Harare — Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Friday that the country "has moved on" in response to claims by former president Robert Mugabe that he was ousted in an illegal "coup d’état".
Mnangagwa added in a short statement that he "noted recent remarks made to the media" by Mugabe who spoke to foreign journalists at a location in Harare on Thursday. It was Mugabe’s first public statement since his resignation in November, which was triggered by a brief military takeover and the threat of a no-confidence motion tabled in parliament by his own Zanu-PF party.
"I say it was a coup d’état — some people have refused to call it a coup d’état," Mugabe told the SABC. "We must undo this disgrace, which we have imposed on ourselves, we don’t deserve it ... Zimbabwe doesn’t deserve it."
Mnangagwa’s brief response, posted on his official Twitter account and bearing the seal of the presidency, added that Mugabe "is entitled to express himself freely, as is the case for any private citizen". "The nation has moved on. Our focus at this time shall remain on preparing for free, fair and credible elections in 2018."
Mnangagwa stressed that "the Zimbabwe government continues to honour all its obligations towards the former president’s welfare and benefits, as provided for under the constitution of Zimbabwe".
Mugabe’s golden parachute reportedly includes a pension of several thousand dollars a month, a retinue of staff, a fleet of luxury cars, and a round-the-clock protection detail. Mugabe told his interviewers he did not hate his successor, but alleged that he had "betrayed the whole nation".
The ousted leader insisted he would not work with Mnangagwa and suggested that his presidency was "illegal" and "unconstitutional". "People must be chosen in government in a proper way. I’m willing to discuss, willing to assist in that process — but I must be invited," he said.
Gideon Chitanga, an analyst at the Johannesburg-based Political Economy Southern Africa think-tank, said that Mugabe’s intervention was significant "coming at a time of elections". Presidential polls are due by the end of August in which Mnangagwa will face his first major electoral test.
Mugabe’s media appearance was apparently organised by the new National Patriotic Front (NPF), which hopes to unseat Mnangagwa’s government in polls expected by August. Mugabe sent shock waves through the Zanu-PF ruling party when he recently met with the NPF’s leader, retired general Ambrose Mutinhiri.
In response to a widely-shared image of the two, Zanu-PF Youth League supporters chanted "down with Mugabe" at a rally, a rare outburst from the normally disciplined party that Mugabe led for nearly four decades.
The military moved against Mugabe after he sacked his then-deputy and heir-apparent Mnangagwa, seemingly fearing he was grooming his wife Grace to succeed him as president.