Embattled Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has been formally removed from his leadership of the ZANU-PF party which before its merger with rival Zimbabwe African People’s Union in 1987, he helped to lead during the period of UDI Rhodesia, as the Zimbabwe African National Union. Later, he was told by ZANU-PF that if he did not relinquish the Presidency in 24 hours, his safety could not be guaranteed.
This represents a seismic blow to Mugabe whose leadership of ZANU-PF was seen as all but permanent in the eyes of many Zimbabweans and international observers. Additionally, Mugabe’s wife Grace has been expelled from the party, thus officially affirming that she will likely not ever become the President of the country, even though the 93 year old Mugabe had effectively chosen her as his hand picked successor. It has been reported that Grace Mugabe fled Zimbabwe days ago.
ZANU-PF moved quickly to instate Emmerson Mnangagwa as the party’s new leader, while also putting him back into office as Zimbabwe’s Vice President, thus reversing his earlier firing at the hands of Robert Mugabe. Should Mugabe step down or be forced out of power, Mnangagwa would almost certainly assume the Presidency.
Last week, when units of the Zimbabwean Army flooded the street of the capital Harare, an announcement was made by General Constantino Chiwenga that the leaders of the events many called a “coup”, sought not to remove Mugabe nor to harm him. He further stated that their intention was to merely “remove criminals” surrounding Mugabe.
Subsequent statements from the Army, along with photos of a healthy looking Mugabe negotiating with Army leaders at his home, give the appearance that intense negotiations were taking place.
At the time, it could be reasonably assumed that the Army leaders sought the reinstating of Emmerson Mnangagwa as Vice President and a commitment from President Mugabe to remove Grace Mugabe from her de-facto position as heir apparent to Mugabe.
Today’s events however signify a change in strategy. There are only three logical explanations for this.
1. It was always the intention of the Army to truly shake Mugabe’s once unassailable position, but early statements refrained from making this clear in order not to arouse opposition.
2. The Army entered into negotiations with Mugabe in good faith, but Mugabe’s intransigence led the Army to seeing no other option other than to begin stripping him of his power.
3. A combination of scenarios one and two, wherein the elites of ZANU-PF actually took a more hard-line against Mugabe than many in the Army, thus leading to a stand-off rather than a compromise situation.
For the moment, Mugabe remains the legal President of Zimbabwe, but this could change within hours.
At this point, it becomes necessary to restate that although many media outlets are broadcasting anti-Mugabe protests, Mugabe still retains wide amounts of often militant support from his ethnic base and his ideological base. Furthermore, many influential South African politicians remain staunchly in favour of Mugabe.
Unless Mugabe voluntarily agrees to the demands of ZANU-PF, further chaos could break out between Mugabe supporters and members of the ZANU-PF seeking his ouster.