Robert Mugabe founded modern Zimbabwe in 1980 after a protracted struggle against the white minority regime of Ian Smith. Since then, Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe first as Prime Minister and later as a powerful President. This seemingly unassailable rule came to an end in November of 2017, after the Army took power and eventually persuaded Mugabe to resign. Since then, one of Mugabe’s former Vice Presidents whose firing by Mugabe was one of the alleged proximate causes of the coup, Emmerson Mnangagwa has been sworn in as President while military leaders who conspired against Mugabe have been rewarded with powerful political positions.
Yesterday, for the first time since his ouster, Mugabe spoke on television from an office in Harare and condemned what he called a “coup d’état” against his rule. Mugabe expressed his disappointment in Mnangagwa’s participation in the coup, saying,
“I never thought he whom I had nurtured and brought into government and whose life I worked so hard in prison to save as he was threatened with hanging, that one day he would be the man who would turn against me.
I don’t hate Emmerson, I brought him into government. But he must be proper, he is improper where he is. Illegal. We must undo this disgrace, which we have imposed on ourselves. We don’t deserve it”.
Mugabe also called on current leaders to discuss with him, a legal process to establish legitimate rule. While Mugabe did not claim that it remains his right to govern, he clearly seeks a future role in shaping the country whose modern sovereignty he helped to establish.
While some observers felt that the coup against Mugabe was part of a wider international conspiracy, just prior to the coup, one of its leaders General Constantino Chiwenga travelled to Beijing to assure China of Zimbabwe’s long term partnership with its most prominent international partner. During the coup, China remained neutral, calling for calm rather than overtly condemning the ouster of one of its top African allies.
Likewise, South Africa’s then President Jacob Zuma also appeared to take a neutral posture rather than rally towards Mugabe’s side. Today, South Africa’s new President Cyril Ramaphosa has been compared to Mugabe (both positively and negatively) for his plan to redistribute white owned farmland to black farmers. A similar scheme was initiated in Zimbabwe under Mugabe which had been praised by some as a measure to promote equality, while condemned by others due to accusations of economic mismanagement and violence.
While the anti-Mugabe coup was mostly driven by the ambitions of local military and political leaders rather than by outside interests, perhaps the ascension of Ramaphosa in South Africa has inspired Mugabe to emerge from his involuntary “retirement” and hint at a return to involvement in his country’s politics.
While the current President Emmerson Mnangagwa casually dismissed Mugabe’s remarks, as a true political survivor, one should never underestimate Mugabe’s fortitude, even at the advanced age of 94.