President Robert Mugabe is a severely troubled man. This is understandable because he faces a sobering moment of truth. He is now staring at a real internal revolt. That is a sore possibility for him because he is now so much used to power and would want to go on ruling, even from the grave as his wife, Grace, has suggested.
When he recently insinuated unleashing the army and security sector on ex-combatants who are backing his deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa, to take over from him, he showed a natural but naïve stubbornness that comes with statesmen who have ruled for too long. Yet the writing is on the wall. His own lieutenants no longer want him and they look determined to make him go this time around.
President Mugabe is his own enemy. He can’t see beyond his own nose because power has inebriated him. Add to that the diminishing power of judgment that comes with age. He is failing to appreciate that, in politics, there is a time to rule and a time to retire.
Outside that, there is tragedy. Over the decades, he has given his close lieutenants the impression that he would step down and allow for new leadership. He has failed to do that and patience is running wafer thin.
The process towards an internal revolt has been mothballing over the years. Mugabe should have seen it coming yet he was just too happy to play his comrades against each other in the broader scheme to remain in power. In 2004, he took Joice Mujuru on board as his deputy. This created an impression in many, Mujuru among them, that he would at an appropriate time hand her the baton. That did not happen, of course.
She must have realised at one time that her boss was just using her as a pawn against Mnangagwa who seemed bent on doing a palace coup against Mugabe. I don’t doubt that she was getting edgy on the chair when the president showed no signs of loosening his grip on the reins.
In this sense, there seems to be partial truth in Mugabe’s allegation that she was plotting to take over from him at the 2014 congress. Of course, it is unlikely that she would have done that unconstitutionally or illegally. She just wanted to enjoy the promise Mugabe had implied by elevating her to the vice presidency.
Prior anecdotes also demonstrate growing impatience with Mugabe’s continued stay in power. There was a widespread belief that the party and national president would cede power before the 2008 general elections. The late ex-general, Solomon Mujuru, and a host of others from the Mujuru faction waited in vain for Mugabe to do that.
When nothing happened, they were peeved, and the general set Simba Makoni out among the pigeons in the botched Mavambo breakaway that would have seen Mugabe losing it. Mujuru, the general, grew cold feet and did not give Makoni adequate support. Zanu (PF) heavyweight, Dumiso Dabengwa, was part of this plot borne out of growing frustration.
Mnangagwa enjoyed temporary optimism when, after playing an influential role in Joice’s ouster at the 2014 congress and her subsequent dismissal from the party in early 2015, Mugabe made him a co-deputy alongside little known Phelekezela Mphoko. He had waited for ages to get so close to power. He hadn’t settled for long in his new seat before receiving the inevitable signs that Mugabe was not interested in handing over the staff of power.
A shady faction led by the president’s wife, Grace, emerged from nowhere and led a vicious campaign that almost tipped Mnangagwa over. That must have awakened the man they call The Crocodile to the hard reality that Mugabe was in no hurry to call it quits.
In all his clever shenanigans to stay put, Mugabe has made lots of game-changing enemies that would be too happy to see his back. He has done a rough job on the highly sensitive security sector. He angered the generals when he publicly accused them of participating in factional fights when he addressed a party conference in 2013.
The securocrats had to drag him out for an emergency meeting over his utterances. Clearly acting on factional ill-advice, Mugabe has accused all the service chiefs of siding with this or the other faction in perceived plots to unseat him. That is self-destructive paranoia.
Augustine Chihuri, the police chief, Happyton Bonyongwe, the intelligence boss and Paradzai Zimhondi who heads correctional services have all been lumped with Joice Mujuru. They are now lame ducks who must be shivering with anger that they are taking orders from junior officers who Mugabe trusts.
Similarly, and most probably quite correctly, Constantine Chiwenga, the army chief, has been accused of supporting Mnangagwa and there is rumour Mugabe is cracking his head to see how best to offload him. Grace has not helped her husband’s case by also openly rapping the generals and accusing them of trying to bomb the First Family’s farm and plotting to kill their son, Chatunga.
Add to that the war vets factor. It is quite telling that these Zanu PF foot soldiers are becoming increasingly bolder in their direct and implied criticism of Mugabe and his wife. For instance, they recently dismissed Mugabe’s notion that they are not part of the ruling party, but a welfare group. They called that nonsense. They forced him into an indaba where they were scathing in their sentiments on how the party had lost direction.
And now they are openly saying Mnangagwa must take over, clearly in reference to 2018 when Mugabe’s national presidential term expires. He is bound to get more brickbats over his description of them as rebels who need to be snuffed out through a second Gukurahundi. After all, they never said Mugabe must go now. They merely said Mnangagwa must take over when he goes, which should be a natural process.
It is obvious that the ex-combatants are Mnangagwa’s and the generals’ loudhailer. The generals might have different factional persuasions, but they are united in their contempt of Grace, the Generation 40 (G40) outfit and, ultimately, Mugabe himself who is quickly turning into a security threat in their eyes. They will unite around those fundamental values that they agreed on, on their way from the bush, and that includes sustainable political leadership of Zanu PF which Mugabe is no longer providing.
It is ominous that Mnangagwa has remained quiet in the wake of the incisive utterances by the war veterans who are fighting from his base. G40’s Patrick Zhuwao, Sarah Mahoka, Phelekezela Mphoko and, recently, Mandi Chimene have all tried to force him to pronounce his position regarding his relationship with the war veterans and Team Lacoste, the faction that he, of course, leads. Ordinarily, he would grab the microphone and distance himself from the war vets and factional supporters so as to curry favour with Mugabe. His silence is therefore a statement of defiance.
President Mugabe has the option of a quick pre-emptive attack on Mnangagwa, demoting or even firing him now. But it doesn’t look tenable. That would boomerang as the security sector and war veterans plus a significant mass in Zanu PF will protest. If he had the capacity and wherewithal to remove Mnangagwa, Mugabe could have done it earlier, when G40 was controlling the stakes, but he couldn’t.
To me, it looks like there is a big plan out there. Mnangagwa would not remain quiet if he hadn’t amassed a critical and strategic following, particularly in the security sector. He is fed up and is capable of leading a rebellion against Mugabe before the 2018 elections. The plan may entail watching as Mugabe gets frailer. The plotters would then announce that the president is no longer fit for duty and put Mnangagwa in an acting capacity. This coup d’état could happen in early 2018 and the rest would be history.
Will the international community, SADC included, accept a coup d’état in Zimbabwe? Oh, yes! SADC will pretend that it is doing something to return Zimbabwe to electoral democracy when the takeover happens. This is because, in principle and policy, it is opposed to coups.
The world is too anxious to see Mugabe out. There will always be the looming worry about what happens in the post-Mugabe era, but Mnangagwa might be emboldened by the fact that his international rating, in both the East and the West, is growing as he is seen as a pragmatist. He could be persuaded to find a working relationship with the opposition.
Outside a coup, the Mnangagwa faction is likely to do an electoral sabotage, what they called Bhora Musango (Kick the ball off the field) in 2008. This plot entails ensuring that parliamentary and municipal candidates win but Mugabe loses in 2018.
That, of course, comes with a headache because it would give Morgan Tsvangirai a presidential victory. But if well-executed, Zanu PF might retain a good majority in parliament. This might give them the leverage to impeach the MDC-T leader or make his rule very difficult, somehow spawning another election with Mugabe out of the picture.