On Wednesday the military seized control in Zimbabwe—and crunch talks on the future of the country are now underway. But for ordinary citizens, life goes on around the tanks in the streetsby Christian Westerlind Wigstrom / November 16, 2017 / Leave a comment
On Wednesday morning, Zimbabweans woke up to find tanks in the streets and military leaders addressing the nation on TV. To outsiders, it might have seemed like just another day in Africa. To Zimbabweans, the last few days have been something new entirely.
Robert Mugabe assumed power at independence from white rule in 1980. Still at the helm 37 years later, the 93-year-old seemed bent on eternal physical and political life. And yet, as I write this, Mugabe is under military-imposed house arrest in the leafy northern suburbs of the capital, Harare. As far as we know, members of his family are with him. Most importantly, his wife, Grace Mugabe, is purportedly similarly encaged. There is much to suggest that these dramatic events are the result of her miscalculation.
Grace Mugabe’s life story reads like combination of Cinderella and Macbeth. Employed as a typist at Government House in the 1990s, she and the four-decades older president began an affair and then married after the death of Mugabe’s first wife. For almost 20 years, Grace Mugabe stayed in the political background.
Then, at the congress of the ruling Zanu-PF party in 2014, there was a change. A year earlier, Zanu-PF had outmanoeuvred the only serious opposition party after five years of coalition government. Once again, power over Zimbabwe rested with Zanu-PF; power over Zanu-PF, in turn, rested in the hands of a 91-year-old. A bitter battle to become the heir-apparent began.
Grace Mugabe entered the fray in full force. Often dismissed as lacking the necessary grassroots and military backing, she skilfully outwitted several pretenders to her husband’s office over the next three years. Each time she emerged stronger herself.
Two weeks ago, her ultimate victory seemed at hand. On the 6th of November, Robert Mugabe dismissed his long-time ally, Emmerson Mnangagwa, from the position of vice president. Mnangagwa had fought alongside Mugabe in the war against the Rhodesian minority regime in the 1970s and has held numerous senior positions in the Zimbabwean government. As with so many other defenestrations in the past few years, his dismissal was preceded by public accusations of sedition by the first lady.
But this time it was different. Mnangagwa was the last serious ally of the military in…