Youth washes a minibus adorned with picture of President Robert Mugabe at a bus terminus in Harare, Zimbabwe. Picture: REUTERS/PHILION BULAWAYO
Youth washes a minibus adorned with picture of President Robert Mugabe at a bus terminus in Harare, Zimbabwe. Picture: REUTERS/PHILION BULAWAYO

There has been no opportunity for the jubilation many imagined would accompany the demise of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe in the whirlwind events of the past 36 hours.

Instead there is an air of quiet anxiety. While the army says this is not a military coup, what else can it be, as state television has been commandeered, Mugabe is confined to his home and his closest associates have reportedly been arrested.

THE INTERVENTION OF THE MILITARY IN ZIMBABWE’S SUCCESSION BATTLE CANNOT BE A GOOD THING.

However, the head of the army, Gen Constantino Chiwenga, has not seized power and has assured Zimbabweans and the world he is acting in the best interests of the country and the ruling Zanu-PF, which needs to be saved from the "criminals" who are circling.

The "criminals" are the G40, a group that has crystallised around Grace Mugabe and wishes to see her succeed her husband. As Grace Mugabe’s ascension, which was becoming more assured by the day, would have been universally condemned (with the exception of this clique) there has been an odd sympathy for the army’s actions, which are in fact deeply damaging to democracy.

Some have said that at least now the logjam has been broken; others have commented that "somebody had to do something". Another view is that the army is now essential to stability: without its intervention the conflict between Mugabe and Emmerson Mnangagwa could spin out of control as the opposing Shona clans they represent fight it out for state power.

These are understandable sentiments, but the intervention of the military in Zimbabwe’s succession battle cannot in any way be a good thing. While Zimbabwe has been in deep crisis for many years and its "democracy" is a façade, intervention by the military is the ultimate subversion of the will of the people. To find its way back from this, Zimbabwe will require a completely new start, with fresh elections and free political association for all those who want to take part.

This is not the reason why the military has taken power. The Zimbabwean army is an integral part of Zanu-PF. Rather than intervening in the interests of democracy, the military has intervened in the interests of a faction of Zanu-PF, which it hopes can now reassert its grip on power.

President Jacob Zuma, the chairman of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the leader of the strongest economy in the region, has an important role to play. Zuma responded promptly to the events: he has addressed South Africans, has communicated with Mugabe and has sent his envoys to consult with Angolan head of state Joao Lourenco, whose country is the head of SADC’s military and political organ. He has urged the Zimbabwean military to avoid the use of further unconstitutional means to resolve the crisis.

Zuma is correct to say so. The trouble will come when SADC intervenes, as expected, to help find a political solution. This must not be narrowly focused on solving the succession woes of a governing party that is corrupt and ruthless and that has enforced its rule with violence and intimidation, trampled on the rights of citizens and stifled all opposition.

Five million Zimbabweans have left the country during Mugabe’s rule. In the past decade, Zimbabwe’s economy has halved in size and unemployment and poverty have soared. While once there were no goods in shops, now there is no money. While poor Zimbabweans bear the brunt of this crisis, SA is also adversely affected. Zimbabweans have fled mostly to SA, where they compete with South Africans for low-wage jobs in the service sector. Their presence adds to the social pressures felt in local communities; it puts pressure on social services provided by the state.

This time, SA must do something genuine and constructive for the people of Zimbabwe. It is in their interests that Zuma should act to bring democracy and prosperity back to Zimbabwe. In doing so, he will act in our interests as well.

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