Robert Mugabe

News Analysis

Okechukwu Uwaezuoke with agency reports

Many in the West must be having a feeling of schadenfreude now that Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe’s 37-year rule may have effectively ended with Wednesday’s military intervention in the politics of the southern African country. BBC reported that the 93-year-old leader was placed under house arrest in the capital Harare by Zimbabwe’s military and had told South African President Jacob Zuma he was fine.

BBC correspondents said the military intervention, which the leaders refrained from calling a “coup”, may be a bid to replace Mugabe with his sacked deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa. This was as troops, who said they were targeting “criminals”, were seen patrolling the streets of Harare.

Only on Tuesday, four armoured tanks were seen heading towards Harare. And this was a day after the head of the armed forces Constantino Chiwenga had stated his preparedness to “step in” to end a purge of Mnangagwa’s supporters. The ousted vice-president, 75, was a long-serving veteran of the southern African country’s liberation wars of the 1970s and had been touted as Mugabe’s likely successor before he was fired on November 6.

His ouster seemed to pave the way for Mugabe’s wife Grace, 52, to succeed her 93-year-old husband, who had ruled the country since it became independent. This explains Chiwenga’s open threat to intervene on Monday if the purge of war veterans did not stop.

“We must remind those behind the current treacherous shenanigans that, when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in,” Reuters quoted Chiwenga as saying in a statement read to reporters at a news conference packed with top brass on Monday.

But Chiwenga’s threat was challenged by the youth wing of Zimbabwe’s ruling party, who accused the military chief of subverting the constitution for threatening to intervene in the political impasse.

Grace Mugabe has a strong following within the ranks and files of the powerful youth wing of the ruling ZANU-PF party. Hence, her rise to reckoning has pitted her against the war veterans, who once enjoyed a privileged role in the ruling party under Mugabe, but who have increasingly been relegated from senior government and party roles in recent years.

A cloud of uncertainties hovers still over this military audacious intervention in Zimbabwean politics. The best case scenario presents a possibility of Mugabe being given a soft landing and allowed to quietly retire from office.

Yet, the future looks anything but promising for the embattled country, which could witness a protracted period of power-struggle between the contenders, who are already waiting in the sidelines.

Zimbabwe’s political landscape has chiefly been polarised between Mugabe and MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai. The replacement of white minority rule by a cobbling together of ZANU-PF and ZAPU -PF paved the way for the fierce rivalry between the two political strongmen. Hence, Zimbabweans were left with a choice between what Patson Dzamara, writing for Zimbabwe’s News Day called “Mugabe’s entitlement and Tsvangirai’s victimhood”.

“The departure of these political nemeses from Zimbabwe’s political scene will usher in new and interesting dynamics,” Dzamara said. “They have undoubtedly inscribed an indelible mark on Zimbabwean politics.”

Mugabe’s ouster by the military sets the stage for the forthcoming election in 2018, which is fraught with uncertainties. Whatever its outcome, it will definitely put an end to an era in the southern African country’s political landscape.