The news of the humiliating fall of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has been riveting. The tanks rolling into Harare were a sight to see. And, oh, the sacking of Grace Mugabe!
These events presented an opportunity for the people of the southern Africa region to punch the air with a roar of triumph and yell, “The tyrant of Zimbabwe is finished! Mugabe is finished!”
At least I did.
However, last Saturday, the rallying cry in the streets of Harare was still “Mugabe must go!”
Zimbabweans were cautiously elated at the prospect of a new era in their great country. In a rare moment even the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) seemed to cosy up to Zanu-PF, the instrument of Mugabe’s removal.
“As MDC MPs we have been caucusing with our comrades from Zanu-PF on how [we] move legislatively. Right now the goal is one, let us push him out” the Sunday Times quoted MDC MP Ruth Labode saying.
“With our comrades from Zanu-PF”? Are you quite sure Ms Labode?
Well this may be one of those momentous occasions where politicians manage to rise high enough to put their country before personal or party agendas.
However, Labode’s words indicate that, for as long as Mugabe has not officially stepped down, it may be premature to celebrate his departure, but to intensify the pressure on him to leave.
Zimbabweans clearly know this. They have seen Mugabe defy the voice of the people of Zimbabwe before. He went so far as to defy an election result where he was clearly beaten by the MDC’s Morgan Tsangirai in 2008 with …. eh, the help of the military.
So Mugabe is a ruthless political survivalist.
The problem with political survivalists is that they are hopelessly distracted leaders. For them their positions are not about leading people towards a better society.
Rather they are preoccupied by self-interest.
In this aspect Mugabe and President Jacob Zuma are a breed cut from the same cloth.
Another of course, one of several shared characteristics, is the attempt to install a woman closely related to them into the presidency.
Their attempt to entrench a family dynasty is a move which may well seal the political fate of both of these cunning and ruthless men.
The situation certainly is cause to look at Mugabe and “his” Zimbabwe and speculate about what could happen of South Africa if the Zuma problem is not dealt with once and for all. Things might drag on, taking us down to the depths which Zimbabwe has reached under a leader who ruthlessly used his and Zanu-PF’s struggle credentials to blackmail the whole population.
It was hardly a secret that Mugabe trampled all human rights values and democratic principles and resorted to intimidation, assault, imprisonment, murder and the theft of elections to ensure his and his party’s political survival.
It is also no secret that the generals of the Zimbabwe Defence Force and Zanu-PF who have suddenly sprung into action have not exactly acted as they have because they had a Damascene conversion to democracy.
No. It would seem that the army generals, the Zanu-PF military veterans and the Zanu-PF’s Emmerson Mnangagwa aligned faction were out to protect their interests in the network of patronage entrenched by Mugabe for so long, but which Grace Mugabe and her faction had within their grasp.
It was a moment too urgent to leave for later.
Do remember, this is the same army that has previously publicly made it clear that it would not recognise a president who was not part of the liberation struggle. This is as diametrically opposed to democracy as it can get.
The attempt by the army to describe the coup as “a bloodless correction”, is just silly. We all know the only reason the army pretends to be respectful of Zimbabwe’s constitution is because should a coup be declared, the regional and continental authorities will get involved and attempt to restore the Mugabe government.
And whilst it will be great to see the back of Mugabe, the “soft” game the army has started could easily backfire. Despite everything Mugabe neither used the last speech to do what many hoped would in his speech on Sunday – resign. Nor did he honour the 12 midday Monday deadline to step down.
This left Zimbabwe in unchartered territory with Zanu-PF seeking to impeach the man who has for 37 years been their leader. Surely it was quite predictable that a stubborn individual who has been so long in the saddle does not know how to back away.
He is not alone in this. Neither has Zuma ever demonstrated this ability.
So, I have a question. Why is it that so many African leaders speak democracy, but act as tyrants? Why do liberation movements morph into repressive regimes that want to remain in power forever? Yet what they end up doing consistently is to destroy their countries and cause misery.