Gary van Staden | NKC African Economics
It is tempting to suggest we need shed no crocodile tears over the inevitable demise on Monday, November 6, of Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa who by all accounts and history was not one of the good guys. But his demise is just part of a political purge that will one way or another plunge the country into a crisis from which escape will be neither swift nor painless.
The sacking of Mr Mnangagwa followed the same Grace Mugabe script as that which saw the dumping of Joice Mujuru – another vice president who was expected to succeed President Robert Mugabe – some three years ago.
But while Ms Mujuru received much sympathy, if not too much actual support, after her sacking, much of the reaction to Mr Mnangagwa’s demise pointed to his own complicity in alleged war crimes during the so-called Gukurahundi massacres of 1983/4 during which thousands of Ndebele-speaking civilians were murdered by Mr Mugabe’s North Korean-trained 5th Brigade on the pretext the victims were planning an insurrection.
The man nicknamed the Crocodile – a title he earned during the liberation war and not from the logo of his ‘Team Lacoste’ faction – may have his support base but apparently not much public sympathy.
An interesting view that was circulating in Harare on Monday night, according to some sources, was that having seen off two powerful challengers, Mr Mugabe himself was next on the Grace hit list. That is not as farfetched as it sounds, but this conspiratorial titbit need not detain us here.
Ms Mugabe has been ramping up the pressure on Mr Mnangagwa for several weeks now with local media reports suggesting the issue came to a head over the weekend when his supporters booed Ms Mugabe during one of her rambling diatribes in which she accused Mr Mnangagwa of several heinous crimes, including plotting a coup in 1980 which would have been very interesting given Mr Mnangagwa was not part of the military.
Mr Mugabe then chivalrously defended his wife’s ‘honour’ and attacked his long-time comrade – suggesting that he would have to sack him because his elevation to vice president had clearly been a mistake.
Ms Mugabe would have been 15 years old in 1980 when the alleged coup plot was afoot, so she clearly had some sources to help her with her fabrications, but the coup claims are palpable nonsense.
They have their source in a dispute that emerged in 1979 at Lancaster House in London where negotiations over the future of the then Rhodesia were being held. Mr Mnangagwa, then a close confident to Mr Mugabe, was among those who urged him to accept some compromises and make a deal that would end the liberation war. Others who also urged that Mr Mugabe accept a deal included Solomon Mujuru, also known as Rex Nhongo, liberation army commander Josiah Tongogara and Edgar Tekere.
The actions of the military men prompted some of the liberation movement delegates to use the word ‘coup’, but it was never going to come to that because there was one voice Mr Mugabe could not ignore – Samora Machel, then president of Mozambique. When Mr Mugabe and his team stormed out of Lancaster House and threatened to go back to the bush, the Mozambique president apparently told Mr Mugabe to return and make a deal because he no longer had bases in Mozambique to which he could return.
The saga indicates the lengths to which the Mugabe clan supporters will go to twist and distort history for their own ends and trash the roles of the real heroes in the liberation struggle – including those of Mujuru, Tongogara and Tekere.
Now Mr Mnangagwa’s demotion is likely to pave the way for Ms Mugabe to assume more political power up to the point of replacing Mr Mnangagwa as vice president after next month’s ruling party conference.
There are very few ways to see the latest developments in Zimbabwe through a positive or even neutral view; not because Mr Mnangagwa was a ray of hope for the country, but because the path the Mugabe faction has set ends any prospect of the country recovering from its terminal decline without much suffering.
Over the short-term, the sacking may generate a measure of instability with the potential to assume larger, more ominous proportions; not because Mr Mnangagwa was badly treated, but because he has support from people with weapons and because lies, deceit, manipulation and the fantasies of Ms Mugabe need to be curbed soon or the prognosis gets even worse.
There is no reason to dismiss the speculation that now that she has rid herself of the two most likely succession candidates, she can target her husband after next year’s elections – possibly from the position of vice president.
We also cannot underestimate the impact of ‘President Grace Mugabe’ or even a docile and disempowered President Robert Mugabe under the complete control of his wife. In these scenarios, Zimbabwe becomes a wasteland of disputed political factions squabbling over less and less and a humanitarian crisis is not off the table.
The future of the country is far darker today than it was yesterday and yesterday was already quite dark to begin with. The entire region can brace for more of the same – just multiplied – regarding the fallout.