Monday 16 September 2019

'Euphoric' Zimbabweans now wait for Mugabe's deputy to replace him

Zimbabwe’s recently fired vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa. Photo: Ben Curtis/AP
Zimbabwe’s recently fired vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa. Photo: Ben Curtis/AP

Kevin Sieff

The morning after ecstatic celebrations over the resignation of the long-ruling president Robert Mugabe, the people of Zimbabwe yesterday awaited the arrival of his former vice president, expected now to become the interim leader.

Emmerson Mnangagwa, believed to have been in South Africa, will be sworn in tomorrow, having been nominated by the ruling party to be the new president, according to the speaker of the parliament.

Mr Mnangagwa is a longtime Mugabe ally, nicknamed "the Crocodile" for his reputation for shrewd but often brutal tactics, and was known as the president's enforcer.

However, when the 93-year-old Mr Mugabe fired him earlier this month, likely to ensure the succession of his unpopular wife, the military moved in.

Even as the sense of euphoria in Zimbabwe lingers, the question looming over everyone is whether Mr Mnangagwa will be an improvement over Mr Mugabe's nearly four-decades of misrule that impoverished the once affluent country.

The US State Department said in 2000 that Mr Mnangagwa was "feared and despised throughout the country" and "could be an even more repressive leader" than Mr Mugabe.

Mr Mugabe. Photo: Reuters
Mr Mugabe. Photo: Reuters

For the moment, Mr Mnangagwa appears to have the backing of Mr Mugabe's former party and the military, but Zimbabwe's opposition remains fragmented, and politicians and activists will now try to seize on the president's resignation to carve out their own positions in whatever government comes next.

This nation of 16 million people now faces a deeply uncertain period, with a fragmented opposition, no clear path to elections and a controversial heir to power, but the nation was at least momentarily united by the removal of its despotic leader.

Mr Mugabe's exit marks a historic moment that will echo across Africa, where he was among the last surviving heroes of the anti-colonial struggle to remain in power, a man who was initially lionised as a liberator but was increasingly seen as autocratic and brutal. He presided over the stunning collapse of a nation that was known as the breadbasket of the region at its 1980 independence.

His resignation could send a message to other strongmen on the continent who have clung to power for years, defying or manipulating their constitutions. Still, Mr Mugabe's likely successor worked closely with him for years, and is not viewed as a reformer.

A supporter at the Manyame Air Force Base in Harare
A supporter at the Manyame Air Force Base in Harare

"The dictator is gone," Takudzwa Jonasi (32), a chemical engineer, shouted as he celebrated with a jubilant crowd outside parliament.

"For our generation, we have never seen any change. We were not allowed to exercise our rights," he added. Like many young Zimbabweans, Mr Jonasi has known no other leader.

"I have no words. We are finally free," said Shoes Tazviwan (36), a chef who had also joined the demonstrations.

In the end, the world's oldest head of state was a victim of his own allies. After years of purging members of his inner circle, Mr Mugabe had alienated the leaders of Zimbabwe's military, who detained him and seized control of the country's government on November 14.

After days of negotiations - and the largest anti-government demonstration in the country's history - the leader went quietly, sending his resignation letter to parliament, where it was read by the speaker, Jacob Mudenda.

The surprise announcement came as parliament was debating Mr Mugabe's impeachment. Shortly before 5pm on Tuesday, the speaker halted the discussion and announced the president's departure. The body burst into cheers. Mr Mudenda announced that a new president would be named.

According to the speaker, Mr Mugabe's letter said he was resigning for "the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe and the need for a peaceful transfer of power".

Mr Mugabe's resignation leaves Zimbabwe at a crossroads - with the military technically in charge of the country and a wide array of political groups now angling for power.

For the past week, Zimbabweans have been united by their opposition to their long-ruling, autocratic leader, and many here expressed hope that the rare period of unity would lead to the formation of a broad coalition.

"Let's agree for this moment that the enemy of my enemy is my friend," said Fadzayi Mahere, a lawyer and politician.

As soon as Mr Mugabe's resignation was announced on the radio, car horns started blaring and drivers pumped their fists in the air. In front of the parliament, people danced on car roofs and blasted music, waving Zimbabwean flags as the sun set over Harare.

One man in a park fell to his knees in celebration with his arms outstretched. Another kissed the ground.

"It's a new day for us.

"He has ruined our economy," said Sibongile Tambudzi.

Irish Independent

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