The events taking place in Zimbabwe, though still fluid and murky, represent the breaking of the umbilical chord between President Robert Mugabe and the army – the last pillar that was holding up the ruling party, ZANU–PF.
At one in the morning after General Constantino Chiwenga’s press statement, in fast moving events, which cannot be independently confirmed: President Mugabe and his wife were placed under house arrest; the Zimbabwe Radio and Television Broadcasting Corporation was seized; and the homes of prominent ministers known to be part of the Grace Mugabe-aligned “G40” faction were raided; we gather the G40 supportive Youth League leader, Kudzanai Chipanga has been arrested as has been the Minister of Finance, Dr Ignatius Chombo, while others are on the run.
The military has seized government institutions and has arrested the equivalent of the Chinese Gang of Four.
Viewed in context, Chiwenga and Co have simply moved before the President and G40 had launched the removal of a planned 38 senior ministers, party and public officials associated with Emmerson Mnangagwa and the military.
The events now have a name: the National Democratic Project (NDP). The intervention is led by General Chiwenga, flanked by 90 senior military officers. In future and even as we write, it is significant to note who was there and not there – not there were the Police Chief, Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri and the Air Force Chief, Air Marshall Perence Shiri. It is reported that Commissioner Chihuri has been arrested.
These events, which follow Monday’s unprecedented press briefing by General Chiwenga at Army headquarters, appear to have taken a half way approach: warning the President and ruling party to stop the targeted purging of former liberation stalwarts and denigrating the armed forces or face military intervention to save the revolution.
The major point of disagreement with the Presidency appeared to centre on the seemingly unrestrained actions of the abrasive First Lady, Grace Mugabe, and her close ministers and aides as well as what they correctly note as “the absence of leadership and coherence and towards responding to the severe economic hardships faced by ordinary Zimbabweans over the last five years.”
On this, the military’s Damascan moment has come rather late. If they had cared to engage fellow Zimbabweans at home or in the ‘forced diaspora’ during the last two decades or more, they would have been readily informed how people have struggled to make ends meet: pensioners wilting in pointless queues outside banks and the Post Office for worthless paper bonds that are unavailable; a leadership that is insensitive, capricious, ostentatious, self-centred, corrupt and naïve in guiding one of the most industrious people who have since been reduced to humiliation and penury simply by the adoption and pursuance of bad policies.
For ordinary Zimbabweans the yoke of oppression from a liberation movement has been the greatest dereliction of duty, culminating in the brief, forced departure of Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
As usual, Minister of Higher Education, Professor Jonathan Moyo tweeted, rubbishing the press briefing by the General and challenging the generals to shed their uniforms and openly come into the political arena. Next, Chipanga called a counter press conference asserting that he was prepared to die protecting the presidency.
However, as they say, when you intend carrying out a coup, you go the whole way, otherwise events may turn against you. Hence the NDP has been dubbed “bloodless” although already – lives have been lost.
What is likely to happen next? Now that former VP Emmerson Mnangagwa is reported to have ‘returned via Manyame military airbase’ we expect by the end of the day a statement issued providing the political face of the currently military led NDP. The succession loop may be now complete with the president deposed and his nemesis Mnangagwa taking over, supported by the military. This development may offer wider opportunities to other political forces or be confined the now dominant faction of ZANU (PF) that has succeeded to oust the leader.
In this development, the scheduled elections of August 2018 may be suspended while serious political, socio-economic and institutional reforms are undertaken.
Where does this leave SADC and the AU? These are institutions that ordinary Zimbabweans had approached seeking structured intervention. This has now been by-passed by the military’s Operation NDP.
Where does the institutional re-alignment of ZANU (PF) and the security establishment leave the democratic process in Zimbabwe? While this means a firm displacement of President Mugabe from power, again unconfirmed sources have indicated that he has sought to negotiate the release of his wife into exile. But, given her track record, the example we saw in October 1976 in China, the Project cannot afford to have them outside the country where they are likely to inspire insurrection.
For now, the Project has only been “bloodless” in relation to the leaders but ruthless with guards and other minions. Consequently, our assumptions and guesses must remain cautious.