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Zimbabwe: After Mugabe, Looking Back

AfricaFocus Bulletin
November 27, 2017 (171127)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

In Zimbabwe, celebration at the departure of Robert Mugabe from office after 37 years in power has been fervent and heartfelt. But almost all of those celebrating also acknowledge the difficulties of the months and years to come. Hope is tempered by recognition that the structures of kleptocratic and military rule remain in place.

The trend lines for searches for Zimbabwe and for Mugabe both rose dramatically in the last two weeks (see for a Google search graph). Predictably, global attention has begun to decline. But the juxtaposition of hope and pessimism has been a recurrent theme, with varying degrees of nuance and depth.

The two AfricaFocus Bulletins released today contain a selection of links and excerpts from commentators who provide insights going beyond most news coverage, both looking back and looking forward.

This first Bulletin, looking back, highlights highlights a Reuters special report on the events leading to Mugabe's downfall, an article by Sarah Ládípọ̀ Manyika on the best (fiction) books of the Mugabe years, a short personal essay by Petina Gappah, one of the authors cited by Manyika, followed by excerpts from an extensive historical review by Paul Tiyambe Zeleza and from a passionate personal reflection by Leon Jamie Mighti.

The second Bulletin, looking forward, includes a summary report from Harare from IRIN News, additional links particularly on the economic challenges ahead, and excerpts from an essay written after the inauguration of the new President Emmerson Mnangagwa by commentator Alex T. Magaisa.

For a full archive of previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Zimbabwe, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Additional articles worth noting

MacDonald Dzirutwe, Joe Brock, Ed Cropley, "Special Report: 'Treacherous shenanigans' - The inside story of Mugabe's downfall," Reuters, Nov. 26, 2017
Reuters has pieced together the events leading up to Mugabe’s removal, showing that the army’s action was the culmination of months of planning that stretched from Harare to Johannesburg to Beijing.

Sarah Ládípọ̀ Manyika, "From Zimbabwe: The Best Books of the Mugabe Years," Nov. 21, 2017 – Direct URL:

Truth is said to be stranger than fiction, but Zimbabwe's novelists have always shone a light on the truths — both complex and contradictory — of this nation. Mugabe himself embodies complexities and contradictions: He was a liberation hero and the first president of Zimbabwe who presided over a country that initially thrived, but at the same time there was a dark underbelly to his rule in the '80s and '90s. Then came the period of the 2000s when he led a country that was clearly in decline. These 10 books trace this arc of the Mugabe era.

Petina Gappah, "Mugabe and me: A personal history of growing up in Zimbabwe," BBC, Nov. 25, 2017

By the end of the academic year, I had studied constitutional law, and learned, through case law on illegal detentions, that all the time I had been gulping down books as a child in the library, a state of emergency had been in place in Matabeleland, and that region had been the theatre of mass killings by the army's Fifth Brigade.

By the time I came face to face with Mugabe at my own graduation four years later, I was no longer a believer. Gone was the hero worship, but still left was deep and conflicted respect. As the Dean read out my achievements and I knelt before him to be capped, I looked into the face of my president. In that voice, the voice I had first heard in our township house when Zimbabwe was just a dream, Mugabe said to me, "Congratulations, well done."

The last 17 years saw me count myself among his opponents as he waged another war, this time against the country he had promised.

We could not count all the bodies after that terrible war of liberation, but those that we could, we gave funeral rites and buried in places of honour. But how do you count the bodies of those who died in the war Mugabe waged against his own people?

Zimbabwe's Political Watershed: A Tale of Failed Transitions

Paul Tiyambe Zeleza

Linked-In Pulse, Nov. 18, 2017

President Robert Mugabe, once the celebrated hero of Zimbabwe's protracted liberation struggle who descended into an irascible octogenarian dictator, seems to have finally met his rendezvous with history. On Wednesday, November 15, 2017 the army overthrew him. He was placed under house arrest together with his much-reviled wife, notoriously known as 'Gucci Grace' or 'DisGrace'. It has been an unusually slow motion and sanitized coup, homage to the unpopularity of coups in an increasingly democratic Africa. But it also underscores the fact that President Mugabe's ouster arose out of an internecine struggle for power among the ruling elite. This suggests the limits of fundamental change in the immediate post-Mugabe era for the longsuffering masses of Zimbabwe.


Zimbabwe protesters on November 18, the Saturday before Robert Mugabe resigned. Credit:

The Mugabe era began with so much promise in 1980 after a bloody liberation struggle that lasted almost two decades. It ended 37 years later in almost unimaginable ignominy, leaving behind a trail of economic mismanagement, widespread impoverishment, and millions of emigrants, not to mention the intangible but no less palpable wounds of national trauma, humiliation, and disillusionment. Much of the commentary in the African and international media has largely focused on the epic failures of the president and the outrageous foibles of his avaricious and ambitious wife. Specifically, they concentrate on the spectacular mistake President Mugabe made in firing his once close and loyal confidant Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, in an apparent bid to prepare his wife as his successor.

There can be little doubt the president and his wife finally overreached and sealed their fate by unleashing forces that they could no longer control. But the dramatic moment we are witnessing in Zimbabwe is rooted in a longer and far more complex history that transcends the fatal flaws of the president, his wife, and the country's other leaders, however critical their respective roles maybe. It can be argued the current conjuncture in Zimbabwe represents the confluence of three failed transitions. The first was the problematic transition from the liberation struggle to a developmental post-colonial state arising out of the country's decolonization in the era of neo-liberalism. The second was the challenge of shifting from an authoritarian to a pluralistic order when the winds of democratization, for the 'second independence', began blowing across the continent. The third concerns the management of inter-generational contestations for power in anticipation of the postMugabe era.


But unlike many countries that got their independence in the 1950s and 1960s, Zimbabwe attained its independence during a period characterised by global economic crisis and the ascendancy of neo-liberalism. The first severely limited primary commodity and export driven economic growth enjoyed by many of the newly independent countries in the 1960s, while the second entailed the 'rolling back' of the state that severely curtailed the developmentalist ambitions of the new government. To be sure, in the early post-independence years Zimbabwe's record of achievement in the provision of social services especially education and health care was very impressive. But it was unsustainable following the imposition of structural adjustment programs, which, as in much of Africa, took a heavy toll on the economy particularly social services and formal and public sector employment. In fact, the austerities of structural adjustment programs (SAPs) galvanized the increasingly pauperised urban middle classes and the rural masses still awaiting their fruits of Uhuru into the wave of protests and agitation that crystallized into struggles for democratization, for the 'second independence.'


By the late 1990s the comrades in power could no longer fool their beloved masses in the rural areas, the restive armies of unemployed educated youths in the cities, and the workers flexing their industrial muscles and discovering a new political voice through mushrooming civil society organizations and the MDC.


By the end of the 1990s both rural and urban discontent were growing. Indeed, the rural areas bore the brunt of economic decline engendered by the draconian regime of structural adjusment imposed with missionary zeal by the gendarmes of global capitalism—the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. This was compounded by political terror as the increasingly besieged regime sought to shore up its dwindling legitimacy and tattered revolutionary credentials by tightening its grip on the peasantry, its symbolic and substantive basis of power. The costs of the economic crisis, as manifested in food shortages and the politicization of food relief efforts, finally broke the proverbial patient backs of the peasantry.

Connecting the two, the peasantry and the working classes, the rural and the urban areas, and the country's other spatial and social divides, including the ethnicized divisions between the old political geographies of Mashonaland and Matabeleland, which the Mugabe regime had manipulated to weaken the opposition and maintain its iron grip on power, was the draconian 'Operation Murambatsvina,' officially translated as 'Operation Clean Up,' but literally translated as 'getting rid of the filth,' through which the government sought to drain the cities including Harare, the capital, of political opposition. The operation was launched in 2005 and affected more than two million people. The bulk of the MDC's parliamentary seats from previous elections were located in the cities.

This criminal evacuation program, which was widely condemned within Zimbabwe and internationally including by the United Nations, led to the destruction of the informal sector in the cities and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people many of whom flocked to the increasingly destitute rural areas. This not only exacerbated rural poverty, but also helped dissolve some of the social and political boundaries, both real and imagined, between the rural and urban areas and dwellers, which raised national consciousness and reinforced opposition to the former liberation heroes turned into predators in power.


The violence and polarisation became even more evident in the election of March 2008. Preliminary indications were that the MDC was poised for victory both in the parliamentary and presidential elections. The government unleashed massive intimidation against the opposition and their supporters and perpetrated voter fraud, which provoked widespread condemnation at home and abroad. Both SADC and the United Nations tried to intervene. It took more than a month before the final results were declared after being doctored to prevent a run-off—the winner needed more than 50% for outright victory. Finally, on May 2 the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission announced that the MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, had received 47.9% of the vote, trailed by President Mugabe who received 43.2%, and the rest went to minor candidates. For the Parliamentary elections the MDC secured 100 seats and the breakaway MDC-Mutambara 10 seats, while the ruling ZANU-PF garnered 99 seats. In the Senate ZANU-PF claimed 57 seats, MDC 24, and MDC-Mutambara 12.

Despite international condemnation and interventions, violence and intimidation against the opposition continued, which saw dozens of people killed. The MDC decided to withdraw from the second round of presidential elections scheduled for June 27, 2008. President Mugabe won 85.51% of the vote in a much-reduced turnout placed at 42.37%. He was sworn in immediately after the results were announced. The regional bloc and the African Union called for Government of National Unity (GNU) between ZANU-PF and the MDC, which was eventually formed in early 2009 under which Morgan Tsvangirai became Prime Minister. It was a bloated government with two deputy vicepresidents, two deputy prime ministers, 31 ministers, 8 ministers of state, 20 deputy ministers, and 9 provincial governors.

The oversize government was not matched by its efficacy, let alone were the political divisions overcome. Indeed, as with most marriages of convenience, it was a fragile, acrimonious, and temporary union that crumbled several years later. To be sure, under the GNU, the economy recovered from the economic crisis of the 2000s that was characterized by endemic shortages of goods, hyperinflation measured in the trillions, the collapse of educational institutions and health facilities, massive unemployment, and migrations of an estimated 3-5 million to South Africa and other neighbouring countries as well as Europe and North America.


The political respite that came with the containment of the MDC proved short-lived. Assured of its political dominance, ZANU-PF turned inward, and intra-party contestations over the post-Mugabe era heated up. As in many other dictatorships in post-colonial Africa, openly discussing the president's fraility and demise were taboo. But everyone knew the old man was on his last legs as evidence mounted of his growing physical and mental infirmity. Predictably, the struggle centered on the position of the Vice-Presidency in which intra-Shona ethnic, generational, and gender cleavages reared their ugly heads. Ideology had long ceased to be a factor notwhitstanding invocations of tired socialist rhetoric and empty obeisance to protecting and promoting the 'revolution.'

In recent years the intra-ZANU conflict has centered on the war veterans' and postlibration generations coalesced around two key protagonists. On the one hand is the 75-year old Vice President, Mr. Mnangwaga, the cunning and ruthless 'Crocodile' infamous for orchestrating the Matabeleland massacres of 1983. On the other is the Generation 40 faction of post-liberation apparatchiks and looters beholden to the President's wife, the combative 52 year old Ms. Grace Mugabe, who had since acquired an insatiable hunger for power beyond her earlier shopping addiction. Both sought the ouster of Ms. Joice Mujuru, a renowned war veteran in her own right, as Vice President, which happened in December 2014. Soon after Ms. Mujuru was expelled from ZANU-PF. Mr. Mnangwagwa and Ms. Mugabe fell into openly bitter jostling for power within ZANU-PF and for the president's ear. The latter enjoyed the upper hand of marital intimacy and the support of the G40, while the former had the support of the war veterans and most crucially the military.

The reckoning came following the ouster of Mr. Mnangwagwa as Vice President on November 8, 2017. For the military and political elite that had accumulated vast wealth in an increasingly impoverished country and enjoyed political power for decades the prospects of Ms. Mugabe and the G40 supplanting them was anathema. They struck back on November 15. The hapless President quickly discovered that the weary population was not on his side as it marched in the streets of Harare with ecstacy not seen since independence. Even his party seemed more interested in protecting its hold on power and economic interests than in protecting him. Party branches passed no confidence votes in him and an emergency meeting was called to formally remove him as party leader. As with many dictators power oozed out of the once beloved and longdreaded President's hands like air out of a deflated balloon.


The immediate trigger of President Mugabe's fall came from the regime's failure to manage the transition from the nation's octogenarian founder to a successor and new political dispensation. The fratricidal conflict in ZANU-PF between the two generations means that the struggle for Zimbabwe's future, the country of my birth whose struggles for liberation I cherish and whose bright future I yearn for, means the post-Mugabe era will be a troubled one. The vicious struggle between the two factions is less about charting a more productive future for the country, and more about safeguarding their ill-gotten wealth built on the carcasses of deepening poverty for millions of workers and peasants, not to mention the immiseration of significant sections of the middle classes. In short, both factions have profiteered from President Mugabe's political repression and economic plunder.

Read full article at

Op-Ed: Beware 'Crocodile' Mnangagwa – Zanu-PF is not renewing, it is a snake shedding its old skin

Leon Mighti

Daily Maverick, 21 Nov 2017 – Direct URL:

Those who believe Robert Mugabe should be punished for crimes against humanity and stand trial, I agree with you. If you believe that then you must believe the same for the number one henchman, Emmerson Mnangagwa. We cannot have a fresh start without a full account from Mugabe and Mnangagwa about what they did, who they did it with, and why they did it.

Let me share my Zim story with you.

When my mother fell pregnant at the age of 19, the first thing she did was buy life assurance. She didn't want her only son to suffer in case something happened to her. So, she went to Old Mutual and got the best life assurance package they had. I sometimes see those adverts in the morning and think of it. Pay such and such at 20 and get R3-million if something happens.

My mother never thought that she would only live to be 29. She passed away so suddenly. There was a big fight for custody and perhaps even because of that life assurance policy. When it was all over we were well into the post-2000 Zimbabwe. That funeral policy ended up being worth less than the amount of taxi fare it cost to travel to the bank.

My mother worked all those years for nothing. Think about that for a second if you are a person who pays life assurance today. Politics can mess up your bank balance and wipe away a lifetime of sweat and tears. That's how I was personally affected by the Mugabe era.

When I, like millions of others, ran away to try to pursue my dreams elsewhere. I had nothing. I struggled to pay for my fees at Wits. I was homeless for years and watched my peers graduate and buy cars while I stood selling earphones on the university library steps.

I left Zim back then because I had nothing, I wanted to be somebody and have something like the boys in my classes at CBC. I left Zim coz of the poverty I was tired of breathing every day. I left Zim because I wanted to be a doctor so badly but I didn't have a chance in Zim (my marks were good but not good enough) at the one medical school that was present at the time. Only 200 could make it in and there was no graduate entry programme.

When my father died he was a plumber for the national railway services, the NRZ. He was a foreman and was damned good at what he did. One of my uncles (his cousin) loved to mock him for being a handyman but he loved that job and the dignity it offered him to provide for his family.

When he passed away he died a pauper. He was making less than R500 a month – when the government chose to pay. ...

My father did his best to give me the best education; he gave me an education he could never afford. I went to Marist Brothers in Dete, and I was always one of the people who had to explain my fees situation. My trunk was never full, and Kudzai Mucheriwa is my witness. But my Dad did the best he could. I even went to CBC in Bulawayo and my stepmother hated it, she complained daily. I will never forget what my father said to her, "If we have to eat amacimbi (mopane worms) daily till he finishes school, we will eat amacimbi daily.”

He would do piece jobs for pennies in the many months that government did not pay. My father died still walking to work coz he could not afford to catch a taxi. From Northend to the NRZ close to the factories, in Bulawayo. If you know that area, imagine a qualified technical graduate, top of his class, a man who once managed city of Bulawayo water systems, a foreman for years. Walking to work.

Under Mugabe my father watched his dreams and efforts to create something of value for his family melt away. He tried to get into another country like so many others did to escape that suffocating poverty but it caught up with him...

I tell you those true personal stories to preface this next sentence.

I hate Robert Mugabe.

I haven't shared how one of my grandmothers told me horror stories about some of what happened to her friends and family during Gugurahundi (the notorious massacres). She used to cringe when she saw that mass murderer on TV speaking as if he was God's gift to Africa and Zimbabwe.

I hate Robert Mugabe.

I hate him so much I have obsessed over him, studying him, studying his rise to power and how he was able to destroy so many lives. How could one man do this. It was at that point that I realised he was NEVER ACTING ALONE.

I know that he did not do what he did alone. He had some people co-starring with him in this movie of Evil that we have all been watching since 1979. Joshua Nkomo warned people back then not to vote for an Idi Amin. He meant Mugabe, he had seen enough to make the conclusion; they say character is prologue.

So today I want to caution against dancing in the streets for the next Idi Amin whose governmental and leadership CV is as horrific as that of Mugabe, the number one disciple of Mugabe for 41 years. The co-star of the Robert Mugabe show.

Mr Emmerson (Crocodile by reputation) Mnangagwa.

If I hate Mugabe, I must also hate this man; there is no Mugabe without Mnangagwa. Two sides of the proverbial coin.


So having said all of this we have to truly consider if this is a #Freshstart for Zimbabwe?

Those who believe Mugabe should be punished for crimes against humanity and stand trial, I agree with you. If you believe that then you must believe the same for the number one henchman Mnangagwa. We cannot have a fresh start without a full account from Mugabe and Mnangagwa about what they did, who they did it with, why they did it. Until those people in those "affected” areas are made whole. Until they receive justice and closure. It was not a moment of madness as Mugabe and Mnangagwa have said on record, it was an intentional, calculated mass execution on ethnic grounds of innocent civilians. To put it in perspective, 30,000 lives were lost in the fight for independence, and just three years after getting it more than 20,000 people never lived to see it because Mugabe and Mnangagwa had to settle a tribal score with Mzilikazi and Lobengula.

For those who believe that Mugabe must account for all the farms that ended up belonging to his wife and not the people, Mnangagwa must account for the same corruption, he owns many farms too, and so do many military generals. The economic and social crimes that they see all of a sudden, both the Lacoste faction and the G40 faction committed those crimes against the dowry of Chimurenga that is not theirs to self-appropriate. Mnangagwa must explain what happened to the 15-billion. Is this what he used to pay the army for its loyalty? Those are blood diamonds, for sure.

For those who say Mugabe has been rigging elections, has been suppressing rights of the people to movement, to free speech, to fair trial. To all those people I say you are absolutely right. Mugabe did all those things, and he did them with Mnangagwa. Who helped Mugabe arrest journalists and activists, where is Dzamara? Mnangagwa must tell us where they buried him.


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