There are some, who would readily dismiss without further thought Robert Mugabe’s recent denouncements of the military intervention of November 2017, including what he says happened during the takeover. Mugabe is mad they exclaim. He is a bitter, senile old man they mutter with exasperation. That might be substantially or wholly true but consider for a while, if you will, whether there is any shred of truth in what he says happened last year:
“ ……The Central Intelligence Organisation, many of whose members were bashed, with heads cracked and this is not an exaggeration, some of them are missing to this day…..” 15 March 2018, SABC Digital News, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2f6akTpjIHo
It is not really what Mugabe says about the events leading to and during his ouster as much as what he says regarding his claim that the military committed human rights abuses during the takeover, that is of concern. The claim amounts to this: whilst outwardly seeking to dress the military takeover with some veneer of legitimacy and presenting it as bloodless, the military and Mnangagwa’s regime should be accountable for missing Zimbabwean citizens.
In November 2017, Mnangagwa and Chiwenga embarked upon a power grab, whose roots did not have the consensus of the Zimbabwean people until they were manipulatively beguiled into demonstrating against Mugabe on 18 November 2017. The Zimbabwean masses clearly made the job easy for the army; as Mnangagwa subsequently pronounced, “The voice of the people is the voice of God”. His ascendancy to power therefore appeared to have the total approval of the Zimbabwean people.
The problem however is this: if what Mugabe says is true, in combination with the fact that Zimbabweans are being ruled by an unelected president, propped up by a violent military, with a seeming illegitimate government running the day to day lives of ordinary Zimbabwean, then Zimbabwe is still very far from the beginnings of any democratic walk. Such an illegitimate regime as seems to be running the order of things in Zimbabwe, has from its inception ridden rough shod over human rights and abducted opponents. That these opponents were or are pro-Mugabe should be no less worrisome. Soon, very soon, just like his previous Master, Mnangagwa may likely turn round and mete out the very same violent treatment on a larger scale against the ordinary Zimbabwean and other opposition supporters.
Abuses during the military takeover of November 2017:
Take Mugabe’s rantings out of the equation for a moment, as the mutterings of a disillusioned old man still in the throes of denial, and introduce a few background sources:
“(Harare) – Zimbabwe authorities should uphold the rights of everyone detained following the military takeover of the government on November 15, 2017, Human Rights Watch said today. The military should publicly acknowledge the identities and location of everyone arrested and detained, and ensure that their due process rights, including access to lawyers and family members, are respected. The military should clear the air about any arrests across Zimbabwe and hand over any criminal suspects to the appropriate civilian authorities according to law,” said Dewa Mavhinga, Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Failing to disclose the whereabouts of those detained is an enforced disappearance that places detainees at greater risk of abuse. During the military takeover, Maj. Gen. S.B. Moyo announced the military’s avowed aim of arresting “criminals around Mugabe.” Media reports indicate the military arrested a number of former president Robert Mugabe’s associates and that they remain in detention. However, the military has not provided information about any arrest, location, and conditions of detention, or reasons for arrest……..The Zimbabwe constitution provides for the pretrial rights of detainees and guarantees freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Zimbabwe is also party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantee rights to personal liberty and due process, and protection from arbitrary arrest and detention, and mistreatment in custody. “The end of Mugabe’s 37 years of abusive rule should not be marked by continued rights violations,” Mavhinga said. “Respect for the rule of law and due process for anyone in detention would signal a clean break with the past.” Human Rights Watch, 22 November 2017, https://www.hrw.org/print/311769
“Following the military takeover, Robert Mugabe resigned as president on November 21 after 37 years of authoritarian rule marred by countless serious human rights violations. On November 24, Mugabe was replaced by his former deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who has his own long record of rights violations. ………………… As reports of abuses by the military since the takeover began to emerge, the excitement and euphoria that many Zimbabweans greeted the end of Mugabe’s rule quickly fizzled out to be replaced by uneasiness and uncertainty. Allegations are rife that between November 14 and 24, the army arrested and detained a number of Mugabe’s associates without providing information about the arrests, or places and conditions of detention……………… This is the same military that has been credibly implicated in rights violations against the general population during the Mugabe years. Mugabe openly encouraged partisanship of the military as a tool for maintaining his grip on power. The new president, Mnangagwa, assumed office with military backing, and appointed two army generals to cabinet, Air Marshal Perence Shiri, and Maj. Gen. Sibusiso Moyo. This raised concerns about Mnangagwa’s independence from the armed forces, suggests further entrenchment of the military in civilian affairs..” Human Rights Watch, 12 December 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/12/12/zimbabwe-after-military-takeover-prospects-credible-elections-and-human-rights
“The military police arrested a number of suspects on charges of fraud and corruption. Those arrested included senior state officials, implicated in corruption, whose rights were denied on arrest, including by being denied access to lawyers. During the military takeover in November, army personnel detained several members of a ZANU- PF faction who were alleged to support Emmerson Mnangagwa’s dismissal. They were held for more than the constitutionally permitted 48 hours before being brought to court. Former Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo, ZANU-PF Youth League Commissar Innocent Hamandishe, and ZANU-PF Youth League secretary Kudzanayi Chipanga, were arrested and detained by military police on 14 November. During their detention they were denied access to their lawyers and were not taken to court until 25 November. Ignatius Chombo was charged with corruption and criminal abuse of office; Kudzanayi Chipanga and Innocent Hamandishe were charged with publishing or communicating falsehoods after they claimed at a press conference that Army Commander General Chiwenga stole money from the sale of Marange diamonds.” Zimbabwe 2017/2018, Amnesty International, https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/africa/zimbabwe/report-zimbabwe/
It has only been fours months since the military takeover of 2017. It is clear that the above sources barely begin to skim over the surface regarding what truly happened during the military takeover. The extent of the abuses committed in November 2017 might emerge weeks, months, years or even decades from now. This should not be surprising. After all, nearly 40years ago people witnessed killings; there were bodies; people point to graves and some are still yet to heal from the Gukurahundi Matabeleland atrocities committed in the 1980’s but till date, no one has been held accountable for such abuses committed at a time when Mugabe was in power along with his henchmen including President Mnangagwa.
The terror behind the “democratizing coup”:
It is very likely there is much more simmer to the political cauldron behind the curtains than is apparent giving rise to Mugabe’s recent media outbursts. It is surely the Master seeking to draw out the monster lying latent within the Pupil. Barely a week ago, Mnangagwa fired off a warning shot to Mugabe: “ President Emmerson Mnangagwa has warned Robert Mugabe and his ally Ambrose Mutinhiri over their new outfit known as National Patriotic Front (NPF)………… “Currently we see and hear that there is some new party. We are not happy with what the media is saying. We are not yet sure if this is true or not but, once we get factual information, we will not hesitate to take action,” said Mnangagwa. Zanu PF Secretary for Youth Affairs, Pupurai Togarepi, also blasted Mugabe and ordered him to behave and be a responsible politician. “Can someone please try and talk to Robert Mugabe? He must withdraw his behavior and be responsible. If he fails to respect the revolution, we will stop respecting him in future. “We fear no one. Those thieves (G40) must stop provoking us through seeking media attention. It is the Youth League’s responsibility to defend the Revolutionary Party,” Togarepi said”. 8 March 2018, Zimbabwe: Mnangagwa Warns Mugabe and Mutinhiri, Says Unhappy With New Party, https://allafrica.com/stories/201803080002.html
Despite the muted pretence that the events of November 2017 were not a coup, amidst the euphoria came a word of warning:
“The Zimbabwean Army nonetheless insists that “this is not a military takeover of government.” Even as tanks patrol the streets of the capital, Harare, and the tap-tap of military-issue boots echoes across the corridors of power, the generals repeat that old refrain: They just want to restore order and improve Zimbabwe’s ailing economy. Their intervention, the generals insist, is a patriotic act that will improve life for all. And while it is true that Mugabe is a ruthless despot who has woefully mismanaged Zimbabwe for the past four decades, a military coup is not the right way to end his reign. World history is full of atrocities committed in the name of law and order. The international community should be concerned about what’s happening in Zimbabwe right now. I’m an Argentinean scholar of Latin American militarization, and I can attest that so-called “democratizing coups” are largely fiction………… Some have likewise suggested that Mugabe’s overthrow may be an opportunity for Zimbabwe. United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson even expressed hope that a “stable and successful” country will emerge from the coup. I’m extremely dubious. Latin American history shows that military dictatorships do not help nations advance or build democracy. Instead, they leave stunted states unable to guarantee democratic legitimacy or ensure social well-being…………. Many Zimbabweans therefore probably don’t see much of a difference between the egotistical, self-glorifying – and technically democratically elected – President Mugabe and the military bosses who sent tanks into Harare and stationed armed soldiers at major buildings and routes. I would dispute that Zimbabwe’s political rupture will usher in an era of order and progress. And I think many Latin Americans would agree with me. I wish Zimbabweans luck, but based on my country’s past, I fear for their future….”. The Conversation, https://theconversation.com/latin-american-history-suggests-zimbabwes-military-coup-will-turn-violent-87648
It might not need the Zimbabwean opposition to bring out Mangangwa’s violent nature: he might well bite sooner rather than later and react in retaliation to the targeted taunts emanating from the very political opponents who are pro- Mugabe that he has been hounding since November 2017.
Impact upon UK based Zimbabwean activists and protesters:
Activists and social medial protesters clearly need to up their game. Mnangagwa has himself turned to social media on a charm offensives campaign http://www.africanews.com/2018/01/15/mnangagwa-turns-to-social-media-to-engage-zimbabweans//.
In relation to the youth, clearly the battle ground is seen as social media: “President Emmerson Mnangagwa is not taking the threat of social media for granted and has urged Zanu PF youths to fight toe-to-toe with opposition parties as the ruling party bids to capture the elusive youth vote. Mnangagwa, who has been using his newly reactivated social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter, admits he is not as techno-savvy as the younger generation but urged Zanu PF youths at the wing’s inaugural assembly to engage the opposition on social media. “Isu nana Mai Muchinguri-Kashiri hatizvigone. Musakundwa mu social media imomo pindai mu social media murakashe vanhu (We are not techno savvy. Don’t be beaten to the game. Get in there and dominate social media),” Mnangagwa said to applause from the Zanu PF youths”. 9 March 2018, Zimbabwe Situation, http://www.zimbabwesituation.com/news/zanu-pf-tackles-rivals-on-social-media/
Various UK based human rights and civic groups have, among other issues, been clamouring for the Mnangagwa regime to account for the Gukurahundi genocide, ensure free and fair elections as well as protesting against military rule in Zimbabwe. Where it is the case that some in Zimbabwe might now have rested on their laurels assuming that with Mugabe’s exist, Mangangwa will bring them to the promised land, those in the diaspora who have experienced a true taster of some democratic freedoms, still have a job or two to do to keep going that cry of resistance against oppression, tyranny, corruption and dictatorial tendencies ingrained within the DNA of the current Zimbabwean regime.