Zimbabwe’s coup that isn’t a coup

With tanks on the streets and rumours in the newspapers, the world’s oldest leader might be coming to the end of his 37-year rule. Nhau Mangirazi reports from Zimbabwe

Does the Zimbabwe coup mean the end of Mugabe? In the picture, Robert Mugabe attends the 12th African Union Summit on 2 February 2009 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jesse B. Awalt/Released
Robert Mugabe attends the 12th African Union Summit on 2 February 2009 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jesse B. Awalt/Released

President Robert Mugabe’s rule in Zimbabwe appears to be coming to an end, five days after the country’s military, the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF), staged what many are calling a coup.

On Monday, armed soldiers took up positions in key points in the capital city, Harare, and reportedly confined Mugabe to his home.

However, Mugabe made a public appearance today at a university graduation ceremony outside Harare.

A senior official from Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party told the Financial Times that the army – which still refers to him as the President – might allow him to finish his term, which ends next year, provided his wife, Grace Mugabe, ‘[leaves] politics for good’.

The 93-year-old head of state – the world’s oldest leader – has been in power for 37 years, since Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain in 1980. Before the army’s intervention, Grace Mugabe and vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa were locked in an increasingly bitter contest to succeed him.

The army intervened after Emmerson Mnangagwa was fired on 6 November.

ZDF Commander General Constantino Chiwenga has denied claims of a coup, calling it a ‘bloodless correction’.

‘The ZDF is trying to pacify a degenerating political, social and economic situation in our country, which if not addressed may result in violent conflict,’ said Sibusiso Moyo, speaking on behalf of the Zimbabwe National Army.

‘Mugabe and his family are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed. We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country, in order to bring them to justice,’ he continued.

The army has been arresting senior government ministers around Mugabe and his wife. An unverified claim circulating major national and international media is that finance minister Ignatius Chombo was found with over $10 million in cash upon his arrest.

A welcome coup?

Many Zimbabweans have cautiously welcomed the army’s intervention and the end of Mugabe’s rule – during which economic and political circumstances had gradually deteriorated.

Mugabe’s legacy includes a 90 per cent unemployment rate and staggering human rights abuses, such as the 2008 post-election violence when hundreds were killed and which was described by Human Rights Watch as ‘state-sponsored violence’.

‘Any ordinary Zimbabwean welcomes any outcome where they are free to enjoy their social and economic rights, as guaranteed by constitution,’ says Virginia Muwanigwa, Director at the Humanitarian Information and Facilitation Centre.

‘There is anger over the loss of thousands of dollars during the 2007-2008 hyper-inflation, and the people that died at the hands of the Zanu PF militias in 2008.’

Harare-based journalist and civil rights advocate Rashweat Mukundu re-iterates that citizens will want to be able to choose a leader in a fair and peaceful process.

‘There is need for a corrective action as stated by the military, and the sustainability of the corrective action will depend on the degree citizen participation and ownership’, he says.

What Happens Next

Five days after the coup, the army has yet to resolve the question of what happens next.

Precious Shumba, director of Harare Resident Trust, says he was expecting the army to have forced Robert Mugabe to hand over power by now.

‘Now that the army has claimed to have taken control of the country, they [should] pronounce a new cabinet, make key appointments to strategic institutions so that Zimbabwe moves forward with certainty,’ he says.

‘It is too early to be talking of social justice though, given that the army’s mission is not yet very clear. The expectation is that there be a clear transition plan that recognizes the diversity of Zimbabwe.’