Recently I argued that Zimbabwe would soon have to deal with the consequences of either a bedroom coup or a military coup. It soon emerged that the prospects of a full-fledged bedroom coup brought a shiver to most Zimbabweans particularly the military brass which had always thought of themselves as stockholders in the Zimbabwean State. While the military could tolerate, as they had done for years, Grace Mugabe’s rule through Gabriel Mugabe, the prospect of Grace Mugabe ruling on her own sent shivers down their spines. She had already demonstrated her greed, intolerance and erratic character over the years. The final straw was the purge of Emerson Mnangagwa, who was seen as the blue-eyed successor of Mugabe. The prospect of a Mugabe dynasty was frightening!
The question which has been central to the understanding of the Zimbabwean situation is the nature of the system itself; the nature of the encroachment by Grace Mugabe leading to the intervention by the military on the succession processes as Mugabe’s reign reaches its twilight. For Lesotho, the question is whether the developments in Harare present us with a reminder that bedroom coups are bad and may lead to tears? The signs are there and they are as frightening as the developments in Zimbabwe.
The Zimbabwe military state
The intriguing thing about Zimbabwe is that it has had a veneer of a democratic state while in reality it has always been a military-led state. From the liberation struggle which came to an end in the late 1970s to the elections of 1980 and beyond, the country was led by those of its military and military veterans who were deployed in the government. All of Zimbabwe’s elections except the 1995 ones were violent elections which did not approximate a normal electoral process. At the heart of the violence in those elections were the military, the police and ruling party youths who were protected by the state machinery. When Mugabe won all those elections, we have to understand that those were in reality “selections” not “elections”. The formal processes which were open were a legitimation exercise since the inner circle of the military state had already selected the winners.
What this means is that Mugabe could be regarded as a figurehead in a military run establishment. This does not mean that Mugabe did not have power. It only means that his power depended on the support of the military and other veterans. This was demonstrated a decade ago, when the veterans demanded cash payments for their role in the liberation struggle. Those in the treasury knew that there was no money to honour those demands, but Mugabe had all of them paid in spite of the protestations by those who ran the treasury. The beginnings of the economic crisis in Zimbabwe have often been traced to that decision. Mugabe did not have power to rebuff the stockholders even though he appeared a strong elected president. He was not. He ruled on borrowed power. When ten years ago, his new wife began to push him to act as if he had power, he began that slippery road to removal from office.
The nature of the Zimbabwean state as a military one was forcefully broad to the fore in 2002 when the Security Chiefs announced two weeks before the elections, that the Presidency in Zimbabwe is a “a straight jacket” in which the President fits. He cannot do as he wishes. Zimbabwe’s military and security chiefs announced on 9 January 2002, two months before the presidential elections, that they would not tolerate any president who did not observe the objectives of the liberation struggle.
The security chiefs who included Defence Forces Chief Vitalis Zvinavashe, Army Commander Constantine Chiwenga, Air Force Chief Perrence Shiri and Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri, said the highest office in the land was a straightjacket whose occupant was expected to observe the objectives of the liberation struggle.
“We will therefore not accept, let alone support or salute, anyone with a different agenda that threatens the very existence of our sovereignty, our country and our people,” they said in a press conference.
The question of a selection as opposed to an election was thus put forth. What is the use of going through a choiceless election? An election which is supposed to produce the results which the military want is not an election but a selection by the military with the electorate used as a cover for military rule.
Closer to the present, let us carefully review the current pronouncements by the military to be certain that we are dealing with a military state not a democratic state. After the unceremonious dismissal of Mnangagwa by Mugabe, General Chiwenga who had recently pronounced during the funeral of Lt. General Motšomotšo in Lesotho that the gun must always follow politics and not the other way round, in his press conference in Harare (11/11/2017) warned against the purge of people associated with the liberation struggle. “The current purging, which is clearly targeting members of the party with a liberation background, must stop forthwith,” he told those gathered for the news conference. “We must remind those behind the current treacherous shenanigans that when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in.” He reminded the press of previous incidents when the military intervened in ZANU affairs. He deliberately did not include the ascension of Mugabe to the Presidency of ZANU prior to independence. Let us reiterate, that Mugabe’s victory in 1975 was a result of action by ZANLA rather than the broad masses of the party itself.
In an equally forthright manner General Moyo reading a statement argued that the army had not staged a coup but wanted to stop the purges which have been going on particularly to those who had been part of the liberation struggle. Their action was merely targeting the criminal around the president. Now that is political speak by the army! All the signs of a coup existed in Zimbabwe as soon as Chiwenga made his statement which I had suggested was meant to scare off those around Mugabe but was told by a Zimbabwean that Chiwenga was not scaring anyone but was dead serious. Movement of tanks and other military assets was ominous the day after Chiwenga spoke. All these were crowned by Moyo’s statement which those of us in Africa know. It always begins with “Fellow Zimbabweans…” in this case. But was this really a coup?
In a classic sense of African coups it was. It was a case where one regime was removed even if the coup makers steadfastly deny that it is a coup. On the other hand it is not a coup since the military merely took from their delegate their delegated authority. The conflation of party, military and government in Zimbabwe is total. Mugabe was just reshuffled from office and another militarist in the name of Mnangagwa was selected. Indeed Mnangawa in a statement of 08/11/2017 was confident that he would return from exile shortly to remove Mugabe and his wife.
I will go nowhere; I will fight tooth and nail against those making a mockery against Zanu-PF founding principles, ethos and values. You and your cohorts will instead leave Zanu-PF by the will of the people and this we will do in the coming few weeks as Zimbabweans in general now require new and progressive leadership that is not resident in the past and refuses to accept change.
In essence Mnangwagwa and the military were one; they wanted to withdraw the delegated powers which Mugabe with the influence of his wife and their cohorts in what was called the G40 thought was theirs. This is also why Zanu-PF found it so easy to expel Mugabe as their leader as soon as it became clear that the delegated power to him had been withdrawn by the military. The question therefore is why Mugabe’s delegated authority was withdrawn?
Grace Mugabe intrusion into state affairs and state capture
“Gucci” Grace Mugabe’s known talent when she married Gabriel Mugabe was her prolific shopping, a factor which brought about her nickname. For fifteen years or so she shopped and shopped and shopped! Apparently there is a limit to shopping. She then moved into massive acquisition of farms and properties in Zimbabwe, Hong Kong, Dubai and South Africa amongst other places. In the process she was ruthless in displacing villagers using the police and other state agencies. For Grace, it did not matter whether villagers got a court order to stop her in her escapades as long as she had security agents behind her. The question is where did her power to do all she did come from?
As Robert Mugabe aged his wife began to move into the spotlight publicly influencing state appointments and dismissals. Perhaps the most sensational of her actions within the government was her call for the dismissal of Joyce Majuru as Vice President on allegations that she wanted to poison her husband. When she succeeded she now began to have illusions of grandeur hoping to be initially a cabinet minister and later as Mugabe’s successor. This drove her to work through her husband to be “elected” as head of the ZAN-PF women’s wing.
Having accumulated so much wealth since she ventured into business she was intent on securing it indefinitely through state capture and ultimately to directly control the state when her aging husband passed on. Amongst the most notable of her actions until she had Mnangagwa fired are the following:
a) In June 2017 Grace Mugabe grabbed the 3rd largest dam in Zimbabwe in Mazowe. The dam was built in 1918 for irrigation of the citrus plantations in the surrounding area. It was also increasingly being used for fishing and recreation by the villagers. In spite of the fact that the law prohibits privatisation of water in Zimbabwe, Grace took over the dam and had AK47 wilding policemen chasing away villagers from using the it;
b) In a rally in July Grace Mugabe publicly humiliated Presidential spokesman George Charamba accusing him of taking sides in the factional battles in ZANU-PF. Images of Charamba who has been Permanent Secretary for information since 2000 being roasted in the podium by Grace Mugabe were incredible to watch.
The agitation to have Mnangagwa dismissed in both government and the party began with Grace Mugabe. She accelerated her campaign on realisation that the President did not have long to live. Her private and public stances derived from the conflation of the private and public spheres. Somehow the bedroom had overthrown the public sphere of the state. The spousal relationship which is not a constitutional matter had staged a coup through other means other than weapons of war. The bedroom coup was now a reality which would only be confronted by weapons of war as the generals rolled down the tanks. This emboldened ZANU-PF and the broader public to reject the notion that the President’s wife has a public face rather than a private role with the husband.
Worrying signals in Lesotho
The Zimbabwe bedroom coup is now being wrapped up. I suspect that by the time this post is out, “Gucci” Grace and her husband would be on their way to Dubai or some other place in the world fearing the wrath of the masses. But it is important to say that Grace Mugabe took almost twenty years to attempt to stage a coup. She spent her initial period shopping rather than interfering in state matters. For Lesotho there are worrying signals less than six months after the new government took over power. Of course some of the information we have has not been confirmed but we know enough now to say that the bedroom coup is imminent.
After the agreement to form a coalition government was reached amongst the four political parties, there were strange appointments at Ministerial and later in diplomatic postings. Word in Maseru was that most of the bizarre appointments were due to the closeness of those appointees to the Prime Minister’s wife. Indeed in a widely seculated, audio clip she seemed to confirm her hand in some of those appointments, arguing that some of those were not educated but deserved the positions in view of their contribution to the struggle against the previous regime. Mrs Thabane is right in one thing; ministerial positions can be dished to anybody as a reward for services rendered. At times even the most undeserving have been given such positions. She is completely wrong to believe that senior diplomatic postings are just that. In all countries around the world, a combination of minimum qualifications and political allegiance are the norm unless the appointees are meant for bench warming rather than representing the country.
“Gucci” over the years was able to syphon funds from the state for personal use. The latest attempt was her capture of Mazowe dam as we indicated above. Things like this always begin small but end up with massive syphoning of public resources. An intriguing SAVINGRAM from the Cabinet Office on 22/08/2017 to all Principal Secretaries alerting them of an award to the First Lady by an obscure Women’s movement is worth reviewing. The Principal Secretaries were being notified to advise Ministers of the occasion “The cost of the ticket(s) is M300.00 per person and M3, 000.00 per table of ten, respectively. Please note that out of the event’s proceeds, a certain percentage will be given to the First Lady to donate to a charity/support group of her choice.” One of the recipients of the SAVINGRAM was later to minute to the Procurement office to meet for a discussion. I am not sure whether and how many Government Ministries bought tickets for this venture. Nevertheless it sends a clear message that funds can be facilitated to move from the public purse into the private purse.
But more alarming is the Prime Minister’s wife’s escapades in New York where like “Gushi” Mugabe did to Charamba, she is reported to have publicly harassed Ambassador Maope, Lesotho’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Not only did she say unspeakable things to him in a reception meant for her husband, but she is reported to have asked the assembled Basotho in the reception to line up to inform her how the Ambassador has treated them. Mrs Thabane had absolutely no business getting involved in state matters. But what is even more worrying is that she said whatever she said in the presence of the Prime Minister, just like “Gucci” did. The attempt to humiliate a senior Lesotho diplomat by someone who has no status to do so is deplorable.
The issue is very clear, the First Lady as we all know is not a state official but only a beneficiary of state patronage because of the husband. This is why that position does not appear in both the Lesotho and Zimbabwean constitutions. When people go to the elections, they only vote for the President or the Prime Minister; they never vote for the spouse. It is in this context that attempts to transfer power to what is known as First Ladies in the medium of the bedroom should never be accepted. As Robert Mugabe has probably noticed even if he does not want to acknowledge, bedroom coups always end in tears! Even if the courtiers scream in the media against this warning, the fact is that we have started badly. The spectre of a bedroom coup is ominous in Lesotho.
Let the Zimbabwean experience by-pass us!