THE reluctant resignation by former President Robert Mugabe on Tuesday, November 21, 2017, opened a new and anxious chapter in the history of Zimbabwe, which lived for 37 years under the iron thumb of the wily and stubborn 93-year-old sit-tight ruler.
Along with the late Joshua Nkomo, Mugabe had led the Rhodesian Bush War against the White Minority rule of Ian Smith, emerging as the Prime Minister of the former Rhodesia (which was renamed Zimbabwe following the dismantling of White Minority rule in 1980) after the Lancaster House Agreement.
In his 37 years in power, Mugabe employed Machiavellian tactics in neutralising challenges to his position. He successfully saw off all major players in the country’s political leadership one after the other. These included Joshua Nkomo, Ndabaningani Sithole, Edgar Tekere, Edison Zvobgo, Enos Nkala, Maurice Nyagumbo, Solomon Mujuru and recently, the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, leader, Morgan Tvangirai.
However, his final gambit that forced the military to take a stand for Zimbabwe was the recent sack of his Vice President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, a move interpreted as positioning his wife, Grace, to succeed him.
Mugabe also deftly deployed the age-old tactics of divide and rule to survive for so long. To neutralise Nkomo, he pitted Matabeleland against the rest of the country. Next, he turned against the media and trade unions, violently assaulting the opposition led by Tsvangirai and seizing lands earlier confiscated for the benefit of White farmers.
It was due to the patient and patriotic pressure exerted by the military leader, General Constantino Chiwenga, backed by South African diplomacy, pressure from the political forces (particularly Mugabe’s ZANU-PF) and the generality of the populace that forced Mugabe to let go.
We commend the military for its patriotic role in not seizing power or emasculating the constitutional order of Zimbabwe but using its action to bring joy and positive change to millions of Zimbabweans whose youth have never experienced a different kind of leadership.
However, the uncertainty that confronts the nation must be handled with care. Rarely does a dictator who has been in power for so long fall without unpleasant consequences for the stability of developing nations. The experiences of Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq are still festering.
We call on the new leader, Mnangagwa, to see his position as part of the patriotic call initiated by the military to birth a new constitutional and democratic order in Zimbabwe, where all forms of political expressions will find accommodation.
The trio of Mugabe, Mnangagwa and military chief Chiwenga, must forge a patriotic alliance to ensure a smooth transition and avoid witch-hunting that could spin matters out of control into unpleasant consequences.
We call for a peaceful transition to a new political and economic era in Zimbabwe.