and rig­ging elec­tions.

Bluntly, Chi­wenga told Mugabe he was un­der ar­rest. with­out ut­ter­ing a word, Mugabe promptly col­lapsed to the floor.

‘he was in shock, and col­lapsed when he re­alised what was hap­pen­ing,’ one coup plot­ter told me. ‘he had to be re­sus­ci­tated and re­vived. he could not be­lieve what was hap­pen­ing at first.’

Grace — with whom the pres­i­dent had be­gun an af­fair af­ter spot­ting her in his typ­ing pool when he was still mar­ried to his first wife — was ter­ri­fied. she was hys­ter­i­cal and burst into tears.

ac­cord­ing to one who was told about the un­fold­ing events: ‘she’s been in a mess ever since — in tears and men­tally gone. she begged to be al­lowed to fly out to Malaysia [where she has millions in in­vest­ments]. she thought she would be killed.’

af­ter be­ing re­vived — Mugabe has a his­tory of faint­ing fits and fall­ing asleep at Cab­i­net meet­ings — the pres­i­dent and the gen­eral be­gan a tense dis­cus­sion. By then, dozens of other se­nior army per­son­nel had ar­rived at the pres­i­den­tial palace.

Re­al­is­ing

how per­ilous his po­si­tion was, Mugabe made an as­ton­ish­ing bid to save his own po­lit­i­cal skin — and pos­si­bly his life. In­cred­i­bly, he promised Gen­eral Chi­wenga he would anoint him the next pres­i­dent if he called off the coup and stood down as the head of the armed forces.

In a last des­per­ate throw of the dice to cling to power, he told Chi­wenga that he would im­me­di­ately be ap­pointed Mugabe’s vi­cepres­i­dent and that he would take over as Zim­babwe’s leader when Mugabe even­tu­ally dies.

even then, Mugabe, a sly old fox who has long played fac­tions off each other to re­main in power, had one con­di­tion: that Grace should have a prom­i­nent role in a fu­ture gov­ern­ment. Gen­eral Chi­wenga flatly turned down the of­fer.

apart from any­thing else, it was too late by then. More than 30 army per­son­nel car­ri­ers and 21 tanks had ear­lier in the day moved into key strate­gic lo­ca­tions. Mugabe loy­al­ists, in the po­lice and mil­i­tary, had been or­dered back to bar­racks 24 hours ear­lier and pre­vented from leav­ing.

The truth is that Mugabe had sealed his own fate. his mis­take was to bow to pres­sure from Grace — who wanted to take over as pres­i­dent af­ter his death — to purge her ri­vals for the crown. Those on her list of en­e­mies in par­tic­u­lar in­cluded a man called em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa, a vet­eran of the bush war and the man who be­lieved it was his destiny to take power.

Known as ‘ng­wenya’ — or The Crocodile — Mnan­gagwa was for decades one of Mugabe’s clos­est al­lies, run­ning his fear­some in­tel­li­gence wing as well as be­ing in charge of de­fence, be­fore be­ing ap­pointed vice-pres­i­dent in 2014.

Grace be­lieved Mnan­gagwa was her only ri­val for power — and made a de­ci­sive move against him last week, strip­ping him of his vi­cepres­i­dency, and call­ing for her ri­val’s demise.

‘a snake is bet­ter dealt with by crush­ing the head,’ Grace told a po­lit­i­cal rally less than two weeks ago. Mnan­gagwa’s ‘head must be crushed. I will per­son­ally make sure Mnan­gagwa is dealt with even if ev­ery­one else in the party is scared. I will not be in­tim­i­dated.’

Mugabe and Grace also ac­cused Mnan­gagwa of us­ing ‘witch­craft’ against them.

But Mrs Mugabe chose the wrong man to fight. an ar­chi­tect of the so-called Guku­rahundi mas­sacres in the eight­ies, in which more than 20,000 from the nde­bele tribe were bru­tally slaugh­tered be­cause of their al­le­giance to an op­po­si­tion party, Mnan­gagwa com­mands huge sup­port in the army and among war veter­ans.

af­ter his sum­mary sack­ing a few days ago, fear­ing he would be ar­rested or killed by Mugabe loy­al­ists, The Crocodile tried to flee Zim­babwe.

he and his se­cu­rity de­tail were de­nied en­try to harare air­port, so he could not fly out from there. Mnan­gagwa and his al­lies then tried to char­ter a pri­vate jet to ar­rive from south africa to pick him up — but Mugabe’s au­thor­i­ties de­nied the craft per­mis­sion to en­ter Zim­bab­wean airspace.

so The Crocodile and his men were forced to drive east and cross into neigh­bour­ing Mozam­bique via old smug­gling routes used by bush fighters. From there, he headed to south africa.

In se­cret con­ver­sa­tions with his army com­rades, Mnan­gagwa de­cided to ac­ti­vate a plan they had mapped out to re­move the age­ing Mugabe from power.

The coup would be car­ried out in Zim­babwe — but it was made in China.

For I can re­veal that, af­ter se­cret tele­phone dis­cus­sions with his ally Gen­eral Chi­wenga back in Zim­babwe, Mnan­gagwa boarded an­other air­craft — this time headed for Bei­jing. he was to be a guest of the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment.

around the same time, Gen­eral Chi­wenga in­formed Mugabe he had rou­tine business in China, which has sup­ported Mugabe’s regime for years with cash and weapons in re­turn for ac­cess to its lu­cra­tive di­a­mond mines and other min­er­als. he also flew out to Bei­jing. so it was that Mnan­gagwa and Chi­wenga dis­cussed their plans with Chi­nese of­fi­cials. It’s in­struc­tive to learn that both men had been trained at China’s

Nan­jing Mil­i­tary School. The two Zim­bab­weans had also been the ar­chi­tects of many of the lu­cra­tive deals struck be­tween China and Harare, in­clud­ing a multi-bil­lion­pound di­a­mond min­ing deal, which could have made the coun­try rich, but in­stead was rid­dled with ram­pant cor­rup­tion, with some £15 bil­lion be­lieved to have been pil­fered in one year alone.

In truth, the Chi­nese do not re­ally care who is in charge of Zim­babwe — as long as their business and strate­gic in­ter­ests are taken care of.

It is part of China’s African-wide strat­egy of prop­ping up cor­rupt regimes in re­turn for ac­cess to the min­er­als and oil the Chi­nese need to sup­ply their vastly ex­pand­ing economy.

Bei­jing had long feared that Mugabe’s re­fusal to anoint his suc­ces­sor would mean there could be chaos once he died, threat­en­ing their in­vest­ments which, sig­nif­i­cantly, in­clude a £100 mil­lion new spy col­lege in Harare for Zim­babwe’s rul­ing party. So be­gan a global power play against Mugabe, known as ‘the Old Man’ through­out Zim­babwe. With the Chi­nese pledg­ing to back the new regime af­ter the coup, both Amer­i­can and rus­sian in­tel­li­gence were also told of the plans.

DIPLO­MATIC sources claim the Amer­i­cans were happy for Mugabe to be re­placed as long as there was no blood­shed, and a smooth tran­si­tion to the new regime. (Bri­tain, scan­dalously, had helped prop up Mugabe for years over fears of in­sta­bil­ity if he was ousted, hav­ing helped to in­stall him in 1980.)

With key global play­ers in agree­ment, the se­cret strat­egy to deal with Mugabe — which The Crocodile was told must ap­pear to the world not to be a coup — was ac­ti­vated. Mil­i­tary forces were re­called to bar­racks; a list of prom­i­nent Mugabe cronies and their where­abouts was pro­duced.

Mean­while, Gen­eral Chi­wenga flew back from China and held a meet­ing with Mugabe on Mon­day night — 24 hours be­fore the mil­i­tary ac­tion be­gan. He warned the pres­i­dent that the ‘purges’ against his wife’s ri­vals must end.

Not re­al­is­ing the scale of the threat, Grace, who was present at the meet­ing, was fu­ri­ous. She told the gen­eral that she and her hus­band would have him fired and re­placed as head of the army by the leader of the pres­i­den­tial guard.

Once again, Grace’s hec­tor­ing ag­gres­sion only served to spur her en­e­mies to ac­tion. So it was that tanks rolled through the streets of Harare this week. While Mugabe and Grace were placed un­der house ar­rest, mil­i­tary units swooped and ar­rested key loy­al­ists such as Jonathan Moyo, Mugabe’s higher ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter, and Ig­natius Chombo, his fi­nance chief, who was dis­cov­ered try­ing to pack $10 mil­lion in ban­knotes into bags when he was seized.

Along with po­lice chiefs loyal to Mugabe, these men are now be­ing held at se­cret mil­i­tary de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties around the coun­try and face pros­e­cu­tion and long jail terms in some of Zim­babwe’s most grue­some pe­nal in­sti­tu­tions.

Yet what none of the plot­ters were pre­pared for was Mugabe’s re­fusal to step down.

The plan was that, hav­ing re­in­stated The Crocodile as his vice-pres­i­dent, he would be com­pelled to an­nounce his res­ig­na­tion, leav­ing his ri­val to take over.

How­ever, dur­ing hours of dis­cus­sions with his cap­tors this week, Mugabe has re­fused of­fers to be flown out of the coun­try, or pro­vided with state se­cu­rity and al­lowed to live qui­etly in Zim­babwe. But then he is deeply stub­born and still can­not imag­ine giv­ing up his po­si­tion or priv­i­leges.

Anx­ious to ad­here to China’s in­sis­tence that there should be no vi­o­lence, and de­spite calls by some hard­line op­po­nents to kill the pres­i­dent and his wife, the gen­er­als have not harmed Mugabe, or Grace, who re­mains un­der house ar­rest with her hus­band in Harare, in spite of re­ports that she had fled to neigh­bour­ing Namibia.

‘We can­not hold a gun to his head,’ one mil­i­tary source told me. ‘As the days have gone by, he has be­come more and more ar­gu­men­ta­tive. He says what the gen­er­als are do­ing is against the con­sti­tu­tion and that they are the ones caus­ing in­sta­bil­ity. He is get­ting rather hot-headed.’

So what now for poor, be­nighted Zim­babwe, which has gone from be­ing the bread­bas­ket of Africa to an eco­nomic bas­ket­case?

Sup­port­ers of The Crocodile, who re­turned to Zim­babwe on Thurs­day, re­main con­fi­dent they can per­suade Mugabe to stand down in the com­ing days, par­tic­u­larly given the frag­ile men­tal state of his wife.

Then, if he does stand down, this will be pre­sented as a smooth tran­si­tion to a new gov­ern­ment of na­tional unity.

As for Mugabe, his one re­main­ing hope is that other African cronies will step in to save him. Fear­ing mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tions against their own cor­rupt regimes, fig­ures such as South Africa’s Jacob Zuma and Uganda’s Yow­eri Mu­sev­eni have de­scribed the coup as un­con­sti­tu­tional, with Zuma send­ing en­voys to meet Mugabe and the ‘coup lead­ers’ on Thurs­day.

As part of a com­pli­cated, elab­o­rate cha­rade, The Crocodile and his gen­er­als even al­lowed Mugabe out to at­tend a univer­sity grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony in Harare yes­ter­day — be­fore he was re­turned to house ar­rest with Grace.

It ap­pears Mugabe was al­lowed to at­tend the event to give the ap­pear­ance at least that he is not the vic­tim of a coup.

But by last night, all of the Zim­bab­wean prov­inces that once sup­ported Mugabe had called for his res­ig­na­tion, mean­ing the for­mer pres­i­dent can be re­called to gov­ern­ment and com­pelled to stand down. ‘The Croc trained as a lawyer,’ one loy­al­ist told me. ‘He’s smart and wants the mil­i­tary coup to be seen as a po­lit­i­cal coup.’

For the first time in liv­ing mem­ory, the new mil­i­tary lead­ers have given per­mis­sion for a huge march planned for to­day in Harare, which is ex­pected to be at­tended by tens of thou­sands call­ing for Mugabe to step down, sig­nalling new free­doms. Pre­vi­ous at­tempts at protest have been crushed by Mugabe’s po­lice. This is all in­tended to show the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity that the peo­ple of Zim­babwe want Mugabe gone.

Fear­ing out­side mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion, not to men­tion a fight­back from Mugabe loy­al­ists, the mil­i­tary lead­ers here have set up army road blocks around the coun­try, with searches car­ried out of all ve­hi­cles for weapons or sus­pected en­e­mies of the new regime.

As part of the at­tempts to make the coup not ap­pear to be a coup, the mil­i­tary on the streets have been told to win hearts and minds. Whereas Mugabe’s po­lice were al­lowed to ex­tract bribes from mo­torists, the soldiers I met at more than a dozen road­blocks this week were pro­fes­sional and po­lite.

Af­ter years of poverty and bru­tal­ity un­der Mugabe’s regime, most peo­ple here are cel­e­brat­ing his down­fall, even though there are fears the new regime will be just as bad, al­beit with a new leader.

‘We have got rid of a snake and re­placed it with a new snake,’ said Gib­son Love­more, a street ven­dor.

‘But we wanted rid of the old man and need change. This has gone on too long.’

As dark­ness fell on Zim­babwe last night, and thun­der and light­ning crack­led around the cap­i­tal, the fu­ture of the coun­try hung in the bal­ance. But one thing seems clear. The mon­strous despot who has ruled with an iron fist for so long is still re­fus­ing to give up.

Slum­ber­ing: Mugabe, 93, at a grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony in Harare yes­ter­day

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