Zimbabwe keeps it in the family with ‘coup’


As negotiations reportedly continue in Zimbabwe and talks among leaders in the Southern African Development Community get under way in Botswana, the battle for the country’s political future still remains very much a family affair within the ranks of Zanu-PF.

President Jacob Zuma’s special envoy on behalf of the SADC has arrived in Zimbabwe where it will reportedly help the negotiation efforts between the military and President Robert Mugabe. So far, the events in Zimbabwe – still denied to be a coup by the military -– have been peaceful as the country waits to see who will be its next leader.

But observers have noted that the absence of outside influences in these events have allowed the country’s political elite to sort its problems out quietly and internally.

“This is a family fight,” said Sithembile Mbete, an international relations lecturer at the University of Pretoria.

Mbete said that the planning of the military action, which led to Mugabe’s confinement to his home and Cabinet ministers being detained on Wednesday, was done with “precision”. It is likely, she said, that the South African government knew what was coming given its close ties with its neighbour.

It took the dismissal and exile of Zimbabwean vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa for the military to initiate its actions, but Mbete said that the ultimate catalyst may well have been the “Grace factor”. Other factors include the Mugabe regime’s impotency to keep its former supporters, such as the army, happy as the government loses money.

Veteran anti-apartheid activist and Mugabe critic Peter Hain, who is a member of the House of Lords, agreed with Mbete’s view.

“It seems to be less of a military coup and more a power bid from Zanu-PF and the state to make sure Grace Mugabe does not succeed to be president,” Hain said.

Hain, who has previously called for sanctions against Mugabe, has been in contact with sources in the country who have added to the speculation on what will happen next. Grace Mugabe had primed herself to take over the leadership of Zimbabwe from her husband, but her faction in Zanu-PF, the G40, is now threatened by coming ever closer to losing to Mnangagwa’s faction in the party.

But, nothing is certain yet.

The reported negotiations taking place in Harare between Mugabe and the military for a possible transfer of power have set themselves apart in their intimacy. Mbete said that so far the events in Zimbabwe have remained a Zanu-PF battle where even the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T), the official opposition, has not mobilised against the party or Mugabe.

“This isn’t a revolution. This is an elite challenging of power from within the same movement and the same history,” she said.

Mnangagwa, a liberation veteran, and Mugabe have a longstanding relationship that dates back to their days in the fight for Zimbabwe’s freedom and then the violence and killings that began to characterise Mugabe as a dictator. They are now standing on opposite sides of the negotiating table.

Even Zimbabweans themselves have quietly gone about their daily lives, allowing Zanu-PF leaders to determine a solution. Mbete said that unlike coups in other African nations, such as Egypt and Libya, Zimbabweans have refrained from demanding that Mugabe should be killed.

“The sense of vengeance is really missing from the public discourse I’m hearing,” she said.

There may yet be dangers around the negotiations. If people demand Mugabe die, or Mugabe remains stubborn in his cling to power then it is likely, Mbete said, that room could be opened for outside interference from the SADC or even the African Union. Already, the AU has reportedly said it will not support a “coup” in Zimbabwe.

Both Mbete and Hain agree that while the current developments in Zimbabwe are not ideal, they may lead to a future for the country that help it to grow.

In the meantime, rumours continue to surge that Mugabe is as good as out. While the uncertainty continues, Zanu-PF remains the centre of the political negotiations in the country as it looks towards a succession battle that might finally, after 30 years, possibly leave Zimbabwe with a new leader. 

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Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.

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