The final putsch: Mugabe’s bizarre last days


HARARE, (The Source) – Emmerson Mnangagwa will be sworn in as President on Friday, a stunning climax to a hectic two-month succession brawl that began with a row over ice cream.
It is perhaps an apt portrait of Mugabe’s squandered legacy; a once revered revolutionary who fought off imperialists, now seeing off his last days in a din of insults that swung from ice cream, Biblical verses and to claims of witchcraft.
Here, we piece together key events in the escalation of the long battle between Mugabe and his deputy that have culminated in Mugabe’s resignation.
The Ice Cream
In August, at a rally in Gwanda, Mnangagwa fell ill and had to be airlifted to South Africa to save his life. The rumours spread that he had taken a poison-laced ice cream from Alpha Omega, a dairy owned by the Mugabes that had exclusive contracts to supply refreshments to Mugabe rallies.
The Mugabes accuse Mnangagwa’s supporters of making up the story to win sympathy. Mugabe tells a rally that Mnangagwa’s doctors had found no trace of poison.
A day after his return from treatment, ZBC quotes Mnangagwa saying he had indeed been poisoned. The Mugabes are livid. They are out of the country on one of their many jaunts. VP Phelekezela Mphoko, an ally, is acting President.
He releases an angry statement, accusing Mnangagwa of lying: “There’s now little doubt, if there ever was any, that there appears to be an agenda to undermine the authority of President Mugabe and to destabilise the country by using lies to fan ethnic tensions for political purposes. This must stop and do so sooner rather than later.”
Mnangagwa is defiant. He calls his own press conference. “I never said that I was poisoned in Gwanda but that I fell ill in Gwanda,” he says. Doctors ruled out food poisoning, “but confirmed that indeed poisoning had occurred”.
Days later, on October 9, Mugabe reshuffles the Cabinet, stripping Mnangagwa of the Justice Ministry and sacking virtually all his allies from key ministries. On October 27, Government revokes the appointment of Ray Goba, a perceived Mnangagwa ally, as Prosecutor General.
The Party
Mugabe allies call a special congress meant to nudge out Mnangagwa. Ahead of the meeting, they start purging Mnangagwa’s supporters to isolate him. Mnangagwa allies in Midlands and Masvingo are suspended for “rebellious behavior”.
The Interfaces
Mugabe’s “youth interface rallies” have nothing to do with youth, but are a stage for launching attacks. Early in the series of rallies, the mood in the crowds begin to show shifting allegiances among the grassroots. Supporters walk out in droves in Chinhoyi. In Bindura, in the G40 faction’s supposed home ground, there are grumbles in the crowd as Grace delivers a Bible verse-laden speech.
Mnangagwa, to the surprise of many, receives loud cheers. Until then, Mnangagwa, with little charisma, has never had any grassroots support, being ever in Mugabe’s shadow. But, Grace’s endless attacks seem to have won sympathy for him. Mugabe and his allies begin to panic. Their insults grow sharper and more desperate.
The worst comes in Bulawayo, on November 4. Mnangagwa receives the loudest cheers as he stands to salute the crowd, a sin under Mugabe, who doesn’t share adoration. It gets worse. Minutes into Grace’s speech, sections of the crowd heckle her. “Do it. Boo me. I don’t care,” she shoots back
When Mugabe takes to the podium, he is angrier than many have ever seen him. He has shed off that statesman exterior.
Did I make a mistake by appointing Mnangagwa, he asks? Tell me, so I fire him immediately.
The next day, Grace launches her angriest rant yet. Speaking to a stadium full of churches, she says of Mnangagwa: “The snake must be hit on the head.”
One fawning church leader even refers to her as “the leader of the country”. She smiles, taking in the praises.
The sacking
Early on Monday, November 6, ZANU-PF youths call a press conference and read out an error-ridden statement calling for Mnangagwa’s expulsion. Mnangagwa and his allies are “free to take their circus to the political zoo by forming their own party”, they say. They want Grace as VP.
Hours later, late afternoon, Simon Khaya Moyo, Information Minister, reads out a short statement to media; Mnangagwa has been fired for “disloyalty, disrespect, deceitfulness and unreliability”. No questions are taken from the press.
On November 8, the party expels him, amid wild celebrations at party headquarters. Sure that leadership is in her bag, Grace declares: “I will help him to make this country prosper.”
War veterans hold a press conference, and say they are now in “complete defiance of Mugabe’s leadership”.
Mnangagwa releases a statement saying he has fled the country, vowing to return as leader. Commentators mock his pledge.
Mugabe, feeling secure, presides over the renaming of the Harare International Airport after himself. Trumpets play as he unveils a plaque revealing “Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport”.
Mugabe’s allies keep up the propaganda pressure. They take to Twitter to mock Mnangagwa the “border jumper”. One private Sunday newspaper reports that Mugabe is nowhere as defiant as he claims in his statement. He is, in fact, “desperate” and “scared”, the paper reports.
The non-coup
On November 13, General Constantino Chiwenga says ZANU-PF must stop purges or the army will not “hesitate to step in”. Youth leader Kudzi Chipanga is sent to respond. He declares they are willing to die for Mugabe. He mocks Chiwenga, asking him to account for missing diamond money. ZANU-PF accuses Chiwenga of “treasonable conduct”.
Late on the afternoon of Tuesday, November 14, army trucks and armoured personnel carriers are spotted rolling into Harare. Mugabe is in Cabinet, only leaving for his Borrowdale home around the 6pm.
Social media buzzes. Has there been a coup? That night, explosions are heard in parts of the city. An army unit arrives at ZBC.
By midnight, the army has surrounded Mugabe’s mansion. Mugabe’s personal guard had stood down and the army raids the homes of several members of his G40 faction. Images later emerge of the bullet-riddled homes of Kasukuwere and Ignatius Chombo.
Shortly before 5AM, Major-General Sibusiso Moyo appears on TV. The President is secure, he says. We are only here to root out criminals around him. This is not a coup.
For hours, there is silence. Army vehicles have now sealed off roads around Parliament and Munhumutapa, the seat of government. South African president Jacob Zuma, as SADC chairman, puts in a call to Mugabe. The Zimbabwean president tells him he is confined to his house, but safe.
Overtaken by events overnight, the Herald of that morning has the headline; “ZANU-PF unfazed by Chiwenga”.
That night, Chipanga appears on national TV to apologise to Chiwenga. “We are still young and make mistakes and we have learnt a lot from this mistake”. His black-blue-purple-grey jersey becomes an instant hit on the internet, a new display of Zimbabweans’ skill to laugh away crises.
The military PR ploy
On November 16, The Herald publishes images of Mugabe meeting Chiwenga at State House. The next day, Mugabe officiates at a university graduation. These two incidents confuse many, whose idea of a coup is blood and gore.
But this appears to be all part of a plan to portray this as not a coup, but an intervention. The army is simply opening the door for a civilian takeover of ZANU-PF and Government. It is the army that is playing diplomat, while the party plays militant.
While many are distracted by the army PR, the “coup” is happening away in the ZANU-PF structures. First, ZANU-PF provincial committees vote out Mugabe, while a team comprising army personnel, war veterans and party officials arrange mass protests. They want the region to notice that this is what the people want.
On November 18, thousands rally to demand Mugabe’s resignation. Thousands of placards, in same typeface, have been printed somewhere. A day later, ZANU-PF’s Central Committee recalls Mugabe, and gives him till midday the next day to quit or face impeachment.
The non-resignation
On the same day, Mugabe meets the heads of all security forces. For the first time, we see the heads of the police, the air force and the prisons getting involved. This raises expectations that a decision is imminent. News spreads that Mugabe has resigned. No, he hasn’t, some say.
Then ZBC outside broadcast trucks are spotted entering State House. This is it, Zimbabweans tell themselves. There are long delays to cross over. In the void, some speculate that there’s been a row over the contents of the speech between Mugabe and the generals. Even ZBC’s choice of music – mostly Gospel – is taken as confirmation that Mugabe is about to quit.
Finally, ZBC crosses over. The Generals are lined up, waiting. In walks Mugabe, jovially exchanging banter as usual, obviously trying to ease the obvious tension in the room. He is in a dark chequered blazer.
He speaks. For one of the world’s most renowned orators, his last public speech is one of his worst ever. It is wordy. It meanders from almost saying “sorry”, to encouraging us to prepare for the new farming season. When Mugabe vows to preside over the ZANU-PF December congress, it becomes obvious that this is not a resignation speech.
The rambling speech ends with “Asante Sana. I thank you. Goodnight”, and mumbles about the order of pages in his speech. The nation’s collective jaw is on the floor in shock. Conspiracy theories rise; the old fox had outwitted the generals and switched his speech, they say.
The final putsch

But the pressure is building. The army release a statement, saying there are in talks on a roadmap with Mugabe. We hear for the first time that this is “Operation Restore Legacy”. Mnangagwa is returning shortly, Gen Chiwenga says.
ZANU-PF chief whip Lovemore Matuke says the party is going ahead with the impeachment process. They need help from the opposition benches. There is chatter among the commentariat that the MDCs must use this chance to bargain for reforms. But they are, as ever, woefully out of touch with public sentiment. Protesters rally outside Parliament building, demanding the impeachment of Mugabe.
On November 21, Mnangagwa releases a statement. “The people of Zimbabwe have spoken”, he says. Mugabe should step down.
The joint sitting of the two houses of Parliament is moved to the bigger HICC. The upper tier is filled with buzzing protesters.
ZANU-PF MP Monica Mutsvangwa moves the motion. Mugabe has violated the constitution and is incapable of remaining as leader. James Maridadi, an opposition MP who has twice tried to have Mugabe impeached, seconds the motion. He stands to dedicate his speech to Lookout Masuku, a struggle general jailed without trial under Mugabe, and Itai Dzamara, the activist that disappeared in 2015.
The Speaker, Jacob Mudenda, is interrupted by Justice Minister Bonyongwe and ZANU-PF legal secretary Patrick Chinamasa. They have an urgent letter.
“Order, order. Can I have a chance to just go through some correspondence for two minutes?” Mudenda says. There are some protests from MPs, keen to get on with the impeachment.
Solemn faced, Mudenda returns to his chair, then stands to read the letter; it is Mugabe’s resignation. There are loud cheers.
On the streets across the country, and in the many parts of the world Zimbabweans have found refuge, there is dancing all night. Soldiers get fist bumps from crowds. Outside the HICC a military van is doing rounds at the roundabout, Fast and Furious style to loud cheers from the dancing crowd. Beer flows. Jah Prayzah plays from every car.
Elsewhere, preparations are beginning for the transition. ZANU-PF drafts a letter to Mudenda, informing him that they are nominating Mnangagwa to be President.
In Pretoria, on Wednesday, Mnangagwa meets Zuma, SA president and current SADC chair. That afternoon, just over two weeks after he fled the country, Mnangagwa flies back to Harare, to prepare to become President.

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