Sunday 18 March 2018

Expect more twists before Zimbabwe's drama ends

Robert Mugabe delivers his speech during a live broadcast at State House in Harare. Photo: AP
Robert Mugabe delivers his speech during a live broadcast at State House in Harare. Photo: AP

Kim Sengupta in Harare

The army may no longer be totally united: some middle ranking officers are said to be muttering that the chief, General Constantino Chiwenga, had sold out to Robert Mugabe.

Grace Mugabe, 'Gucci Grace' or 'DisGrace', is accused of being the Lady Macbeth of this affair. 'G40', or 'Generation 40', are ambitious, unscrupulous men who had hitched their stars to her rise.

Her part in the sacking of Emmerson Mnangagwa, 'The Crocodile', as vice-president directly triggered the current turmoil in the land where his supporters, 'Team Lacoste', should now be in ascendance.

And yesterday we had 'High Noon': the time by which Mugabe should have resigned or face impeachment.

The drama unfolding now certainly contains its share of suspense and surprises. That reached its apogee when Robert Mugabe was supposed to make his resignation on state TV, bringing to an end his reign as the longest serving ruler in Africa.

Except, he did nothing of the kind. The 93-year-old stumbled through his words, got his pages mixed up, apologised for repeating himself, agreed reforms were necessary and then vowed to carry on. Surrounded by respectful military commanders, his captors, he declared he would preside over his party's emergency meeting next month.

That should, in theory, be impossible as he had earlier been stripped of leadership and replaced by Mnangagwa. But nothing is quite certain in the current state of affairs.

There were rumours yesterday morning that Mugabe may resign after all, but rumours were all they were.

What we do know is that Mugabe, deposed and put under house arrest six days ago, made a presidential address on TV and, two days earlier, attended a university graduation ceremony with ceremonial escort.

There is no sign of Mnangagwa, the new leader of the party and president in waiting.

He had fled to South Africa saying he feared for his life after being sacked by Mugabe, supposedly at the insistence of Grace. He is now said to be back from exile, but was conspicuous by his absence at what was his anointment in the Zanu-PF meeting.

Meanwhile, the sense of euphoria which saw hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets, chanting, dancing and singing, on Saturday , has been replaced by a sense of uncertainty and unease.

Tanks are back at intersections, people are more guarded about talking to outsiders. Jordan Vushe echoed the sense of apprehension among many. He had been driving around with a placard saying "Mugabe Just Go" on Saturday. He has now taken it out of his car: "I am not burning it or anything. I am just being careful and seeing what happens," he said.

Mugabe, according to a number of officials, had agreed to resign after the military had met a number of his conditions, including immunity from prosecution for himself, his wife and their family, including her son from a previous marriage.

But he apparently backtracked on the agreement to write the resignation speech together with senior officers and, at the end, refused to show them what he had written.

What came out of Mugabe's garbled speech led to furious reactions. Christopher Mutsvangwa, the head of the powerful organisation of war veterans, accused him of being "deaf and blind to the wishes of the people".

Legal action at the High Court will take weeks and impeachment proceedings due to begin in parliament today will not be a quick affair. The military, still insisting they had not carried out a coup, are unlikely to remove the president by force.

So the situation remains fluid. We cannot say Mugabe is coming back. Both 'Gucci Grace' and 'The Crocodile' remain out of sight, but one feels there will be a few more twists and turns in this extraordinary episode of Zimbabwe's history.

Irish Independent

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