Sunday, 17 December 2017

By JEFFREY MOYO and ALAN COWELL: After Coup, Even Mugabe’s Own Party Is Dumping Him

Posted On Saturday, 18 November 2017 13:56 Written by JEFFREY MOYO and ALAN COWELL/ NY TIMES
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President Robert Mugabe, center, appeared on Friday, under tight security, at a graduation ceremony at a university in Harare. Credit Ben Curtis/Associated Press President Robert Mugabe, center, appeared on Friday, under tight security, at a graduation ceremony at a university in Harare. Credit Ben Curtis/Associated Press

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s governing party moved on Friday to expel President Robert Mugabe from its ranks, taking the first step in legally ousting the 93-year-old leader following a military intervention two days earlier.

A majority of the leaders of the party, ZANU-PF, recommended Mr. Mugabe’s expulsion from the very organization that he had controlled with an iron grip since independence in 1980, according to ZBC, the state broadcaster.

Military officers have insisted that their takeover was not a coup, but the party’s leaders appeared on Friday to be providing political cover for the intervention. The party’s central committee, Parliament and Mr. Mugabe’s cabinet could now take steps to officially end his presidency, if he does not resign.

The military arrested Mr. Mugabe early Wednesday, effectively ending his 37-year rule, although it allowed him to appear in public on Friday to address a university graduation.

Later on Friday, party members endorsed the military’s efforts to stabilize the economy and defuse political instability. They echoed military commanders in arguing that the intervention was aimed at rooting out a cabal of corrupt interlopers who had clouded Mr. Mugabe’s judgment and his ability to govern.

“Many of us had watched with pain as the party and government were being reduced to the personal property of a few infiltrators with traitorous histories and questionable commitment to the people of Zimbabwe,” the party leaders said in a resolution. “Clearly, the country was going down the wrong path.”

 

An armored personnel carrier in Harare on Friday. CreditAgence France-Presse — Getty Images

The resolution recommended that Mr. Mugabe be removed for taking the advice of “counterrevolutionaries and agents of neo-imperialism”; for mistreating his vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, whom Mr. Mugabe abruptly dismissed last week; and for encouraging “factionalism.” It urged the “immediate and unconditional reinstatement” of Mr. Mnangagwa, who appears poised to succeed Mr. Mugabe, at least until national elections scheduled for next year.

 

Party members also moved to schedule a march for Saturday in support of the military.

Over the past few days, the military has been in negotiations to find a peaceful and face-saving way for Mr. Mugabe to exit the scene, in talks mediated by South Africa and other countries in the region, and by the Roman Catholic Church.

The military has insisted that its intervention was not a coup. The Herald, the state-run newspaper, said the military “had taken action to pacify the degenerating political, social and economic situation in the country,” which “if left unchecked would have resulted in violent conflict,” and said the action was intended “to flush out reactionary and criminal elements around the president.”

On Friday, Mr. Mugabe was freed — if only temporarily — to address a university graduation ceremony. It was his first public appearance since the military placed him under house arrest — an illustration, perhaps, that this was no ordinary attempt to oust a despot.

Mr. Mugabe, 93, has dominated his country since independence from Britain 37 years ago, surviving through a blend of political skill, brutality, manipulation and patronage dispensed among a corrupt elite.

Those days “are numbered,” though, said Chris Mutsvangwa, the leader of Zimbabwe’s influential war veterans’ movement, which was founded to represent those who fought in the seven-year liberation war in the 1970s but has emerged as a powerful political force.

At a news conference, Mr. Mutsvangwa cranked up pressure on Mr. Mugabe, saying the longtime leader would face huge calls for his ouster at a rally on Saturday.

At his news conference, Mr. Mutsvangwa said several key regions in Zimbabwe’s Shona-speaking heartlands — the base of ZANU-PF’s support — had approved calls for the president’s expulsion. Mr. Mugabe himself has in the past used orchestrated maneuvering in the provinces to undermine national figures in Harare.

The talks involving the Catholic Church and South African mediators are intended to devise some form of transition that would have the appearance of constitutional legitimacy while providing a decorous departure for a leader whose role in the pre-independence liberation struggle is central to the national narrative.

The military’s ultimate intention has apparently been to effect a transfer of power without the appearance of illegality that might draw further opprobrium from outside Zimbabwe or frighten off potential investors.

“The army is trying to keep people guessing” while talks continue, said Frank Chikowore, a Zimbabwean journalist.

The ZANU-PF resolution on Friday singled out the G-40, a faction of politicians aligned with Mr. Mugabe’s wife, Grace Mugabe. It denounced four of them as “criminals and counterrevolutionaries”: Jonathan N. Moyo, the minister of higher education; Ignatius M. Chombo, the finance minister; Saviour Kasukuwere, minister for local government; and Patrick Zhuwao, the minister for public services, labor and social welfare.

The party did not, however, explicitly condemn Mrs. Mugabe, whose recent aspirations to succeed her husband appear to have been a trigger for his downfall.

Outside the main cities on Friday, the military set up roadblocks on main highways, apparently to thwart any attempt at organized resistance. Buses traveling from Bulawayo, the second city, to Harare, the capital, were pulled over and boarded by soldiers who checked documents and asked passengers about their business. Sometimes, travelers reported, the soldiers ordered passengers off the buses for inspection. Some were asked if they were carrying weapons.

Such was the official concern to maintain an appearance of normalcy that the state broadcaster devoted the first 10 minutes of its news bulletin on Thursday to interviews with people across the land and, as if scripted, all repeated the same refrain: “It’s business as usual.” Mr. Mugabe’s appearance at the graduation ceremony — however surreal — seemed to be part of the same stratagem.

Some Zimbabweans suggested that the officers’ calculation might offer Mr. Mugabe a chance to play hardball in closed-door talks.

In the annals of Africa’s many uprisings and coups, the script often involves the strongman fleeing into exile or being imprisoned or even shot.

Instead, Zimbabwe’s military allowed Mr. Mugabe to return to State House, his official residence, and on Friday, he appeared in a bright blue cap and gown, under tight security, to oversee the graduation ceremony in Harare. At one point, he appeared to doze, his head lolling.

By appearing at the ceremony, Mr. Mugabe wanted to give “the impression that he is still in charge,” Mr. Mutsvangwa said. “He is finished.”

“He is defying the population, trying to give a semblance of normality when things are not normal,” Mr. Mutsvangwa said. “That’s why we are saying: Don’t lie to yourself; it’s a delusion. You know he has been deluding himself — he is deluded.”

Mr. Mugabe — in official portrayals at least — has maintained power as an enduring emblem of the fight to expunge colonial influence in Africa.

But he has presided over a precipitous economic decline that began with the seizing of white-owned farms starting in 2000. Joblessness has soared, and a shortage of foreign currency has driven up the price of imports. At the same time, a loyal elite around him has amassed villas, farms and high-end automobiles.

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