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Opinions of Thursday, 23 November 2017

Columnist: Samwin John Banienuba

Sunrise in Zimbabwe and the heartache of President Mugabe

Robert Mugabe resigned officially as President on Tuesday November  21 Robert Mugabe resigned officially as President on Tuesday November 21

What a tumultuous end to an era! I am not sure it was a foul and if it was, whether it was fair. In politics as in football, fair and foul can be emotive judgements depending on the jersey you fancy or the stand where you find yourself. What is not in doubt here is that the tackle was hard and brutal.

It left the Zimbabwean referee, including the match commissioner and even the spectators no option other than to call for the stretcher to ferry Robert Gabriel Mugabe out of play. He had been bruised and injured so badly doctors have ruled him out of the game for good.

And just when we all thought it was the army that played foul, replay reveals his own wife and team mate, Grace Mugabe, was to blame. She had come from behind, overtaken by not too gracious ambition to put herself in the score sheet, she hooked her hubby from down under. They both came tumbling down, piled up one on top of the other in a rather sorry and messy sight. These are no times for sympathies, the verdict is clear and prudent; it is a red card and a life ban! Grace is out of ZANU-PF politics in Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans are arguably better off for it moving forward.

Until now President Mugabe was our focus. He has been popular throughout Africa whether liked or hated in Zimbabwe. The old man was the indisputable poster face of contemporary and firebrand pan-Africanism. He was Kwame Nkrumah, Haile Selassie, Julius Nyerere and Thomas Sankara combined. It was their problem if Zimbabweans could not understand the love lust; no prophet is liked in his home town after all. Pan-Africans like to say it as it is and Mugabe excelled. International platforms always brought out the unequivocal best in him.

Lest you get pan-Africans wrong, we have not been unaware of his lavish escapades even as many Zimbabweans reportedly languished in poverty. We know he owns a luxury £10 million private property in uptown Harare. They say he has many more in and outside Zimbabwe. We also heard he blew a staggering £3 million (plus or minus) on the wedding of his daughter, and we are witnesses to the lavish birthday bashes including the giant cakes that come with them. This celebrity lifestyle of our pan-African leader concerned us too but we stayed assured these expenses did not come from the public kitty. If it did, it was forgivably measly in the relativity of African graft.

When we heard of the total collapse of the economy we sighed. Then we learned with trepidation the country was the first to hyper inflate in the 21st century. We were equally troubled to know unemployment once hit 95%. We could not but feel for families and households, and the dire straits of it all. Could Mugabe have overstayed his ovation? No, this was all Western propaganda at best or at worst, their sabotage at work. It had nothing to do with mismanagement, it had everything to do with Western sanctions meant to penalise Zimbabwe for returning ‘white owned’ land to Caesar to whom it always belonged.

We cheered on! Mugabe must stay the cause and focus even if we were not unaware of alleged human rights abuses under his watch. The massacres of Matabeleland were tragic and we saw the brutalities visited on the opposition in 2008 live on our screens. We heard of suppression and repression of freedoms of speech, media and assembly. We heard so many ugly things unbecoming of the hero we adored, but Mugabe was our lone ranger fighting our corner.

He alone had the nerve and verve to take on our adversaries head on. We empathised, believing as we did that it could have something to do with the unseen hand of external enemies fomenting insecurity in the name of their national interests or simply to give Mugabe a raw deal.

Thus, Mugabe remained President, almost untouchable and palpably invincible. He had been for 37 years and the defence forces helped our cause. At 93 Mugabe was indefatigable, the naps and falls at public functions notwithstanding. Those come with age and he was an African elder in every African sense of the word. He could take another shot at the presidency in forthcoming elections in 2018. After all there are no term or age limits in the revolutionary African Republic of Mugabe.

All he needed was the mandate of ZANU-PF, the party that religiously stood by him and sustained him throughout the decades. In December he would seek their hand again in renewal of their vows, until death do they part. With them on his side and with the rest of us still cheer leading it is as good as done and dusted come 2018.

Mugabe thus threw his hat in the ring again, still banking on his revolutionary credentials, the African veneration of old age and our pan-African platitudes. He had stoically stormed the weather with ominous clouds before he could hardly pause to think of his blind spot. If ZANU-PF was still on his side, was he still on the side of ZANU-PF? His usual knack for cunning seemed on a slide and thus he missed the all-important self-appraisal. This was the party of veterans, it has always been and if Mugabe wanted to remain relevant he ought to wise up and maintain the status quo. The once quick-witted nonagenarian missed that too, leaving many to question where he left his usual sense of good judgement.

The answer was not too far away to find. Lurking in his bed was the African lady Macbeth, the innocent flower, yet the serpent under it. The 52 year old wife of Mugabe had long since graduated from the shopaholic of Western and Asian high streets. We all get tired from old hobbies, and when we do, we fidget for something new, something different and something more exciting. For Grace there was only one natural progression. She knew it and soon preoccupied herself with plotting succession to hubby she hardly noticed her new epithet, DisGrace.

Grace has always been in love with her status of first lady. She celebrated it with pomp, splendour and ambition. With a controversial give away doctorate degree from the University of Zimbabwe it was time to upgrade her entitlements. She threw in her lot into the dicey shenanigans of Zimbabwean politics and of ZANU-PF. Very quickly she forged creation of her own support base from within the youth. G40 or generation 40, they call it. It was the gamble of Zimbabwean times meant to worm her way upwards to the presidency whenever the inevitable caught up with hubby. Nobody advised her that challenging veterans is suicidal business.

Her first obstacle was Joice Mujuru, Vice President to Mugabe. With relative ease Grace caused Mujuru to be fired in 2014. Quietly, she walked away, and in her place comes Emmerson Mnangagwa, the shrewd crocodile as is his appellation in political circles. I guess Grace never heard of that. She had accused Joice of plotting a coup, this time she accused Mnangagwa of treachery and witchcraft. Curiously, Mugabe caved in again and fired Mnangagwa. How come a man so wilful in dealing with the West and the opposition could not call his wife to order beggars our belief.

Unlike with poor Joice, the veterans and defence forces refused to stand idly by while Grace stepped on the comrade on her way to power. The crocodile must have completed his undercover intelligence! The defence forces zeroed in and staged what may be called the African millennium coup; the constitution was not suspended nor was parliament dissolved. Instead, the soldiers guaranteed the security and safety of their Commander-In-Chief Mugabe and left the business of getting him resign to due process.

ZANU-PF rallied to the cause of Mnangagwa, fired Grace from the party, removed Mugabe as leader, and left him with no choice other than to drudgingly hang his gloves on the presidency. Zimbabwe went agog with excitement and celebrations of a new dawn. On Friday 24th November, Mnangagwa will be sworn in as President and lead the country to the 2018 elections, if the schedule does not change.

I can meanwhile imagine Grace still scratching her head for explanations to hubby Bob when next she sleeps and wakes up with him in bed. She has effectively truncated her position, trappings and ambition. By the same mortal stroke, she has nailed the leadership and legacy of our pan-African president in the casket. For love birds, getting back together and on with each other might be the easy part, missing out on the privileges they are so well accustomed to is a different kettle of fish.

For the country, the guards have obviously not changed, at least not significantly. Mnangagwa is a far from a fresh new pair of hands. They all remain the same, and so are the vested interests at home and abroad. None will vanish overnight. On the contrary, the defence forces and the veterans might dig in and consolidate their power base however invisibly. They have always had a common interest in the patronage they quietly enjoyed until the common enemy in the person of Grace rattled them all.

What pan-African observers will be monitoring closely is how this emerging new dispensation unites in dealing with the long covetous arm of the West. The challenge ultimately lies with Mnangagwa to reinvent himself and the ZANU-PF in a grand design for turning Zimbabwe around. It is not going to be easy sailing but it is an opportunity of a life time; an opportunity not necessarily about proving Mugabe had slipped, but about smart leadership and innovative ways of doing things that guarantees each and every Zimbabwean a lifeline and the platform to flourish in pride and dignity.