Note: this article was published shortly before Mugabe announced his resignation, with immediate effect, at approximately 4pm (UTC).
On Monday morning, Zimbabwe was on a knife-edge after Robert Mugabe failed to announce his resignation as state president the previous evening. His resignation was widely expected after he lost complete control of his party over the weekend.
The anticipation reached fever-pitch on Sunday night when an announcement was made that he would make a statement during a live television broadcast. But in a bizarre and rambling speech there was no mention of this. The speech ended in confusion and left more questions than it provided answers. Mugabe then apologised to the generals. It was not exactly clear what he was apologising for, but the 93-year old who is clearly senile, was fumbling with his papers and was very incoherent. Some suggested that he inexplicably and unwittingly skipped two of the pages that contained his resignation. The other reason given was that ZANU-PF intervened to prevent a situation where Mugabe resigned in front of the military, thereby giving the impression of his resigning under duress.
Whatever the case may be, the mood over Harare darkened soon after his speech. Youth groups that participated in the national shutdown and general strike last July called for a general strike when parliament sits on Wednesday. The influential Zimbabwe War Veterans Association, which has broken with Robert Mugabe after his wife, Grace Mugabe, led the purge against its leader Chris Mutsvangwa, also called for mass protests on Wednesday. This was a clear attempt to avoid an independent mass movement and to keep the situation under control. Then ZANU-PF’s chief whip in parliament, Lovemore Matuke issued a deadline for Mugabe of noon on Monday to resign or face impeachment on Tuesday.
Earlier on Sunday, Mugabe was recalled as President and First Secretary of ZANU-PF by a special sitting of the Central Committee. This followed the events on Friday where all 10 provincial structures of ZANU-PF passed resolutions for Mugabe to be recalled as party president. His wife, Grace, was removed from her position as ZANU-PF’s Women’s League leader. She and several leading members of the ‘G40’ faction were also expelled from the party. Their removal is a continuation of the purge of ‘G40’ members, which was started by the military takeover on Wednesday night.
On Saturday there were the biggest demonstrations since Zimbabwe gained formal independence from Britain 37 years ago. Tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of Harare, Bulawayo and several towns across the country, to call for Mugabe to go. This was like a massive street celebration. There was a carnival atmosphere and a mass outpouring of emotions everywhere. The military were treated as heroes as people took pictures with the troops in the streets. The masses were taking the streets to express years of pent-up anger and frustration against the Mugabe regime.
However, the protests were called by the war veterans which was itself part of the old part of the regime. The military and the faction close to it has ‘allowed’ these protests to take place in order to use it as a battering ram against the ‘G40’ faction, to legitimise the coup to provide a popular justification, to re-legitimise ZANU-PF – whose popularity has plummeted together with the economic meltdown and to let the masses blow off some steam. The military takeover achieved its principal aim of stopping the purge of liberation-era veterans and of removing the opposing faction. But having stopped the purge, they tried to give themselves a legal and popular justification for the coup.
The aspiring new regime has its own reasons for allowing the protests, but how the masses actually see things is a different matter. The protests represent a very contradictory situation. The splits at the top of the regime have resulted in a military takeover. But the imminent fall of Mugabe after 37 years in office, has raised the hope of the masses. They believe the removal of Mugabe will lead to improved living conditions. The masses expect real change to come out of this movement, which will finally bring an end to the misery and poverty they have to endure.
From the point of view of the regime, which is now walking on a very tight rope, this is a dangerous situation. They have provided an outlet for the mass pressures from below and have created a situation where the masses can feel their collective power. This has not happened in decades. The danger for them is that by allowing a narrow outlet for all the pent-up anger and frustration on the bottom, they could spark an independent movement of the masses: in particular when the masses realise that their actual material conditions are not going to change. Under the nightmare of economic crisis this could happen sooner rather than later.
The military coup last Thursday turned everything on its head. Over a period of years the old guard watched the rise of the upstart ‘Generation 40’ faction around the ambitious and abrasive Grace Mugabe, who proceeded to purge one leading party member one after the other. Joice Mujuru was removed as vice-president. Before this, her powerful husband, General Solomon Mujuru, mysteriously died in a fire. Later the leader of the powerful Military Veterans Association was removed. Then, ahead of the upcoming December ZANU-PF congress, Mugabe’s faction embarked on a full-scale purge of veteran leaders in the party, the state and the civil service. Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was groomed for decades to take over, was unceremoniously dumped and fled the country. Rumours went around that the purge could extend to the military high-command and that General Constantine Chiwenga, the top military general, would be arrested after his trip to China. This was the trigger for the coup.
On Wednesday the tanks rolled into Harare, sealed off government buildings and the state broadcaster and put Mugabe under house arrest. Leading members of Mugabe’s faction was arrested. This, in effect sealed the fate for Grace Mugabe and the ‘G40’ faction. But having come this far the generals now faced the dilemma of ‘legitimising’ the coup, return to the façade of ‘civilian rule’ and return to the barracks.
They didn’t opt for direct military rule largely because they would have inherited an economy which has been decimated. They can’t resolve the economic crisis because they themselves are beneficiaries of Mugabe’s policies. These are basically the reasons why they tried to ‘negotiate’ with Mugabe for 48-hours before Saturday’s protests to ‘voluntarily’ step down. If the generals, who are part of the ruling class, stayed on and declared a military dictatorship, it would have been on very shaky ground. They would have to move against the masses who are aroused and are expecting change. Of course this is not the main concern of the army generals. They act solely to protect their own narrow interests. If they had taken power directly the deep crisis would have necessitated them to immediately squash the expectation of the masses by force. This open betrayal could spark a revolution or civil war.
Meanwhile the different world power are all circling like vultures, looking for some way to intervene and pursue their own interests. The British media such as the BBC, the Telegraph and the Guardian are already whipping up anti-Chinese propaganda and insinuating China is behind the coup. It is of course true that Beijing has been looking for economic reforms to open foreign investment and was growing increasingly wary of Mugabe. It is certainly possible that the Chinese might have given their tacit approval of the plans of parts of the army.
But western imperialism has been meddling in Zimbabwe for decades, most lately by the imposition of brutal sanctions, which have broken the Zimbabwean economy leaving the people of Zimbabwe in a desperate situation. While pointing the finger at China, the West is maneuvering and looking for a foothold, in order to use this crisis to reclaim ground in Zimbabwe. In the process the great powers will not hesitate to use Zimbabwe as a pawn to promote their interests.
During Saturday’s protests the demonstrators also expressed sentiments that the South African government and the regional body, SADC, should not interfere in the crisis. A petition that was started in Bulawayo to campaign against SADC’s interference has reached tens of thousands of signatures in a matter of days. This sentiment is correct. SADC is a regional capitalist block under the domination of South African capital. It does not represent the interests of the ordinary people of Southern Africa.
The workers and poor people in Zimbabwe base themselves on the experience of SADC’s interferences in this country in 2002 and 2008. In the 2002 elections, the former president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, sent two judges as monitors for the Zimbabwe presidential elections. The election were characterised by violence and intimidation perpetrated by the ZANU-PF youth wing. More than 100 people were killed in the process, mostly supporters of the opposition. The judges concluded that the elections “cannot be considered free and fair”. But Mbeki did not release the report of the judges. The contents were only revealed in 2014 after the Mail and Guardian newspapers won a protracted court case to have the contents revealed.
In the 2008 presidential elections, Tsvangirai from the MDC opposition received 48 percent to Mugabe’s 43 percent. The runoff was supposed to take place 21 days later, but Mugabe unleashed the war veterans to conduct an extremely violent campaign against the MDC. More than 10,000 people were injured in the ensuing violence, 86 were murdered and hundreds of thousands were displaced. Mugabe ordered a shipment of weapons from China which Mbeki was quite happy to deliver through the South African port city of Durban. But the ship could not be off-loaded in the Durban because South African dockworkers went on a wildcat strike and refused to handle the cargo. The ship eventually had to return to China with the weapons onboard.
Mbeki then brokered a deal with Tsvangirai and Mugabe to form a national unity government. The experience of this betrayal split the MDC into three different factions. Today it is in an even worse situation than ZANU-PF is in. Mbeki’s role kept Mugabe in power since. The Zimbabwe people have not forgotten this and they should resist attempts by Zuma and SADC to meddle in their affairs.
The latest developments represent a stunning turnaround for the 93-year old Mugabe. Only the week before he appeared to be in total control of the situation. He was so self-assured that the embarked on a purge of his old comrades to paved the way for his wife and the younger generation to take over from him. But now, after 37 years, his fate is sealed because he no longer represent the interests of the ruling elites.
The downfall of Robert Mugabe is the biggest political event in Zimbabwe since the country gained formal independence from Britain in 1980. The regime is now in deep crisis. The confusion and incompetence shown by events on Sunday night graphically shows this. The splits at the top has plunged the regime into an open crisis and the more it tries to wrestle its way out of the quicksand the deeper it is sinking. It reflects the crisis of the system and the inability of the regime to solve it.
The new president of ZANU-PF, Mnangagwa, who had fought Rhodesian colonialism and worked his way through the ranks, is a ruthless and shrewd operator. He was the one who led the operation that led to the brutal repression of the uprising of the minority Ndebele people in Matabeleland between in 1983-84, where more than 20,000 people were killed. This has left deep wounds in Matabeleland, which have not healed to this day. Under the present circumstances the land question and the national question in these areas could be reignited and take on an explosive character.
The ruling elite, whether the wing around Mugabe or any other wing of it, is incapable of solving the problems within society. For the workers, peasants and poor people of Zimbabwe there is no other way forward than to rely on their own strength. They must remove Mugabe and the rest of the regime by mass action in the streets. We have already seen elements of such developments when protests broke out at the University Of Harare on Monday. At the same time such a movement must be spread throughout the continent and in particular in South Africa where the masses are equally fed up with their conditions and the ruling class.
The chaos and barbarism that have haunted Zimbabwean society are a direct result of the liberation movement of the 1970s, which fought British imperialism successfully, but stopped short of overthrowing capitalism in Zimbabwe. The only way out of this impasse is to finish the job and implement a socialist programme for the collectivisation of the land under the control of the rural workers and peasants and to expropriate the industries in the towns. The present chaos and crisis is a reflection of the impasse of capitalism. Only a socialist revolution led by the working-class can lead a way out of the chaos and misery that Zimbabwean masses are faced with.