Zimbabwe: Army takeover ends Mugabe’s reign
Zimbabweans are cheering the downfall of a despot, said The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe). President Robert Mugabe, 93, the only leader Zimbabwe has known since independence in 1980, was effectively stripped of his powers after our patriotic military took action last week to cleanse the ruling ZANU-PF party of corrupt elements. The intervention—which is not a coup—is wildly popular. Over the weekend, Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, was “a sea of singing and dancing people from across political persuasions, who all had one call: national renewal.” This week, ZANU-PF officials expelled Mugabe from the party, and since he stubbornly refused to resign as president, they started impeachment proceedings.
The president’s “overambitious wife” was his ruin, said The Standard (Zimbabwe) in an editorial. Grace Mugabe, a former typist turned combative first lady, led a young faction of the ZANU-PF and was intent on succeeding her husband. But Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a 75-year-old liberation war hero who is popular with the military, considered himself Mugabe’s rightful successor. Mugabe’s fatal mistake was to try to cement 52-year-old Grace’s succession by firing Mnangagwa earlier this month and then ordering the arrest of a top general, Constantino Chiwenga. That was a step too far for the military, who arrested Mugabe instead. Grace’s unpopularity—she is known as Gucci Grace and DisGrace for her lavish lifestyle— “made the army’s efforts to win over Zimbabweans’ hearts a very easy task.”
Mugabe didn’t start out as a greedy authoritarian, said Wongai Zhangazha in the Zimbabwe Independent (Zimbabwe). In the 1960s and ’70s, he bravely fought against white minority rule. And in the decade after he took power, Mugabe transformed Zimbabwe for the better, offering free education and health care “as well as a reliable social welfare system that provided a safety net to millions.” Literacy soared and child mortality plummeted. But around 2000, Mugabe ceased to be a man of the people. His violent land reform program devastated the agricultural sector as his cronies confiscated white-owned farms, ostensibly to be redistributed to the poor but more often shared among the party elite. A decree that foreign firms must cede to local ownership caused investment to flee. Now Zimbabwe, once Africa’s breadbasket and a manufacturing power, has food shortages and 90 percent unemployment. No wonder we’re cheering the military.
But the military has been complicit in Mugabe’s crimes, said Zimbabwean opposition leader David Coltart in South Africa’s DailyMaverick.co.za. Soldiers “spearheaded the violence” after the disputed elections in 2008 and 2013, murdering hundreds of opposition supporters to ensure Mugabe’s return to power. The military is now detaining Grace and her top aides, and while the army’s action is popular, it’s illegal. Zimbabweans “must unite in demanding that the military now step back.” Mnangagwa will presumably take over as president, but there is an election coming up next year. Will the army stay out of it? ■