Zimbabwe’s strange but welcome political end-game has taken a bizarre and worrying turn. The new dilemma began on Sunday night when in arguably the oddest global news event of the year, President Robert Mugabe was supposed to announce his resignation live on television. By the end of the speech, viewers around the world, and doubtless the military officers who surrounded Mugabe, were bewildered: the resignation that never happened. Was it an accident? Did he forget? Was it a deliberate snub to his former comrades who turned on him? Was he having his last laugh?
Later on Monday, our worst suspicions were confirmed. After giving Mugabe a midday deadline to submit his resignation, it became clear that he was choosing to dig in his heels. This throws the whole process into a kind of odd dilemma. So far, the military leaders who have orchestrated the ousting process have had two major victories: they have won over Zanu-PF, which at the weekend decided to expel Mugabe and his wife, Grace, among others. The army has also won over at least the urban population, as demonstrated by the amazing, cathartic marches at the weekend. Freedom, or a version of it, seems tantalisingly close.
But the military leaders have a problem. For reasons that are as yet not absolutely clear, the military has been loath to admit that it has taken power in a formal military coup, even though effectively that is what it has done. One suggestion is that this decision is a consequence of stipulations laid down by SA, or other members of the South African Development Community (Sadc), the AU or the Chinese, or a combination of the above.
The AU has a strict set of rules that formally condemn any unconstitutional change of government, and Sadc members are obliged to adhere to these rules. So this new scenario puts the military leaders in something of a quandary. If they cannot be seen to be forcing Mugabe out at gunpoint, their most obvious constitutional option is parliamentary impeachment, and that is one of the routes the group has chosen. But down this road lie more problems.
A kind of transitional government of national unity could be one option
Mugabe is a directly elected president, so the process is not simple. Constitutionally, it requires the establishment of a nine-member committee that must collect and present its findings. The charges on which the impeachment action is based have to be of a serious nature, and the whole process must be justifiable. Mugabe has to be given an opportunity to respond, as in a court action. Worse for the military leaders and for Zanu-PF, the resolution must be passed by a two-thirds majority, which will require the co-operation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) since Zanu-PF alone does not have the votes.
The inclusion of the MDC would be a good thing. A kind of transitional government of national unity could be one option the parties should agree on, which would help secure its political legitimacy. But even if all those hurdles are surmounted, there is one other problem: if Mugabe is removed, technically the job goes to Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko, whose whereabouts are unknown. The other vice-president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was fired on November 6, which triggered the revolution.
At a political level, the military is obviously keen to complete the process as soon as possible, because the longer it drags on and the more time that goes by, the more unpredictable events become. A stalled process could even provide the Zanu-PF faction that supports Grace Mugabe, the G-40 faction, time to regroup. Hence, senior Zanu-PF leaders Patrick Chinamasa and Joram Gumbo are already rejecting any transitional mechanism and have said Zanu-PF would go it alone. Zanu-PF, which has been the ruling party since 1980, is not known for its fondness for governments of national unity.
But none of these impediments should halt the process, which has provided Zimbabwe with a whiff of a new political dispensation. The economy cannot stand it, and the people won’t tolerate it. It’s time for the global community to step in with vigour.