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Vol 58 No 24

Published 1st December 2017


Zimbabwe

Hopes and fears for the new old guard

After deftly organising Mugabe's exit and Mnangagwa's accession, the ruling party sees no reason to make concessions to its opponents

When Pastor Evan Mawarire, founder of the #ThisFlag movement, walked free from the Harare High Court on 29 November having been acquitted on charges of trying to overthrow President Robert Mugabe, there was both cheering and laughter. The latest political dramas have not robbed Zimbabweans of their legendary sense of humour. Mawarire won mass support through a social media campaign to make his compatriots proud of their national flag again despite the years of political and economic turmoil (AC Vol 57 No 15, Dollar crisis puts opposition on the streets).

Mugabe and his allies in the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) saw Mawarire as a dangerous activist and launched several prosecutions against him. The laughter came because the presiding judge was seen to have had little choice – given the contrast between Mawarire's campaign and much bigger events outside the courtroom.

Zimbabwe has a new President, Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, because his own allies in the Zimbabwe Defence Forces neutralised the presidential guard and put Mugabe under house arrest in the early hours of 15 November. But the question of the legitimacy of what the army prefer to call a 'military-assisted transition' continues to haunt Mnangagwa's government.

It took another week for a succession of generals and ZANU-PF barons, with Catholic priest Father Fidelis Mukonori mediating, and a threat of impeachment to persuade Mugabe to resign. Then, Mnangagwa, who qualified as a lawyer during exile in Zambia, had the constitutionality of his accession to the Presidency upheld by the Supreme Court. He took the oath of office in front of a full sports stadium on 24 November.

Since tens of thousands of Zimbabweans marched through Harare and Bulawayo on 18 November to demand Mugabe's exit, the euphoria hasn't subsided. By bringing together militants from ZANU-PF, all the opposition parties, civic activists, with the War Veterans, whose eloquent leader Chris Mutsvangwa was a prime mover in the anti-Mugabe campaign, the demonstrations cut through long-standing divisions. The friendly presence of the army, with soldiers allowing demonstrators to stand on their vehicles, added to the celebratory atmosphere.

Veterans' role
More sceptical voices suggested that Mutsvangwa, an ally of Mnangagwa, had brilliantly choreographed the event both to put pressure on 93-year-old Mugabe, who was holding out in the negotiations, and to rehabilitate the image of the national army and his Veterans movement. Both had fallen out terminally with Mugabe a couple of years ago. Mutsvangwa is expected to get an important job in the government or a top post in ZANU-PF. His wife Monica Mutsvangwa was announced as the new national secretary of the party's Women's League, replacing Grace Mugabe, who has been expelled from the ruling party.

The other key relationship in pushing Mugabe towards the exit was between Mnangagwa and General Constantino Chiwenga, the ZDF commander. It's become clear that the military's 'Operation Restore Legacy' was planned months ago, at least among its upper echelons. 

The immediate trigger was Mugabe's sacking of Mnangagwa from the Vice-Presidency on 6 November (AC Vol 58 No 23, Mugabe drops the crocodile). Chiwenga, who used to drive a car with the number plate ZIM 2 (the President's car uses ZIM 1) is thought to have his own civilian political ambitions. But so long as he keeps on the uniform, he is seen as the power behind Mnangagwa's throne. 

There's hope for change without illusion, according to Nelson Chamisa, deputy president of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. 'We know this is a critical moment in our national history but equally we know it was also about settling internal politics within ZANU-PF.' 

Chamisa and his President, Morgan Tsvangirai, say they are ready to fight the national elections due next August. They are also clear that Mnangagwa is not going to form another power-sharing government of the kind tried in 2009. All three opposition alliances – as well as Tsvangirai's MDC Alliance, there's one under former ZANU-PF Vice-President Joice Mujuru, and another formed by ex-MDC activist Elton Mangoma – are talking up their chances of defeating the ruling party next August. 

But ZANU-PF stalwart and re-appointed Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa insists the opposition can claim no credit for the new dispensation. This reflects thinking in the party leadership, despite Mnangagwa's call for a 'new democratic era'. An editorial in The Herald, ZANU-PF's Pravda, on 28 November rubbished calls for Mnangagwa to set up a broad-based transitional government, arguing that the ruling party must complete its mandate. 

The article added that the government should not listen to opposition calls for 'so-called reforms in the hope of winning the next elections and dislodging ZANU-PF from power.' Such political demands, said The Herald, simply created tensions and diverted government from its main task of fixing the broken economy. Officials confirm that is an accurate view within the party hierarchy, who have been congratulating themselves on their management of the succession and what appears to be a renewal of support for ZANU-PF. 

What happens to that support will depend critically on Mnangagwa's success with the economy but also his willingness, despite The Herald's advice, to agree to wide-ranging political and constitutional reforms currently in abeyance.



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