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The Graceless Fall of Robert Mugabe, the end of a Dictator's Reign

by Paul Hubbard
10 May 2019 | 3582 Views
The title for this book is an attempt at a clever link between Robert Mugabe's dramatic and rapid fall from power in November 2017 and the political activities of his second wife, Grace, whose actions contributed immensely to this sea-change in Zimbabwe. This title is a misnomer because Grace is very much present throughout the book, whether or not she was mentioned by name.

Historians are going to deconstruct the events recounted in the book for generations, and I personally feel that the verdict will show that during the coup, the military leadership cleverly exploited the public hatred for the President's wife and her abusive nature in order to retain their hold on power. As I have said elsewhere, one of the great recent tragedies in Zimbabwe is the conflation of public support for the removal of the Mugabes from power with endorsement of the military takeover of the country.

In many ways Nyarota's take on the career of Robert Mugabe covers much familiar ground but it is entertainingly told, as we would expect from an experienced journalist. The first three chapters recount Mugabe's rise to power. Like other recent biographies, Nyarota takes the path of chronologically following Mugabe's career, denying him agency by creating the impression that his rise to power was due more to other people's choices, not Mugabe's deliberate actions. While discussing the rumours surrounding the sudden death of Josiah Tongogara, Zanu's military commander at the time of Independence, Nyarota refreshing challenges the accepted mythos of Mugabe's role in this tragedy, claiming it was merely an accident. The jubilation of February 1980, when Robert Mugabe came home to campaign in Zimbabwe's first democratic elections is ably contrasted with the the ignominy of 2017.

Chapters 3 and 4 cover the abuses of office by the former president and his closest supporters from the 1980s. Listing the events creates an uneasy poetry: Gukurahundi, Willowgate, Chimurenga III, Hyperinflation, Murambatsvina, and the various "Operations" for the benefit of the ruling party. The imposition of the one party state and the challenges to it. There is welcome mention of a forgotten hero in Zimbabwean politics, Dzikamai Mavhaire, a former Zanu-PF MP, who in 1997 called for the resignation of the party's leader and was thus permanently cast into the political wilderness.

It was surprising to me just how little we Zimbabweans knew of the life of Grace Mugabe before her marriage to Robert Mugabe, as unremarkable as it was. This book does provide some of that background in a convenient package in Chapter 5, albeit with a gleefully salacious edge. There is an uncomfortable question for those who claimed the Grace's ultimate goal was the presidency: how quickly would they have been able to change the constitution to allow a South African-born person into the office specifically restricted to those of Zimbabwean birth? Her abandonment of her first husband, Stanley Goreraza, is an incredible role reversal in patriarchal society, although the lure of wealth and the limelight provides a clear motivation; the lust for power would come later. I do not agree with Nyarota that she wished to succeed Robert Mugabe from as early as 2000; her increasing involvement in the country's politics only really begins in 2008, unquestioningly supporting her husband during the worst year in Zimbabwe's history.

Usefully the book spends some time covering Emmerson Mnangagwa's political career in some detail, something Ray Ndlovu's In the Jaws of the Crocodile (2018), completely fails to do. The Tsholotsho debacle of 2004, where Mnangagwa was endorsed by six provinces to become vice-president, brought to light the rivalry for power in Zanu-PF, especially as this was fostered by Robert Mugabe to tighten his own grip. This is all recent history but is already forgotten by the majority of analysts and commentators in their appreciation of the "New Dispensation," brought to power by the barrel of the gun in 2017.

The G40-Lacoste rivalry is old, not just dating from his Vice-Presidential appointment in 2014 as many claim! What most seem to have forgotten is that Jonathan Moyo, now in fearful exile, was one of Mnangagwa's earliest and most ardent supporters for the Presidency before giving his full loyalty to the Mugabes and initiating the vitriol. In his discussion, Nyarota reminds us of Moyo's ability for the complete volte-face in national politics. As I write in December 2018, Moyo is already attempting to rehabilitate his terrible image (well-earned, I hasten to say), using social media and newspaper articles, to once again situate himself on the side that will be to his best advantage. We need to be reminded of such underhanded tactics; this book will serve as a permanent memento.

Untangling the web of power in Zimbabwe is not for the faint-hearted or casual observer but Nyarota provides a good attempt to do so in the lead up to the coup. The unholy alliances created between the factions in politics, civil society and business sector remain murky and sometimes contradictory. The biggest player for the last two decades, since Zimbabwe's involvement in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), is the military. "The general attitude on the part of the military leadership was that they were ZANU-PF stockholders; therefore, they felt legitimately entitled to be involved in party politics" (p.156). Thus the G40 faction was seen as a threat to their interests and investments, while Mnangagwa was seen as their man with the right plan. And the tides turned accordingly as tensions grew.

In the last chapters of the book, Nyarota discusses the week that felled Robert Mugabe in quick order. Much of the chapter is based on speculation or observation of events and thus cannot be held to be definitive. What is captured well is the mood of the moment and the hubris of the main actors on the political stage. The book ends with a positive attitude towards Emmerson Mnangagwa as the country prepared for elections, now known to have been compromised from the start.

Zanu-PF's complete turnaround in its slavish adherence to the new leadership installed after the November, 2017 coup is extraordinary but not unexpected. Almost since its founding, there has been a significant lack of permanent alliances in the party, as the leadership and contenders in the wings greedily jostle for advantage and power. It is now tempting to dismiss the change in politics and government as mere window dressing since many of the same old problems in the economy, mainly caused by the corruption and mismanagement of the regime, have resurfaced since those heady days while the respect for the constitution, law and building a greater future have fallen to the wayside. Robert Mugabe may have fallen but his poisonous legacy remains regrettably alive and well.


Inganu Books

Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Grace Mugabe Fall Coup

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