By Lulu Brenda Harris
THE year 2017, has been quite an eventful year for Zimbabwe, especially in the last quarter.
For one, the “soft” coup d’etat that deposed 93 year old Robert Mugabe out of power after 37 years turned out to be quite the nail biter, which saw the coming of his long-time aide, Emmerson Mnangangwa (75), previously sacked as vice president, become Zimbabwe’s new leader.
More eye raising is Zimbabwe’s army general, who commanded the coup and just recently retired from his military position, Constantino Chiwenga, named as one of the country’s vice presidents.
Montage Africa revisits these stories that took Zimbabweans and the rest of the world by surprise by shedding more detail on such moments that captured people’s interests.
Economically, the year 2017 began on a low note, as for many people in Zimbabwe, life had nothing to offer but drudgery.
Money shortages were punctuated throughout the year as bank queues across Zimbabwe were the order of the day while people tried various means and took on odd jobs to stay afloat.
During the mid-year, fears of the return of 2008’s world record breaking hyperinflation led to panic-buying and prices rocketed in Zimbabwe, while confidence in the Bond Note currency launched in 2016 by the government nearly wavered.
Prices of some basic commodities, such as bread, meat, eggs among others sharply increased with authorities telling retailers to stop wantonly hiking charges.
To avert the shortage of goods ahead of the festive season, government relaxed the Statutory Instrument 64 that previously barred the importation of basic commodities.
On the social scene, some Zimbabweans readied themselves for the 2018 elections, and “slowly” embraced the new bio metric voters roll exercise to register to vote.
On the political front, the months that followed were no less dramatic.
Calls for an oppositional coalition grew louder and finally after what seemed an eternity, the opposition parties rallied together to form alliances: the MDC Alliance and the Coalition of Democrats (CODE), in an attempt to take charge and overthrow the ruling Zanu PF.
It is in Zanu PF where events took a number of unprecedented twists and turns, especially between two factions: Generation 40 (G40), supposedly fronted by former first lady Grace Mugabe and Lacoste, backed by then vice president Mnangagwa, nicknamed the crocodile that kept Zimbabweans on their toes.
Their factional battle finally saw nonagenarian leader, Mugabe resign after he was deposed in a November coup, which was codenamed: Operation Restore Legacy.
Before the coup and Mugabe’s resignation, here are some of the highlights that were witnessed.
In July 2017, former Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, Professor Jonathan Moyo, alleged to be the brains behind G40, delivered a video presentation to the Zanu PF Politburo that showcased how then vice president Mnangagwa had captured state institutions and sought to push out Mugabe.
Mnangagwa later also responded and dismissed Prof Moyo’s allegations in another politburo meeting.
In August 2017, Mnangagwa, suddenly fell sick in a suspected case of food poisoning during a Zanu PF Presidential Youth Interface rally in Gwanda and was airlifted to Johannesburg in South Africa.
After that episode, Mugabe allayed the poisoning rumours and told Zanu PF supporters in Gweru that medical personnel had conducted all tests and ruled out food poisoning, as results showed that Mnangagwa’s sickness was not caused by anything he had ingested.
Later, Mnangagwa addressed a press conference and confirmed he indeed had been poisoned. It was reported that he had ingested a lethal radioactive substance known as thallium, mainly used by Russia’s feared spy agency to eliminate anti-government activists.
However, Mnangagwa did not name who he thought was responsible for trying to kill him.
The then First Lady, Grace who was touted as Mugabe’s successor angrily denied having anything to do with Mnangagwa’s sickness.
In November 2017, then President Mugabe fired Mnangagwa in a move that was allegedly seen as means to clear the way for his wife, Grace, to succeed him as leader of Zimbabwe.
The decision to fire Mnangagwa was taken during a party meeting where all Zimbabwe’s 10 provincial committees agreed. He was fired for “consistently and persistently exhibited traits of disloyalty, disrespect, deceitfulness and unreliability. He has also demonstrated little probity in the execution of his duties.”
After his sacking, the former vice president fled Zimbabwe and exiled in South Africa for two weeks and garnered courage to tell Mugabe that Zanu PF was “not personal property for you and your wife to do as you please.”
It is Mnangagwa’s sacking that was seen as the catalyst that invited military intervention.
General Chiwenga, surrounded by senior army personnel called for a presser at the army headquarters and warned that the military could intervene if such purging continued to take place. He said these purges were clearly targeting members of the party with a liberation background in the ruling Zanu PF.
Zanu PF responded and ordered the military not to interfere in civilian affairs.
In November 14, 2017, military vehicles moved into Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare and some dismissed that action as just a routine exercise, little did they know those army tanks were ingredients of a coup.
When the army seized control of key state buildings and Zimbabwe’s national broadcaster, it detained Mugabe and placed him under house arrest. This resulted in days of negotiations between Mugabe and the army while multitudes of Zimbabweans spilled onto the streets to urge the nonagenarian out.
Mugabe’s supposed loyalists also dumped him, calling on him to resign, which he did –November 21, 2017 shortly after parliament began a process to impeach him.
Mngangagwa was then in November 24, 2017 appointed president and duly inaugurated as president.
Alarm bells rang for Zimbabweans when Mnangagwa appointed senior military figures and his loyalists to high-profile positions in cabinet, a move that critics said poured cold water on the hopes of change in Zimbabwe.
Analysts said these appointments were bent on militarising state institutions, therefore those who thought Mnangagwa’s administration would reform the state were advised to think again because of his strong ties to the military, hence no surprises to its intervention.
Weeks later after his swearing in and more than a month after the army intervention, Mnangagwa made changes to the military and Chiwenga retired as the army boss.
This fuelled speculation that Chiwenga was to receive a political post- for his efforts as the general, which the president himself alluded to saying he would be assigned to a special post.
Now, with the appointment of the former army chief as Zimbabwe’s vice president, some allege this confirms Mugabe was ousted to benefit Chiwenga and Mnangagwa personally.
Notwithstanding that Chiwenga, such as Mnangagwa, also played a central role in securing Mugabe’s stay after the elections in 2008 when Zanu PF lost to the opposition MDC-T.
The other vice president of Zimbabwe is Kembo Mohadi, who currently serves as Defence, Security and War Veterans Minister.
Some have tried to be objective and point out Mnangagwa has chosen to be flanked by former military cadres of Zimbabwe’s liberation war. Mohadi is an ex ZIPRA (Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army, which was the armed wing of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union -ZAPU) and Chiwenga is ex ZANLA (Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army that was the military wing of Zanu).
These political appointments by Mnangagwa are a lesson to show that this is what happens when a party amends a constitution for political expediency. The president has full powers to appoint politburo members and vice presidents without any election.
Nevertheless, Mnangagwa has promised to revive the national economy and turn the country into an attractive investment location once again.
His first state visit was to South Africa was business oriented where he met businesspeople and urged them to come invest in Zimbabwe.
For some Zimbabweans, if not most, Mugabe and Mngangagwa, are two similar individuals caught up in the same situation. Both leaders are haunted by Gukurahundi, a period that involved the torture and gruesome murder of more than 20 000 people in Matabeleland and parts of Midlands in the early 1980s by soldiers from the 5 Brigade, when both were at the helm.
Both Mugabe and Mngangawa show unwillingness to publicly apologise for their roles and deal with the matter.
Mugabe and Mngangawa: Two names that brought a lot of euphoria yet result in unfilled expectations.
First – Mugabe in 1980 was cheered as he dazzled while promising freedom to Zimbabweans after white rule. Second – Mnangagwa in 2017 is also making economic liberation promises to the same Zimbabweans, as is always the norm, time will only tell what he would achieve.
In the end, as 2017 closes, Zimbabweans can only hope that the next year – 2018 will be another eventful but prosperous year!