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Zimbabwe: Time for change not a coup

No person in their right state of mind would argue that Mugabe must remain in power, but his removal by force and a military take-over would be a mistake. Lawrence Ndlovu argues that what is needed with great urgency is serious diplomatic mediation which will return power to the people through legitimate national elections. 

When Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe fired his deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa, he may have proverbially shot himself in the foot. There are now signs of a coup d’état unfolding in Zimbabwe, although while there is military action, it has not been labelled as such. Yet. Army tanks have been seen in Harare; the army has taken over the national broadcaster, and President is nowhere to be seen although is believed to be under house arrest. Any person who has interested himself and herself in African history, especially military takeovers, knows that although the army says that this is not a coup it has all the trappings of one. Let us be clear: if the president of a country (the commander in chief) is no longer in control of his own army and is apparently on some kind of house arrest at the behest of his own army generals, then a coup d’état is taking place in Zimbabwe.

To say that Mr Mugabe has overstayed his welcome as President of Zimbabwe would be an understatement of note. He has travestied the entire social spectrum from hero to villain during his over 30 year tenure. Mugabe could have been defined as a revolutionary. He led the charge for the emancipation of Zimbabwe from oppressive colonial rule which had gone as far as glorifying an Imperialist Cecil John Rhodes by naming an African country after him – Rhodesia. This might seem like an unnecessary point to mention, but it only serves to illustrate how deep the subjugation of the people of Zimbabwe, and the African continent, was. The early Mugabe was a leader who evidently desired only success and stability for Zimbabwe. The period between 1980 to 1990 the Zimbabwean economy was growing and it was evident that Zimbabwe represented the makings of a successful post-colonial African state.

A political avalanche

However, by the time Mugabe implemented his land grab campaign around years 2000-08, he had fallen out of favour with many in Zimbabwe. Although the issue of land was (and still is) a serious problem that must be addressed in many African countries, the motivation of Mugabe in addressing this problem was to secure favour from the people of Zimbabwe.  There emerged in Zimbabwe a serious intolerance of anyone who does not support ZANU PF and Mugabe. Wide-spread reports of intimidation especially around the time of elections were not uncommon; there was a disregard for the constitution especially when Mugabe lost the elections in 2008 and the Zimbabwean Dollar collapsed and the economy still cannot stand on its own – depending almost entirely on the neighbouring states especially South Africa and Botswana. 

There are over a million economic migrants from Zimbabwe in South Africa, Botswana, the United Kingdom and many other countries. The last 5 years has also seen the emergence of Grace Mugabe into Zimbabwean politics. Many commentators and politicians have mentioned Mrs Mugabe sees herself as her husband’s successor. It is the emergence of Mrs Mugabe has also led to the side-lining of Mugabe’s usual allies including the firing of his deputy. The addition of Mrs Mugabe to the heavy-laden Zimbabwean political environment has accelerated the already descending avalanche.   

With all this in mind (with much more not discussed) no person in their right state of mind would argue that Mugabe must remain in power.  History has taught us that any unjust system or person, regardless of the length of years, will eventually collapse. It is from this general consensus that the army sees the need to take upon itself the duty of initiating a regime change.

Although it has been established that Mugabe must go, a coup not the best way to deal with the removal of a legitimate head of state. Once a military takeover takes place, the country struggles for many years to untangle itself from that kind of forceful assumption of power. Whoever is placed in the position to lead by the army is no servant of the people; this is not a democracy.  A coup is a collapse of a democratic state. The collapse of a democratic state means the suppression of the majority. The very problem that many in Zimbabwe have with Mugabe’s elite running the country cannot be replaced by just another elite consisting of army generals.

This is Zimbabwe’s kairos moment. Change is inevitable and must happen. It would be foolish however to think that the removal of Mugabe would mean the end of Zimbabwe’s problems. What is being collapsed here is an over-30 year project of a patronage system; a political system which revolved around Mugabe. Everyone who has sought to replace Mugabe, including Grace Mugabe, has always wanted to do so through the patronage of Mugabe precisely because they know that they will not succeed without Mugabe and his elite.

What is needed with great urgency is serious diplomatic mediation which will return power to the people through legitimate national elections. Mugabe must resign in order to trigger a need for national elections. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) must ensure that what triumphs out of this much-needed transition is democracy and the will of the people.

The time for silent diplomacy is gone. Now the SADC must facilitate a process through which the people of Zimbabwe, not the army, decide on the future of their country. SA.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.