The twists and turns of an ousted Zimbabwe independence war icon

Saturday November 18 2017

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe delivers a

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe delivers a speech during a graduation ceremony at the Zimbabwe Open University in Harare, where he presides as the Chancellor on November 17 2017. AFP PHOTO 

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Finally, the Zimbabwe army has acted.

This was immediately after Robert Mugabe’s over-ambitious wife, Grace Marufu, showed her hand by engineering the ouster of Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, just as she had done with his predecessor Joice Mujuru.

I knew something was wrong with Mugabe when he accused Mnangagwa of the same thing he accused Mujuru of doing: Consulting witchdoctors to know the date he will die.


For the army, it was sad to watch their old commander-in-chief fall to the wiles of a crafty woman and basically make a fool of himself in his old age. It had to act.

Take this as the truth: Mugabe retains great prestige in the army, especially among the older veterans who instinctively call him comrade.

There is a unique esprit de corps among those who fought – and led – the liberation war you won’t find in other African armies.

That is why I believe the soldiers when they insist they were not carrying out a classic coup.

The “criminals” they said they wanted to clean out and who they said surrounded Mugabe meant Grace and her fellow conspirators.

In the army’s eyes, it was acting to protect Mugabe’s legacy and that of Zanu-PF from being further despoiled by a “Witch from Hell” in the name Grace Marufu.


Grace was not without cunning. Mugabe is 93. Elections were to be held next year with himself as a candidate. As the date approached, she had been busy elbowing aside other claimants to the throne.

She knew that as long as her husband was alive she had the upper hand. Every Zimbabwean could read the game plan. The army was determined to stop it.

As a matter of fact, the military’s intervention was a full-fledged internal Zanu-PF powerplay.

The Opposition was put entirely out of the picture. Mnangagwa was recalled from exile in South Africa, perhaps in readiness for enthronement.

It is not clear where Grace had been farmed out to, but is certain her dream of succeeding Uncle Bob is over.

Grace’s accomplices have been placed under arrest. It is clear the army’s overriding intention is to sort out the power struggle in Zanu-PF before calling it a day.

Together with his late hero Samora Machel of Mozambique, they were the sole liberation leaders in Black Africa who raised formidable guerrilla armies with the undivided goal of defeating the colonisers decisively, however long it took.


Self-styled moderates Julius Nyerere and Kenneth Kaunda pressured Mugabe and his compatriot Joshua Nkomo to negotiate with the British.

The Chinese, who armed Mugabe, and the Soviets, who backed Nkomo, urged them to go for broke.

There was sound military strategy here as Ian Smith’s outnumbered forces could stand up to the liberation armies for only so long.

Across Africa, Mugabe was the only true Marxist believer, though he was forced by circumstances to govern like something else.

His closest ideological soulmate on the continent was Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, who he granted asylum after he was overthrown by Tigray rebels.

On Wednesday, the army released a remarkable photograph of Mugabe in his house with the general who supposedly overthrew him, Constantino Chiwenga. Also present was an envoy from South Africa.

Mugabe looked happy and relaxed. The group was said to be “negotiating” Mugabe’s resignation. Negotiating? With a man who was under house arrest? On Friday came another confusing image of Mugabe publicly presiding over a university graduation ceremony in Harare. He looked very much in charge.

It is doubtful the army will return full power to Mugabe, which he is reportedly demanding ahead of next year’s elections, when he wants to step down.

It is not clear even whether the army will hold across-the-board elections, or allow the “inclusive transition” the Opposition is calling for.

Meanwhile, the intriguing saga of Uncle Bob is not yet over.