First lady’s ousting gives Zimbabwe a second chance
If there has been a coup in Zimbabwe, it is one that removed Grace Mugabe, writes Tinomudaishe Chinyoka
Many will respond to the developments in Zimbabwe with the usual cliches: the military must never be involved in civilian affairs, or the military must never take over from a constitutionally elected government.
Trash and nonsense. It can be argued quite legitimately that Zimbabwe does not have a constitutionally elected government but one that has stolen elections since 2000. And the military has not taken over from that government but from the unelected person actually running the government: Grace Mugabe.
The fiction that the government of President Robert Mugabe and his bloated cabinet was in charge of anything is merely a justification for the decades-long pillaging of the national purse.
It was Grace Mugabe, and Grace alone, who constituted the government. If there has been a coup, it is one that removed her. The statement by the army said as much.
Grace Mugabe had taken over the government and there was nothing that could have been done democratically to stop her. She was cruising into the presidency.
So, once again, veterans of the Chimurenga rose up to say "No, this is not the Zimbabwe we want." They stood up to Ian Smith and his racist government, and stood up to this interloper way too late. Their timing is the only thing that can be criticised.
Grace was a cancer that was spreading. While her supporters gave her the nickname Dr Stop-it, she must be called Dr Takeover. All her adult life she has simply taken over. She was not happy with her husband and his prospects, so she took over Sarah Hayfron’s husband.
She was not happy with buying milk from Dairibord, so she took over a dairy farm. She was not happy with owning most of Mazowe’s farmland, so she took over Manzou Farm. She was not happy with sharing fishing rights with the povo (ordinary people), so she took over Mazowe Dam and banned public fishing.
She was not happy with only having access to diamonds and gold, so she took over Zimbabwe’s minerals in Chiadzwa. She was not happy just being the president’s wife, so she took over as the president of Zanu-PF.
She failed to earn a bachelor’s degree from the University of London, so she took over the University of Zimbabwe’s senate and gave herself a research PhD degree, despite claiming at rallies she is "isu vasina kudzidza" (we who are not educated).
She was not happy with her delinquent sons’ choice of girls, so she decided to discipline them. She took over the foreign affairs ministry to grant herself diplomatic status to escape prosecution in SA.
And when on November 13 the army issued a statement raising their constitutional duty to protect the country from all threats — foreign and domestic — under section 212, she took over the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation to suppress the news of their intervention and the lead news item was some cockamamie story about tourism.
Grace Mugabe, you see, was in charge.
She had the guts to tell the president to cut his speeches short when she felt he had spoken enough. She went around the country using state resources to drum up support to have the past two vice-presidents fired. These were elected officials — in their positions due to a constitutional mandate — and she has never been elected. But what she says, always goes.
Under her protection, her delinquent children waste state resources on parties and drugs. Under her protection, Mugabe’s nephew and Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Patrick Zhuwawo sent out tweets calling Gen Constantine Chiwenga an imbecile, because … what?
Chiwenga and others risked their lives for Zimbabwe’s liberation and Zhuwawo thinks they are imbeciles? Who does this family think we are?
There is an almost instinctive reaction to be against the military takeover of any government. The idea of "boots on the ground" is synonymous with war and, to some extent, West Africa during the 1960s to 1980s.
So the news that the army may have taken over in Zimbabwe might inspire some to feel a fair bit of trepidation. But if it is a coup, then it is one of those rare ones; one Zimbabweans should celebrate and support.
The reason for abhorring coups is that they are an unconstitutional way to change a constitutionally elected government. When people participate in free and fair democratic elections, only they should have the right to change their leaders.
If those leaders turn out to be imbeciles, like President Donald Trump, the law is clear: the constitutionally elected government must be respected.
But in order to earn the protection of the law, the government must be constitutionally elected and serve the people. In Zimbabwe, there is little evidence of that.
Vast state resources were used for Grace Mugabe’s "Insulting Tour", which she used to denigrate officials and make snide comments about their manhood. When Mugabe fired Emmerson Mnangagwa, he made reference to his wife being booed as one of the reasons. So we cannot even boo her now?
So, in reacting to this coup (which is what it is in all but name), can we refrain from the usual Zimbabwean thing: someone says, "Here is an orange", and we ask, "Rakamenywa?" (Is it peeled?); someone says, "Here are some peanuts", and we ask, "Dzakakangwa?" (Have they been roasted?).
This is a chance to start afresh. Instead of talking about constitutional this or that, how do we use this opportunity to ensure our future does not breed another Mugabe — be it Grace or Robert?
Let us start talking about giving the army our support to run a transitional government that takes the time to fix institutions. Instead of asking the international community to condemn a coup, let us help create the calm that ensures lives are not lost while we put our house in order, and then rejoin the international community with leaders who are truly for the people.
If we trusted Chiwenga to risk his life as a boy to fight for his country, is it asking too much to trust him now as a man and respected general? And, while we are at it, to say, "Thank you again, but what took you so long?"
• Chinyoka is a lawyer and PhD candidate at the University of Pretoria.