Military Coup in Zimbabwe – Has “Gucci Grace” Overplayed her Hand?

Early reports from Zimbabwe suggest the military has taken control of the country to prevent Grace Mugabe from becoming President Robert Mugabe’s anointed successor. She was scheduled to be nominated as ZANU-PF vice president at a party conference next month, after the expulsion of the previous VP, Emmerson Mnangagwa. The military take-over is preempting these moves. Mr Mugabe and his wife appear to be in military custody. There has been no public statement by him so far.

The coup was sharply criticized by the ZANU-PF Youth League, an ally of Grace Mugabe. Finance minister Ignatius Chombo, another ally, has been detained. The coup was supported by the War Veterans Associations, an ally of Mnangagwa, who has now returned to the country from South Africa, where he had been staying since his expulsion.

These political affiliations highlight the factional nature of the coup: It is not about ending Mugabe’s dictatorship, but about who within the ruling party will get to keep the spoils of the corrupt system. Grace Mugabe, whose luxurious lifestyle at the expense of the people made her deeply unpopular in the impoverished nation, would have been an extremely risky choice for the party. The military leaders feared she would redirect funding to herself and her allies, away from the military, other civil servants and other party factions.

Her opponents are anything but angels. Some have been involved in the Gukurahundi massacres in Matabeleland in 1983-84, when over 20,000 people are estimated to have been killed. The so called War Veterans (many of whom are too young to have participated in the independence war of the 1960s and 70s) were involved in violent takeovers of farms and violence and gross human rights violations against supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in the disputed 2008 election.

Even if the military were to force Mugabe to resign or to retire to a purely symbolic position, the real question will be if the military and the factions taking over from him will allow free and democratic elections to take place in the coming year. I think this coup is a milestone, but the struggle is far from over.

4 thoughts on “Military Coup in Zimbabwe – Has “Gucci Grace” Overplayed her Hand?

  1. When did a military coup, even if bloodless, ever result in free and democratic elections? Even by post-colonial standards, Zimbabwe is a basket case.

  2. Chris,

    The Carnation Revolution on 25 April 1974 in Portugal comes to mind. I’d say it was close to a best case for what a coup can achieve. It had popular support, involved minimal violence and led to free elections a year after the coup.

    Given the track record of the ZANU-PF hardliners around Mnangagwa and the so called War Veterans supporting him, I expect the path ahead will be a lot rougher.

    Still, almost any new government would be an improvement on Mugabe. The people are fed up with poverty and corruption and will try to reclaim their country.

  3. At heart, you’re a Zimbabwean Joe 😀. Your grasp of Zim politics is on point. The situation is pretty fluid though. The hope is that zanu pf will self-correct and that a measure of democratic behavior will result from thie experience with the mugabes. One thing for sure is that Zimbabweans are peace loving and feel they have been robbed of the opportunity to develop and prosper. I think they’ll use their democratic rights wisely into the future. To a big extent Mugabe has united people against forms of power centralisation..

  4. Thanks, Kays!

    You are right that there’s a lesson in this about power centralisation and even totalitarian systems are able to learn. When Stalin died, the Communist Party switched to a system of collective leadership. No Soviet leader after him ever had as much unchecked power again. So maybe ZANU-PF will change in a similar way.

    I read this quote today by a cousin of Mnangagwa who extolled his democratic virtues in these terms (, 2017-11-20):

    “He is from the progressive side of Zanu-PF and this is what our country needs,” the cousin said. “He has lost elections twice and never questioned the result. He has shown that he respects democracy and the rule of law.”

    During the campaign for the election for the seat of Kwekwe Central in 2000 in which Blessing Chebundo (MDC) spectacularly defeated Emmerson Mnangagwa, he was attacked and injured by a gang of men carrying clubs and pangas (machetes). Then one of them doused him with petrol and struck a match to set him on fire. Luckily the first match snapped instead of lighting up. This bought Chebundo enough time to jump on the attacker and not let go of him, so he could not light another match without getting burnt as well. Finally the attackers ran off and Chebundo survived (he was reelected in 2005).

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