Leadership change underway in Zimbabwe after resignation of President Robert Mugabe

A portrait of Robert Mugabe in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Nov. 22 — A factional struggle inside the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party has created the conditions for the Nov. 21 resignation of longtime leader President Robert Gabriel Mugabe.

Through a project lasting just eight days and entitled “Operation Restore Legacy,” the president was removed from his leadership positions as first secretary of the party as well as head of state of the Republic of Zimbabwe.

The removal of the first secretary and president appeared on the surface to have been the outcome of divisions within ZANU-PF, in which rival elements surrounding former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, on the one side, and First Lady Grace Mugabe, on the other, reached an impasse stemming from irreconcilable differences. President Mugabe was in the concluding months of his present term of office, scheduled to expire in mid-2018.

President Mugabe had joined the national liberation movement in his country at a young age while working as an educator and youth leader in that former settler colonial outpost that the British called Rhodesia. Then, during the late 1950s and early 1960s, he lived, worked and studied in the West African state of Ghana, which was then the fountainhead of Pan-Africanism under the prime minister and eventual president, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.

After being imprisoned by the British for a decade in the 1960s and early 1970s, Mugabe relocated to Tanzania and Mozambique to work full time as a leader of ZANU. In 1979, he played a pioneering role, alongside the Zimbabwe African People’s Union Patriotic Front (ZAPU-PF), headed by former Vice President Joshua Nkomo, in negotiations for the Lancaster House agreement that paved the way towards nonracial, democratic elections in Southern Rhodesia in April 1980. The elections brought Mugabe to power as prime minister through a coalition government that lasted five years. The initial government included the remnants of the settler colonialists, headed by former Prime Minister Ian Smith. By 1985, Zimbabwe had become a republic with ZANU-PF as the leading political party. In 1987, ZANU and ZAPU merged to form a unitary ruling party.

Recent divisions within ZANU-PF came to a head after the termination of Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa in early November. Mnangagwa was relieved of his duties after an incident in Bulawayo when First Lady Grace Mugabe was booed while speaking before a youth interface rally. These actions taken by the president’s office were said to have been in response to a plot to overthrow Mugabe by a faction in the party led by Mnangagwa.

In addition to the sacking of Mnangagwa, reports were circulated that at least 100 other party officials were being examined for possible expulsion from both the organization and government. On Nov. 13, Zimbabwe Defense Forces (ZDF) Cmdr. Gen. Constantino Chiwenga held a press conference along with 90 other military officers at which he threatened intervention if the purges did not cease.

Tanks move into streets of Harare

This military press conference was not covered by the state-run Herald newspaper or other ZANU-PF controlled media agencies. The following day, Nov. 14, social media and foreign news bureaus began to report on irregular tank movements in the capital of Harare. Several hours after sundown, stories began to emerge claiming that the Zimbabwe Defense Forces (ZDF) had seized the national Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) television station in preparation for a statement to the country. Rumors were rife throughout Zimbabwe, across Africa and the world that a military coup was underway inside the country.

Later on in the early morning hours of 4 a.m. Zimbabwe time on Nov. 15, Maj. Gen. S.B. Moyo went on television saying that there had not been a military coup. He said that President Mugabe remained head of state and that security for the leader and his family was guaranteed. Moyo noted that the ZDF was only targeting “criminals” surrounding the president in order to prevent a further deterioration of the social situation, which could become violent.

Several hours later, President Jacob Zuma of the neighboring Republic of South Africa spoke with Mugabe on the telephone. Zuma relayed in an interview over the South African Broadcasting Corporation that President Mugabe had said he was confined to his residence in the capital. He also told Zuma that no harm had been done to him or his family.

Zuma is currently the chair of the regional 15-member Southern African Development Community. The following day, Nov. 16, Zuma deployed South African Minister of Defense Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to sit in on mediation talks between Mugabe and the military. Photographs of the meeting at the State House in Harare were published on the website of the Zimbabwe Herald.

Reports on Nov. 17 showed Mugabe presiding over a graduation ceremony at Zimbabwe Open University. Nonetheless, by Nov. 19, the international media sent out dispatches saying the ZANU-PF Central Committee had voted to recall the president from leadership and consequently as head of state. These same reports also emphasized that First Lady Grace Mugabe was being expelled from the party.

Party and war veterans call for Mugabe’s removal

In these same articles, it was said that Mugabe had until Nov. 20 to step down from office. In an address to the nation and world on Nov. 19, the president acknowledged the factional conflict within the ZANU-PF party. However, he did not resign and, alluding to the upcoming special congress of the party, said he would preside over it as first secretary.

In an earlier press conference on Nov. 15, after Moyo’s television statement and the eventual broadcast of Chiwenga’s remarks, the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association had said they supported the actions taken by the military leadership and would hold a demonstration on Nov. 18 in Harare. Spokespersons for the group also accused leading ZANU-PF and government officials associated with the party faction aligned with First Lady Grace Mugabe of being criminals and even U.S. Central Intelligence Agency operatives.

After the deadline set by the ZANU-PF Central Committee passed on Nov. 20, party members in Parliament threatened impeachment resolutions. On Nov. 21, Sen. Monica Mutsvangwa of Manicaland Province accused the president of several constitutional violations.

The impeachment resolution read by Mutsvangwa said in part: “President Mugabe is old and he needs to be hand held. As such, he is no longer fit for office. … The President has abrogated his constitutional mandate to his wife who makes public utterances on issues of government like the appointing and dismissal of government ministers and senior civil servants. This motion is moved in terms of Section 97 (1) which provides for the removal of the President or Vice President from office. The charges are (a) serious misconduct; (b) failure to obey, uphold or defend this Constitution; (c) willful violation of this Constitution; or (d) inability to perform the functions of the office because of physical or mental incapacity.”

Later on, debate on the impeachment resolution was terminated after House Speaker Jacob Mudenda read out a letter, said to have been from Mugabe, tendering his resignation. International media outlets showed scenes of jubilation for several hours in the streets of Harare. The Zimbabwe Herald later published the resignation letter, along with reports that Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko would be acting president until Mnangagwa could be sworn in on Nov. 24.

International implications of ‘Operation Restore Legacy’

Judging from the response of the British Broadcasting Corporation, the government in London was delighted with the removal of Mugabe from the leadership of ZANU-PF and the Zimbabwe state. However, the former colonial power was quick to advise the new government in Harare on how it should proceed.

British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said in a Twitter post that he did not regret Mugabe’s downfall, calling the resignation “a moment of hope for the people of Zimbabwe.” This echoed the remarks of British Prime Minister Theresa May, who said that the sudden removal of Mugabe would “forge a new path free of the oppression that characterized his rule. In recent days we have seen the desire of the Zimbabwean people for free and fair elections and the opportunity to rebuild the country’s economy under a legitimate government.” (Al-Jazeera, Nov. 21)

A BBC article arrogantly inquired on Nov. 22: “So, will Emmerson Mnangagwa be able to take Zimbabwe’s economy off life support and at least start to put it on the road to recovery? Analysts are very skeptical that a quick solution is even feasible. The euphoria that has gripped the nation has certainly raised hopes that the future will be brighter, but if that improved sentiment is to deliver economic dividends, the government needs to make some drastic reforms. In 2009, Mr. Mugabe signed the Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Act (IEEA) into law, which aimed to place 51percent of companies into the hands of Black Zimbabweans.”

The IEEA was a response to the domination over Zimbabwe’s economy by British settlers and foreign corporations. A land redistribution program enacted in 2000 had set off even deeper international sanctions against Harare because the ZANU-PF government sought to give the land back to its rightful owners — the African people, who had been victimized by the onslaught of British imperialism in the late 19th century.

Relating to the role of the U.S. government in the recent developments in Zimbabwe, the Voice of America (VOA) acknowledged in a report published on Nov. 21 that the State Department has been conducting what it described as “behind the scenes talks” with officials of the ZANU-PF government and Western-backed opposition forces inside the country.

The article outlines some of the preconditions Washington set down for lifting sanctions on this southern African state, which has relied on the Republic of South Africa, the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Republic of Mozambique, the People’s Republic of China and other fraternal states in order to stave off an already dire economic situation imposed by imperialism.

Nike Ching of the VOA writes: “The way for Washington to lift sanctions is for Harare to carry out the due process, to respect human rights, and to give the opposition a genuine opportunity to form a government, said [Donald] Yamamoto [U.S. undersecretary for African affairs]. ‘What we don’t want is a manipulation by the government or by the ruling ZANU-PF party — holding rush elections, not taking into consideration a lot of the reform issues that the opposition wants to implement; also, not giving political space for the Zimbabwe people for them to express what they want to see in a new government,’ he said. U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe Harry Thomas has been meeting with officials from the ZANU-PF party and the opposition party behind the scenes to try and help push the political process forward.”

Both the SADC and the African Union (AU) have expressed concerns over events in Zimbabwe emanating from “Operation Restore Legacy.” Zimbabwe under Mugabe had been an ideological and political base for Pan-Africanism and anti-imperialism on the continent.

The above-mentioned report in Al-Jazeera also says: “Alpha Conde, president of Guinea and African Union chief, said it is ‘a shame’ Mugabe ‘has to leave through the back door.’ He added, however, that he was ‘very pleased’ with Mugabe’s decision to resign, noting that the AU had warned against a coup in Zimbabwe. Hailing Mugabe’s role in Zimbabwe’s fight for independence, Conde called Mugabe ‘an African hero.’ ‘Mugabe will never be forgotten, he was a great fighter,’ he was quoted as saying by Guinean media.”

One opposition media agency, Bulawayo 24, published an unsubstantiated report on Nov. 16 that neighboring Zambian President Edgar Lungu was willing to militarily intervene in Zimbabwe and place his troops under Mugabe’s command. Western-backed entities emerged on the streets of Harare during the demonstrations on Nov. 18, carrying signs attacking both the AU and SADC.

Critical issues for Zimbabwe’s future

At least four important aspects of ZANU-PF’s domestic and foreign policy will be significant in the days and weeks to come in order to assess the Mnangagwa government’s direction.

The land reform program, popularly referred to as “the Third Chimurenga,” has been a cornerstone of domestic policy since 2000. Will the land redistribution project be maintained, moderated or reversed?

Secondly, the Indigenization policy is important for all post-colonial states in Africa, due to the dominance of foreign capital over the national and regional economies. Neocolonialism has failed to provide genuine independence, sustainable growth and development across the continent.

Another major question is whether Zimbabwe can maintain its commitment to regional integration and industrialization, both within SADC and the AU. Mugabe served as chair of the AU in 2015, advancing the cause of economic integration and independence from Western capitalist states. Just this year, the Zimbabwean president presented a $1 million fundraising check to the AU, setting an example for individual state commitment to the continental body.

Finally, Pentagon military involvement in Africa has grown substantially over the last decade with the formation of the U.S. Africa Command (Africom). The Mugabe government kept Africom out of Zimbabwe.

The presence of Africom in Somalia, Niger, Mali, Nigeria and other AU member-states has not resulted in greater security and social stability. Quite the opposite has occurred, with burgeoning instability, economic crises and population displacement.

Ultimately, it is up to the Zimbabwean people themselves to chart a future course. Despite the apparent errors of the recent period, the legacy of Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF remains a sterling example of national liberation, Pan-Africanism and struggle against imperialism throughout the world.

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