Zimbabwe Coup November 2017 – Developments and Analysis


November 17, 2017

Published on 17/11/2017

Seeing the recent developments in Zimbabwe, with an alleged coup on Tuesday/Wednesday as the peak so far, we are in dire need of some background and perspective. Below you will find a small analysis on the most recent developments in the country.

Splits in the ruling party over succession

As Robert Gabriel Mugabe does not have the eternal life, the battle for his succession has started within ruling party ZANU-PF. However, the current president has set out to rule Zimbabwe unchallenged for the rest of his life. His favored technique for guaranteeing his dominance is to build up potential successors only to destroy them, when coming to close to power.

The succession struggle has not started only last week, but dates back to the 2014 purge of former vice-president Joice Mujuru and eight cabinet ministers. Mujuru was said to become a too powerful force within the party. She was then accused variously of corruption, theft and even plotting to kill Mr Mugabe, and therefore she and her followers had to go. Mujure was replaced by Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Then, a bitter struggle between two factions within the ruling party began, which continued relatively silently until last week. On the one hand, there is the so called ‘G-40’-faction. This faction is supposed to represent the younger generation within ZANU-PF, and is allegedly led by Education Minister Jonathan Moyo and Zanu-PF political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere. The faction’s main point of existence seems to be to fight against Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa succession as party leader. As an alternative, G-40 seems to support Mugabe’s wife Grace, who is more and more profiling herself as the main guard for anyone and anything who will put the position of her husband under attack. Grace (nicknamed Gucci-Grace for her exorbitant shopping sprees), is not popular among Zimbabwean citizen. Although G40 is believed to be fronting the First Lady for succession, there have been no official statements she would be running for the position when her husband dies.

On the other hand, there is the so called ‘Team-Lacoste’-faction, which backs up Mnangagwa as Mugabe’s successor for party-leadership. The former Vice-President has been with Mugabe from the start, as they worked together both during the liberation-struggle as well as during his ruling days. Mnangagwa has a strong following in Zimbabwe’s powerful military and amongst war veterans, and has kept a lot of connections from his days as both Minister of Defense and intelligence chief.


Latest Developments

In December, ZANU-PF will host its last annual congress before the 2018 elections. As the party congress is seen as a decisive event, all contesters for party-leadership are trying to position themselves as best as possible. As several of the G40 faction members were discredited over the last months, Mnangagwa’s hand seemed to play out. However, early this month, the factional infighting took another turn, as Mugabe openly accuses Mnangagwa of “disloyalty, disrespect, deceitfulness and unreliability.” A documentary is leaked, allegedly made by Education Minister Mojo, outlining how Mnangagwa would have subverted and captured State-institutions in a power grab. On November 7th, Mugabe fires Mnangagwa. For many, his removal meant that Grace Mugabe is expected to be appointed vice president at the party congress in December.

From that point, we could slowly see the signs of what eventually happened this week. On November 8, war veterans head Chris Mutsvangwa said that “[President Robert] Mugabe is not the owner of the party,” and called on almost every group thinkable in Zimbabwean society (churches, whites, MDC, the diaspora and South-Africa) to address the “menace that Zimbabwe now faces with Mugabe a senior old man with a mad wife.” On that same day, Mnangagwa released a statement saying that he had fled Zimbabwe, lashing out to his President saying that “the ruling ZANU-PF party “is not personal property for you and your wife to do as you please.”


Military coup

On Monday, Zimbabwe’s army chief Constantino Chiwenga demanded a “stop” to the purge in the ruling party and warned the military could intervene. Then, very late on Tuesday, soldiers seal access to parliament, government offices and courts in Harare. Access to the president’s official residence is also blocked by troops. The first official statement comes very early on Wednesday-morning, when the military takes over state broadcaster ZBC and military spokesman, Major General SB Moyo makes an announcement on state television. In this statement, the military explains it has temporarily taken control of the country to “target criminals” around President Robert Mugabe. They also immediately state that Mugabe and his family are “safe and sound and their security is guaranteed”. Finally, the statement also emphasizes that “this is not a military takeover of government,” but an act committed “to pacify a degenerating political, social and economic situation in our country which if not addressed may result in violent conflict.”


Towards the Future

After a day of house-arrest, talks between the president and senior military officers continue on Thursday, with senior church leaders and envoys sent from neighboring South Africa involved in mediation efforts. Emmerson Mnangagwa was reported to have returned to Zimbabwe on Tuesday evening from South Africa. Speculations about him replacing Robert Mugabe as the leader of Zimbabwe continued up to this moment. Mnangagwa’s particular role in the coup remains unclear. Reports that Grace Mugabe had fled to Namibia on Wednesday appeared false, with several sources saying she was detained with her husband in their residence in Harare.

According to the Guardian, several opposition officials have stated that negotiations had been ongoing for several months with “certain people within the army”, with that same army reaching out to different factions to discuss the formation of a transitional government. One opposition official said Mugabe would resign this week and be replaced by Mnangagwa, with opposition leaders taking posts as vice-president and prime minister, although there have not been any official statements as to this moment. However, Robert Mugabe seems to stubbornly hold on, demanding that he can finish his term in office.


Pillars of power

The early Wednesday speech by Major General SB Moyo on state television is very important to understand the movement of different power forces in Zimbabwe right now. Instead of speaking of their military takeover in bold and powerful terms, his argumentation is very inclusive, almost humble. Moyo addresses Robert Mugabe as “His Excellency, the president of the republic of Zimbabwe and commander in chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces”, as if Mugabe is still fully and solidly in power.

Moyo then continues to address all stakeholders in society (civil servants, judiciary, parliament, citizens, political parties, religious groups, the media and the war-veterans). Goal seems to be to facilitate this transition of power as calm and clean as possible. But is that an option in such a fractured and tense political arena? And wouldn’t it be naïve to see the military coup as such an altruistic deed? Let us look at some of the main players up close.

President Robert Mugabe

One has to understand that, even at this moment when President Mugabe’s role seems to have played out, it is not. Despite the fact that he has mistreated Zimbabwe for the past 30 years, his support-base is still incredibly strong. As Piers Pigou, a South Africa-based analyst for the International Crisis Group put it. “The [army] still need him to provide a veneer of legitimacy and constitutionalism. If he doesn’t want to play ball that is a bit of a problem.” It is not without a reason that the military statement on Wednesday began with saying that the President is safe and that this military takeover was not directed towards him. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the events of the last 72 hours in Zimbabwe mark the beginning of the end of Robert Mugabe’s reign.

Grace Mugabe and the G40-faction

Can the faction of young Turks within the ruling party still play a role, influencing the process towards a new power divide in Zimbabwe? This does not seem to be likely, as they are (more than President Mugabe) the target of the military take-over. According to the BBC, several ZANU-PF officials are reported to be in custody including, Mr Mugabe’s former spin doctor Jonathan Moyo and Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo. Zimbabwean newspaper NewsDay is reporting that MP and government minister Paul Chimedza has been arrested at a road block trying to flee to South Africa.

The question now is how different organizations in society who used to back G40 or Grace Mugabe will react. As an example: ZANU-PF Woman’s League used to be backing Grace very firmly. At last year’s annual ZANU-PF conference, the Women’s League had moved that President Mugabe should appoint a woman into the presidency; a trick designed to influence the reassignment or expulsion of Mnangagwa to make way for a female Vice President. No official statement has come from their side yet.

Zimbabwean Military

A force which has always been strongly in the grip of the ruling-party, now has chosen a clear side. This has only been possible because of the rifts within ZANU-PF. It has to be understood that, in the revolt against specifically Grace Mugabe, the military top in Zimbabwe would never allow somebody without liberation-war-credentials to be the leader of the country. The military has strong ties to ZANU-PF as the liberation party, not to just any person who might want to lead that party.  Mnangagwa has these credentials, and his connections stemming from former positions as Minister of Defense and the intelligence-services give him a clear head start.


Because police officers are believed to be on President Mugabe’s side, the army moved in to take power over the police forces early on Wednesday. The Zimbabwean military is in charge of a paramilitary police support unit depot in Harare and has disarmed police officers there, an army source told Reuters. Only in August, there were clashes in central Harare between the Zimbabwe Republic Police – loyal to first lady Grace Mugabe and her allies in a Zanu-PF faction, G40 – and soldiers who are loyal to Mnangagwa. The role of the ZRP seems to be played out for now.

War Veterans

Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA)’s members have been an integral part of President Mugabe’s election campaign machinery since the emergence of the Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai. However, the War Veterans are now firmly opposing Robert Mugabe’s increasingly authoritarian rule. Already in 2016, the veterans announce a split from Mugabe, after which a personal with Mugabe develops.  Christopher Mutsvangwa, chairman of the ZNLWVA, was one of the victims of the purge of Mnangagwa’s allies from the party over allegations of indiscipline and plotting against President Mugabe. As well as for the military leadership, the war veterans find it very important for somebody with actual liberation war credentials to rule over ZANU-PF and thus over Zimbabwe. However, the stance of the war veterans is different to that of the military, in that their struggle is essentially against Robert Mugabe and his dictatorial tendencies. The military looks beyond this and tries to guide the future direction of the ruling party itself.

Political Opposition

As for the political opposition, the coup all of a sudden offers possibilities of which nobody had dared to dream a few months ago. None of the key players in the opposition have condemned the military coup so far, and some even dare to speculate on their role in the “roadmap back to legitimacy”. Truth is, however, that the political opposition seems to have had no hand whatsoever in the current developments in Zimbabwe. The opposition is fractured, but more importantly has lost its popular support over time. The hope for a better Zimbabwe that the MDC brought up to 2008 was shattered in the last decade. Especially during and after the period of the GNU, the MDC lost a lot of public support. The party’s grassroots structures had been badly damaged by the violence preceding the 2008 elections, and the actions of the MDC-T during power sharing damaged the party’s public reputation. The MDC side-lined civil society, while its upper leadership visibly benefitted from participation in the inclusive government. That fostered the perceptions that the party had “joined the gravy train.” The eventual walk-over victory of ZANU-PF in the 2013 elections sealed their fate. Now, all of a sudden, we can think of a scenario in which the opposition parties would join a transitional government. Where this might offer new opportunities to build their support towards the 2018-elections, it would be naïve to think that a new ZANU-PF leadership would allow their power to be taken away by the opposition.

South Africa – International Community

As the regional superpower, South Africa appears to be backing the takeover, as they are sending ministers to Harare to help with negotiations to form a new government and decide the terms of Mugabe’s resignation. The South-Africans, as well as the rest of the international community will mostly profit from a relatively calm take-over of power, as this will benefit the stability in the region. Despite the fact that Mnangagwa is not their dream candidate for the Zimbabwean leadership, this might be of minor importance for now. Alpha Conde said Thursday that the African Union “will never accept the military coup d’etat” in Zimbabwe. The head of the African Union stated that, despite the fact that there are internal problems, these have to be solved politically by the ZANU-PF party and not with an intervention by the army

Civil Society and Social Movements

In line with the Zimbabwean political opposition, the civil society is also fractured, seeming to play no role in this episode of hard power. This week’s events also simply shift public attention away from their efforts. Nevertheless, civil society organizations such as #ThisFlag, the Zimbabwean Heads of Christian Denominations, and others call on the people in power, especially the military, to provide them with a clear roadmap back to constitutionalism. Some of them even pledge for a solution in the form of an inclusive government or another kind of transitional authority to be put in place. The role of these groups seems to be to focus the Zimbabwean citizen’s attention on the issue of what happens after the military coup is over, and the battle for power has been settled.


Possible Scenario’s

It is important to emphasize that this coup is essentially and foremost a party occasion. Despite the fact that the military is of course a state-institution, the power-struggle revolves around the party in the first place. Because ZANU-PF and the Zimbabwean state are so interwoven, one tends to forget that the coup is not so much focused on taking control over the country, as well as over the direction in which the leadership of the ruling party is headed. This is essential in realistically assessing what might be the outcome of the restructuring of power in Zimbabwe. Simply said, the leadership of the ruling party is subject of negotiation, the leadership of the country by the ruling party is not.

That being said, several news sources claim that Robert Mugabe would announce his resignation somewhere on Friday, although until now this has not been confirmed. According to South Africa’s Times Live, based on a senior intelligence source, Mr Mugabe is insisting he remains Zimbabwe’s only legitimate ruler in Zimbabwe. In any case, the Zimbabwean leader is stalling the process until today

Although there is a slight chance of the President staying in power at the end of this, the days of Robert Mugabe as Zimbabwe’s leader seem to be over. The seemingly most logical development would now be for Mugabe to announce his own resignation (probably mentioning health as the official reason to safe face), and putting forward Mnangagwa as his successor. Possibly, the Mugabe-family would negotiate a free passage out of Zimbabwe, opting to go into exile. Then, the December ZANU-PF party congress will elect the former Vice-President as the new party-leader, who is running for the presidency in the 2018 elections. However, this is not the preferred option of those in the opposition, as well as many western governments, who fear Mnangagwa would be in many ways a continuation of Mugabe. As the New York Times puts it on Wednesday, it would be “naïve to believe that any leader who takes power under such conditions will strive for democratic reform.”

An alternative scenario would include opposition political parties in negotiations towards a transitional government following the military takeover. Although speculative, this would be the preferred option for Mnangagwa, with economic recovery as the first priority. Main opposition party MDC-T (in the person of Secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora) has, however, already stated that this is possible “only if certain conditions were met,” alluding to the unfortunate process during the 2009-2013 Government of National Unity.

A final scenario could be a continued control over Zimbabwe by the military. Despite their apparent humble attitude, there is no more powerful force in Zimbabwean society at the moment. When the military leaders will not see a solution with enough beneficial guarantees for their people, holding on to power a little longer is a likely possibility. With the power in the hands of the military, Zimbabweans will be left at the mercy of a very unpredictable group that has rarely worked on behalf of the people in the past.


Photo: In his first public appearance after the coup, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe arrives to preside over a student graduation ceremony at Zimbabwe Open University on the outskirts of Harare Photograph: AP – via Telegraph.co.uk