Mugabe’s power trip cut short by Gucci Grace
The long succession battle in Zanu-PF has come to a bitter and sudden end — with a twist very few Zimbabwean citizens would have dared to imagine.
Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s ruler of nearly four decades, was forced to resign in shame on Tuesday after growing pressure from the public and his rejection by Zanu-PF, which removed him as party head on Sunday.
His wife, Grace, who had been under house arrest at their Harare mansion, was told by soldiers to "stay in the kitchen" as the military besieged their residence and moved to sideline the woman who thought she would be the next president.
The military, represented by army commander General Constantino Chiwenga, has emerged as the poster boys of the victory. As the dust begins to settle, it is clear the soldiers have pushed out Mugabe, ended Grace’s presidential ambitions and became the king makers of the Zanu-PF succession battle.
Mugabe’s allies, the group known as G40, had gone head to head in the race for the presidency with another faction, Lacoste, led by Emmerson Mnangagwa. Members of the G40 have either been forced into exile or detained by the military.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) says it is concerned by the arrests and detention by the military of people during Operation Restore Legacy — the military-led offensive that sent tanks into Harare’s central business district.
"The ZLHR urges the Zimbabwe Defence Forces [ZDF] to follow the due process of law, to guarantee protection of all pretrial rights and safety of any detainees and to grant them immediate and unequivocal access to their lawyers, family members and medical practitioners of choice," the organisation said in a statement.
"The ZDF must prevent any incidents of torture, or other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and prevent the occurrence of any enforced disappearances or incommunicado detention," it said.
Some of the exiled G40 members, such as key Mugabe strategist Jonathan Moyo, have been tweeting their thoughts.
"There’ll never be anyone like Mugabe. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have served my country under and with him. I’m proud that I stood with and by this iconic leader during the trying moments of the last days of his presidency. Democracy requires politics to lead the gun," Moyo tweeted as Mugabe resigned on Tuesday.
Like nearly 20 other former high-ranking party officials — including political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere, Mugabe’s nephew Patrick Zhuwao, vice-president Phelekezela Mphoko and finance minister Ignatius Chombo — Moyo has been expelled from Zanu-PF.
David Coltart, a former education minister and an official in the Movement for Democratic Change, says the demise of the G40 faction marks the end of the succession battle, which had become the top feature in the affairs of the ruling party.
He doubts that new Zanu-PF head Mnangagwa would reach out to the core leaders of the G40 faction.
"But, undoubtedly, he will try to woo some of its supporters on the periphery. He needs that bloc of support in the run-up to the election next year," he says.
Mnangagwa may be able to command obedience within Zanu-PF as he strengthens control over the politics of survival and opportunism in the party, but he has a credibility deficit to address, especially outside of Zanu-PF, both in and outside of ZimbabwePiers Pigou
International Crisis Group Southern Africa director
"Zanu-PF invested a lot in the Mugabe brand and it will damage the party if that brand is lost to them entirely."
International Crisis Group Southern Africa director Piers Pigou says it will be interesting to see how Mnangagwa navigates the narrative that only the G40 "cabal" has been responsible for Zimbabwe’s mess.
"We all know culpability is much broader in this regard. Mnangagwa may be able to command obedience within Zanu-PF as he strengthens control over the politics of survival and opportunism in the party, but he has a credibility deficit to address, especially outside of Zanu-PF, both in and outside of Zimbabwe. It is a massive challenge, but also a tremendous opportunity," Pigou says.
How it came about that the G40 faction, which earlier in November had come within an arm’s length of power, was driven out of the country can be explained in the missteps of Grace. She had taken on Mnangagwa, an army man before becoming a civilian in the government and moving up the party ranks.
Grace had been on a vicious warpath since she went on youth interface rallies — which were campaigning in disguise ahead of the 2018 elections. The rallies were public lynchings — first of officials seen to be close to Mnangagwa, and then Grace called for his dismissal from office for plotting to succeed Mugabe.
For Grace, Mnangagwa represented the last of the liberation fighters in Zanu-PF who could stand up to her — hence the vicious attacks, similar and consistent to those she aimed at vice-president Joice Mujuru in 2014, which led to her being routed from the party.
In some circles, it was seen as a fight between two generations — the older, represented by Mnangagwa, which had a stake in the country’s history, against a younger generation represented by Grace, which comprised upstarts and political novices.
The G40 generation lived lavishly, with an affinity for luxury vehicles such as Rolls-Royces and Maybachs. Their showing-off was despised by the citizens, who were hard-hit by economic hardship.
Grace was seen as the queen of profligacy — in her final days as first lady, she went on a property buying spree in Johannesburg and Harare.
She took ownership of a new Rolls-Royce and was reported to have had an interest in the establishment of a new airline that was primed to elbow out the $300m debt-riddled national airline, Air Zimbabwe. Her behaviour — beating up model Gabriella Engels in SA in August — further ensured her isolation.
She may have enjoyed some public hero worship and praise, but behind closed doors and in hushed tones, conversations featuring Grace were about how unrestrained she was and how Mugabe was probably having it hard at home.
Tshinga Dube, a military man of 22 years and a former cabinet minister who has fallen out of favour with Mugabe, says the elderly leader had lost the willpower to resist his wife and her demands.
"At 93-years-old, you don’t want to be fighting. You are old and tired and Mugabe simply didn’t have it in him to resist the demands of his greedy wife Grace and those of the people around her," Dube says.
The axing of Mnangagwa on November 6, after a weekend in which Grace belittled Mnangagwa in an address and was booed at a rally, set off a chain of events that backfired on the G40 faction.
Mnangagwa was fired from the government and the party and was forced to flee into exile — after he had been warned of an assassination attempt.
He later bitterly pointed out in a statement that the security detail usually afforded former deputy presidents was immediately withdrawn for him, leaving him vulnerable and exposed as political tensions soared.
Last week, the Zimbabwean military stepped in to help one of their own.
Grace had hardly won herself any favours when she criticised and dressed down Chiwenga and dared soldiers to shoot her during her rallies.
"Mnangagwa was attacked separately, so were the army and the war veterans. They all have a similar liberation history and became allies because they had a common enemy, which was Grace," says Arnold Tsunga, Africa director of the International Commission of Jurists.
"It was clear that if Mugabe had managed to deal with Mnangagwa, he [would be] coming after the army commander. So for Chiwenga’s part, moving in was a pre-emptive strike to protect his position."