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Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe appears with military leaders in new “post-coup” photographs

Robert Mugabe has held a meeting with the leaders of a would-be coup, but it is unclear what has been achieved apart from confirming Mugabe’s apparent personal safety.

The Zimbabwe Herald has published the first photographs of President Robert Mugabe since the beginning of a series of events which many have called a coup. Yesterday, army commanders appeared on television saying that the apparent military takeover of the government was about bringing “certain criminals” to justice and that the President was safe.

Today, these same commanders met with Mugabe who according to South African President Jacob Zuma, is confined to his home.

It is unclear what kind of settlement has been reached if any, but Zuma has told South Africa’s Parliament that the details will soon emerge.

The actions of military officers are alleged to have been related to Mugabe’s dismissal of former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Mnangagwa who fled the country, is reportedly back in Zimbabwe, although these reports remain unconfirmed. Mnangagwa was said to be dismissed at the behest of Mugabe’s generally unpopular wife Grace, a woman many expect will lead the country when the 93 year old Robert Mugabe leaves power.

At this point there are several possibilities for how events may unfold:

1. Mugabe remains in power but Grace is removed from the proverbial line of succession 

Mugabe still retains a great deal of support among his ethnic and party political base, although many erstwhile supports have grown fatigued with a Presidency that has seen record levels of inflation and protracted economic turmoil.

Due to his advanced age, there would be a level of wisdom implicit in allowing Mugabe to finish his Presidency peacefully and with few changes to the status quo in the short term. For the apparent supporters of Mr. Mnangagwa, this might require a guarantee from the President, that Grace will not be thrust into a leadership position upon Mugabe’s resignation or death.

This situation is the closest possible scenario to a “win-win”. This scenario would preserve much of the legal order, while in the medium and long term it would giving ‘coup’ leaders the most important concession what they apparently seek. It would also placate South Africa which is keen on seeing off any instability in Zimbabwe.

2. Mugabe remains titular President but is forced to hand over powers. 

This situation would not be ideal for Mugabe who seems to relish the depth and breadth of his power. This is something generally accepted by Mugabe’s admirers while it remains a bone of contention among his detractors.

However, depending on the strength and support of the ‘coup’ leaders, they may force Mugabe into accepting an offer he is not in a position to refuse. If the option for Mugabe is surrendering some powers or surrendering all powers, he may well opt for the lesser of two evils, from his inevitable perspective.

3. Mugabe turns the tide, punishes the ‘coup’ leaders and remains as strong as ever 

Mugabe is one of the greatest if not most infamous political survivors of the 20th and 21st century. If his supporters are able to mobilise against the ‘coup’ leaders, it is conceivable that Mugabe could jail or even execute his opponents and continue business as usual for the foreseeable future.

4. Mugabe is forced from power 

Alternatively, if Mugabe’s base desserts him in the face of the real or perceived strength of those effectively holding him under house arrest, the Presidency could collapse, paving the way for formal (however extra-legal) transition to a new leadership.

As The Duran previously reported on Mugabe’s rise to power:

“Robert Mugabe who has been President of Zimbabwe since 1987 while being Prime Minister prior to that, starting in 1980, is a political survivor against many odds, both foreign and domestic.

Throughout the 1970s, Mugabe led the Maoist Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) in the struggle against the government of Ian Smith, the leader of what was then Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Britain in 1965. Smith went on the rule the widely unrecognised state of Rhodesia from 1965 until its collapse in 1979. While in power, Smith presided over a government whose members were compromised overwhelmingly of Rhodesia’s white minority, a situation the black majority found unacceptable.

Mugabe’s ZANU faction was rivalled by another black liberation party, Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) led by the Marxist-Leninist Joshua Nkomo. Against the background of the Sino-Soviet rivalry ZANU was favoured by China while ZAPU was favoured by the Soviet Union with Smiths’ government winning favour almost exclusively from South Africa as well as right wing politicians in Britain, Australia, Canada and the United States.

In 1979, Britain held talks between all sides in what led to the Lancaster House Agreement. This agreement temporarily brought what by then was called Zimbabwe-Rhodesia back under British rule as  Southern Rhodesia, before fully gaining independence as Zimbabwe in 1980.

Mugabe became the first Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, working with both his black pro-Soviet rival Nkomo as well as Ian Smith who under the terms set out in the new constitution, was able to retain a bloc of seats in the parliament specifically designated for the white minority. In 1983, Mugabe had his penultimate falling out with Nkomo, who later fled the country.

In 1987, Smith whose relationship with Mugabe became increasingly tense, stepped down as the leader of the white opposition movement, the Conservative Alliance of Zimbabwe..

That same year Mugabe moved from the office of Prime Minister to President, in an increasingly strong presidential system, as opposed to the previous parliamentary driven government.

In the subsequent years, Mugabe instigated his land reform programme which saw the private holdings of white farmers transferred to black ownership. The move proved deeply unpopular with the white minority, but won Mugabe acclaim in both Zimbabwe and among the black population of Apartheid South Africa.

By the turn of the 21st century, Mugabe’s position was widely unassailable, but rampant inflation proved to cause consternation among a majority of Zimbabweans.

More recently, the prospect of further investment from Mugabe’s consummate ally China, has brought hope of economic renewal for Zimbabwe.

At 93 years old, the biggest threat to Mugabe’s rule has been the largely accurate perception that when he dies, he intends to pass power onto his deeply unpopular wife Grace.

Grace remains a polarising figure and her rise to power could well have been a proximate cause of the apparent coup. The careful, though by no means perfect, tribal balancing act that has allowed Mugabe to remain in power could be threatened by a leader such as his wife.

That being said, South Africa is in a position to restore Mugabe’s rule should President Zuma believe that a constitutional crisis in neighbouring Zimbabwe threatens regional stability. Furthermore, some members of Zuma’s African National Congress and other smaller left-wing parties in South Africa continue to view Mugabe as a hero of the anti-colonial black liberation movement.

For the moment, Zuma has called for calm, but his words indicating that peace and stability must not be “undermined”, does leave the door open for a South African intervention to restore Mugabe’s legal power should Zuma feel that such a thing is worth it.

While some have been quick to say that the events in Zimbabwe are foreign “regime change”, the realities on the ground do not yet indicate this. It is true that foreign powers pump money into many of Mugabe’s political opponents in Zimbabwe, but the fact that the once highly loyal army along with Mugabe’s own left-wing party appear to have willingly participated in procuring his and Grace’s house arrest, indicates that the events in the country are domestic in origin.

It would appear that the Army has chosen to rally around former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa who recently fled the country after being sacked by Mugabe.

In this sense, the ‘coup’ against Mugabe is somewhat similar in terms of its likely effects as was the judicial ouster of former Pakistani Premier Nawaz Sharif. While the Supreme Court in Islamabad removed Sharif from office, his party remained and the policies of the Pakistani government remained largely the same. If the ‘coup’ in Zimbabwe is successful, something similar will likely happen in Zimbabwe, especially as it relates to the country’s long-term good relations with China, relations which will almost certainly continue to remain positive under a would-be successor to Mugabe plucked from the ranks of the ZANU-PF elite.

While even some of Mugabe’s erstwhile supports have become fatigued with his omnipresent rule in the country, Mugabe has previously faced off challenges with comparative ease. So long as Robert Mugabe is alive and well, which apparently he is, there is always a chance that either with the help of his loyal lieutenants or with the help of South Africa, he could restore his position. It is still too early to write off the future prospects of a man who is a true political survivor in a continent that has had more violent power struggles than any other”.

Zimbabwe on edge: President Robert Mugabe under house arrest amid coup fears

In this sense, while the events may appear cataclysmic from an internal perspective, in terms of Zimbabwe’s foreign policy, whatever changes may occur, if any, will not be extreme in one direction or the other.

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