When the current political crisis, one that many have called a “coup” broke out in Zimbabwe, it was initially unclear who was behind the events and what their demands were. Since then, it has been made clear that most of those in the Army and their political supporters who “took power” were ZANU-PF loyalists and more importantly, they are almost all traditional loyalists to President Robert Mugabe.
It further became clear that far from being a western plot to undermine Zimbabwe’s sovereignty and its historic friendship with China, that instead General Constantino Chiwenga, the military leader of the events in Harare had met with Chinese military officials in Beijing days before launching the partial military takeover in Zimbabwe.
As I previously wrote in The Duran,
“…Chiwenga told his Chinese allies that it was his desire to “deepen exchanges and cooperation in all fields with China to promote the rapid development of bilateral state and military relations between the two countries”. According to Chinese officials, Chiwenga also expressed his gratitude to China for “long-time, selfless help” towards Zimbabwe.
China is the biggest sovereign investor in Zimbabwe by a long way. Chinese projects in Zimbabwe are essentially the only practical hope at this time, for Zimbabwe to transform its resources into national wealth during a period when due to hyper-inflation, Zimbabwe’s de-facto national currency is the US Dollar.
Most Zimbabweans remain positive about China’s economic role in the country and this attitude was expressed clearly by “coup leader” Chiwenga.
While some will now rush to say that China helped to “plot the coup”, this statement is as false as blaming the events in Zimbabwe on the western funded “opposition”. China has no need to interfere in a country which is having an internal dispute within the ruling, pro-China ZANU-PF party. The fact that the military which is staunchly loyal to the ruling party has been the vehicle which has moved events, only confirms this reality.
The official international newspaper of the Communist Party of China, the Global Times, said of the events in Zimbabwe,
‘The long-term friendship between China and Zimbabwe will transcend the internal disturbances in Zimbabwe’.
This statement is an accurate reflection of China’s position. By calling the events ‘disturbances’, Beijing is communicating that it would have ultimately been happier with a status quo that was stable in terms of bilateral relations. Incidentally, the position of neighbouring South Afirca is much the same. If anything senior ANC leaders in Pretoria are more loyal to Mugabe than the leadership in Beijing due to Zimbabwe’s support of the anti-Apartheid movement. However, because China is confident in Zimbabwe’s friendly attitude towards China transcending internal disputes, China will accept the unfolding events in Harare without condemning them. Military interference in such an instance is totally out of character for contemporary China. The biggest danger for those who oppose the western backed opposition on Zimbabwe is that they will size this opportunity to create further instability. This remains a real possibility, but thus far, the military and members of the ZANU-PF elite appear to be in firm control of the situation.
While China was happy with the Mugabe status quo, in many ways China may take heart in the fact that a younger, seemingly pro-China leader plucked from ZANU-PF may replace the 93 year old Robert Mugabe–and as of now it is still a matter of if.
Zimbabwe depends on China to provide the necessary development mechanisms to lift the country out of stagnation. It must be said that due to the country’s Dollar dependence, there will also be a temptation among any Zimbabwean leaders to look west on occasion for matters of debt relief.
China is also prepared for this and has been long before the events of the last 48 hours. If anything, a renewed ZANU-PF government, may give China the impetus to attempt and structure debt relief programmes for Zimbabwe based on the Yuan.
Under Persident Xi Jinping, China’s motto in intentional relations is “win-win”. While no coup can be described as a winning situation, China and Zimbabwe’s likely future leaders are clearly committed to a situation which minimises any potential loses”.
All of this remains true. The danger now is that unless Robert Mugabe who yesterday appeared in public for the first time since the so-called coup, the Army and other ZANU-PF supporters of ousted Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa reach an agreement in rapid fashion, those who do not have Zimbabwe’s interests at heart, those in the west and particularly in ex-colonial power Britain, could either supinely or directly intervene and in doing so, threaten the sovereignty and political dignity of Zimbabwe.
Scattered reports, including from the rabidly anti-Mugabe BBC (banned in Zimbabwe) have obtained photographs reportedly showing anti-Mugabe demonstrators on the streets of Harare. Photos from other outlets show protests in support of Mugabe.
It would appear that for now, the Army is living up to its statement that the events which have transpired are about removing “criminal” individuals surrounding Mugabe rather than Mugabe himself. This likely means that the Army is keen to reach an accord with Mugabe insuring that his wife Grace will not automatically assume power upon the President’s death or retirement. The Army also likely seeks the reinstatement of Mnangagwa as Vice President in order to insure his own orderly assumption of power when Mugabe eventually leaves office.
These agreements may prove embarrassing for Mugabe in the very short term, but if they are executed with precision and with a public showing of dignity, it could prevent a the crisis from growing.
The biggest worry is that a protracted negotiation period could ensue, one which could then be exploited by Zimbabwe’s historic enemies. Former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai who many in Africa see as a tool of the west has reportedly returned to Zimbabwe among the recent chaotic events. While these reports are unconfirmed, it may mean that the western powers are quietly trying to arrange for anti-Mugabe figures to effectively swarm Harare and turn the internal power struggle among ZANU-PF supporters and the military elite, into a wider crisis that could be ripe for exploitation by those who for years have sought to stage a ‘colour revolution’ in Zimbabwe. Tsvangirai would appear to be the ready-made figurehead of such an operation although there are certainly others who fit this bill.
If an agreement can be reached between the Army leaders and Mugabe, this could calm things down and police and other security officials could then go about maintaining public order until the would-be coup fades into memory and life returns to a sense of normalcy.
If not, it would largely fall on South Africa to provide stability in Zimbabwe should a broader crisis emerge.
South Africa’s ruling ANC, many of whose supporters are staunchly pro-Mugabe as a matter of historic principle, would not be keen on any western backed colour revolutions transpiring in Zimbabwe. As South Africa’s Apartheid regime ended in the lifetime of most prominent ANC members, having a western backed government in Harare would be unacceptable, even though modern South Africa, a BRICS member has healthy relations with all major players across the multi-polar world.
While South Africa has not been keen to dirty its hands in the current crisis in Zimbabwe, if things de-stabilise, there may be a race to see who can get to Harare quicker: South African peace keepers and diplomats who would conduct negotiations to preserve the constitutional order in Zimbabwe or western NGOs along with American and British politicians whose only interests in Zimbabwe are to ruin China’s good relations with a potentially rich nation, with the added insult of reminding Zimbabwe of the much hated period of UDI Rhodesia where Ian Smith ran a government that virtually all Africans consider racist.
None of this is to say that patriotic Zimbabweans should not have a debate on the future of their country. They should have such debates and they indeed must. But using a political crisis to foment such debates under the long arm of western meddling, will not produce any results. If this is the case, the choice between Zimbabwe won’t be about Mugabe versus Mnangagwa, but about independence versus the re-imposition of neo-colonial rule at the hands of those who look far more like Ian Smith than Robert Mugabe.