Why Zimbabweans celebrated a military takeover

Opinion

By Kuda Chideme, HARARE, (The Source)- World over, the idea of the military usurping power from a democratically elected government has been frowned upon. But in Zimbabwe, where one man has ruled the country for 37 years, the world might have just witnessed a rare popular military intervention in politics.
Following months of rising tension in the ruling ZANU-PF party where two opposing factions were fighting to place themselves in line to succeed President Robert Mugabe, things got out of hand when former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa skipped the country after being fired from government on Monday last week. I will be back to lead you, he promised Zimbabweans in a statement placed in the private press.
One week to the day, the Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) General Constantine Chiwenga warned that the army would not hesitate to step in to control the situation which he said had the potential to degenerate into a full blown crisis. By Wednesday, the army had taken control of the country, with no hint of dissent in sight. A public rebuke by the ZANU-PF youth leader, Kudzanai Chipanga was all anyone could muster. On Wednesday, he had apologised for his ‘ill-advised’ remarks.
Army spokesperson Major General Sibusiso Moyo appeared on national television at 4am to announce that the army was “only targeting criminals around Mugabe who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice.”
“As soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy…We encourage those who are employed and those with essential business in the city to continue their normal activities as usual,” Moyo said.
By 6am, images of tanks and soldiers posted at key government buildings and the airport were already making the rounds on social media and international news networks.
Normally, the sight of military men armed to the teeth should send civilians into panic mode, but this was not the case in Harare. Human and vehicular traffic flowed as normal.
It was a typical morning in the capital, with vendors setting up their wares on the streets, pirate taxis ferrying people to work and long winding bank queues, a permanent feature in a country which is battling a liquidity crisis. Not even a military takeover would stop them.
In the bank queue, the news of the day obviously could not be ignored. But of interest is how lightly ordinary people have received the whole situation. To some, Chiwenga was not just another power hungry military man with access to guns, but a savior who is liberating country.
“This is the last time you bank people will be seeing us here. We have been liberated. A new Zimbabwe is coming. Soon this economy will be functional and we will not have to sleep at the bank,” one elderly woman shouted to a bank manager as he came to open the doors.
“It is done! we had suffered for too long,” another woman said to a loud applause.
People are not supposed to be comfortable with military rule, but that conversation in the bank queue shows how desperate Zimbabweans are to see the end of Mugabe’s long rule.
Zimbabwe has known just one leader since it attained independence from Britain in 1980. Mugabe has ruled the country with an iron fist using State apparatus; his feared secret police and, yes, you guessed it, the same army which is now celebrated today.
His stay in power has been characterised by gross human rights violations and allegations of vote fraud. Freedom of speech remains restricted in the country. Opposition parties and journalists who dare voice any dissenting views are subjected to arbitrary arrests and all sorts of harassment.
During Mugabe’s reign, corruption in public institutions was made palpable, as he enriched himself and allowed those close to him to plunder and strip the country of its wealth. The first family is known to own several upmarket properties in neighbouring South Africa and in Singapore.
Today, the country has no currency of its own after it was rendered worthless by record setting hyper-inflation. More than 90 percent of the population is unemployed and the majority of Zimbabweans lives on less than a dollar a day.
The country’s healthcare system is broken, sanitation is poor and access to potable water is limited. As a result, recurring outbreaks of easily curable diseases such as cholera and typhoid are common.
Even in its supposedly normal times, the country was lowly rated and grouped amongst the poorest of nations. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) classifies Zimbabwe as a fragile state, amongst the likes of South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.
For now, the army has not announced its next move, but reports are that Mugabe, together with several officials including newly appointed Finance Minister Ignatious Chombo, Higher Education Minister Jonathan Moyo and Local government Minister Saviour Kasukuwere, are in the military’s custody.
The dominant view is that the army intends to force Mugabe to resign and put in place a transitional government which will pave way for fresh elections. To gain legitimacy, the transitional authority may include members from other political parties.
Regional Intervention
South African President and Southern African Development Community (SADC) chairperson Jacob Zuma has called for an emergency meeting to discuss the Zimbabwean situation Thursday in Botswana, but most Zimbabweans are generally opposed to the idea of foreign intervention.
Zimbabweans believe regional leaders, who have in the past not shown any will to stop Mugabe, will only fight in the veteran ruler’s corner.
In the region, Mugabe remains a popular larger than life figure, a true African leader who fought colonialism and spent his life resisting white supremacy.
Mugabe is shown more love abroad than at home. When he speaks at international platforms, they marvel at his eloquence and admire his spirited demands for nations to be treated equally. He is viewed in the same light with other African greats, founding fathers of the continent such as Nkrumah and Nyerere.
But at home, as the sun sets on his long divisive rule, the nation awaits a new dawn.

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