Amapondo Zinkomo Phakati Zimbabwe?

(Amapondo Zinkomo is an expression for the early dawn in Sindebele, the language of the Matabele people of Zimbabwe, who were butchered in their tens of thousands in the early days of the Mugabe government. The words mean “the horns of the cattle”, and refer to that time in the early morning were the tips of cattle horns can first be made out against the lightening sky.)

Watching the TV images of jubilant scenes on the streets of Harare on the day Robert Mugabe resigned as president of Zimbabwe, one rather strange thing caught my eye. Not a single policeman was anywhere to be seen. There were soldiers, but no obvious signs of police.

It’s always very difficult to know what’s really going on in the so-called news, and trying to discern the truth of the recent events in Zimbabwe is no different. If Britain’s BBC is to be believed (not usually advisable) the story goes something like this: Mugabe’s wife, Grace, had become obsessed with personal power and persuaded Comrade Bob to sack his number two, Emmerson Mnangagwa, and give her the job instead. This provoked the army, devoted servants as they are to constitutional protocol, to persuade Comrade Bob to go, and for Mnangagwa to be properly restored to office. And that’s all there was to it. But there’s probably a bit more to it than that.

When this story broke I felt two reactions. The first one was delight, and the second was curiosity as to what’s really going on: who was really pulling the strings? There were, of course, two prime suspects: the US or the UK. The UK seemed the most likely possibility in this case, because Zim used to be a British colony, and therefore Britain knows the place pretty well, and no doubt still has important links there. Although Britain seldom does anything without at least a nod from the White House, the US is possibly quite marginal for a change.

The Zimbabwe Independent (ZI) is a news provider based in Harare and owned by Alpha Media, which is possibly linked to an organisation of a similar name in the USA. It has produced a couple of interesting articles on the coup.

The first of these, published two months prior to the coup, revealed that:

BRITAIN has reportedly come up with a grand plan to steer Zimbabwe through its turbulent political transition centred on Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa succeeding President Robert Mugabe with a US$2 billion economic bailout underwriting the project.

ZI cites “high-level diplomatic sources” for its information, and claims that British ambassador Catriona Laing, “is said to have come to Harare in September 2014 with a mission to rebuild bridges and ensure that re-engagement succeeds to facilitate Mnangagwa’s rise to power”.

The second interesting piece by ZI, citing “sources close to the developments”, gives a blow-by-blow account of how the actual coup is said to have happened. Apparently head of the armed forces, General Constantino Chiwenga recently visited China – not, presumably, for his holidays. It seems Chiwenga is a supporter of Mnangagwa, and ZI’s sources claimed that, on Sunday 12th November:

[T]he police were given instructions to arrest Chiwenga on arrival at the airport. A team was deployed to arrest him, but Chiwenga had been informed of the plan by military intelligence,’ an official said.

The military contemplated landing in Lusaka and driving from Zambia to avoid arrest, among other options, before eventually settling on flying straight into Harare.

When Chiwenga came, a team of soldiers dressed in National Handling Service (NHS) uniforms got inside the airport, while police positioned themselves to seize him. The soldiers reacted and disarmed them. The soldiers took off the NHS uniforms, revealing their camouflage fatigues, resulting in the police officers fleeing.

The following day, Chiwenga gave a press conference where he:

ordered Mugabe ‘to stop reckless utterances by politicians from the ruling party denigrating the military’ and halt the purging of people with a liberation background in Zanu PF.

He called for ‘counter-revolutionary elements’ in the party to be fished out and for the Zanu PF leadership to ensure that members go for the extraordinary congress with an equal opportunity.

Next day, Tuesday:

Zanu PF youth leader Kudzanai Chipanga attacked Chiwenga, labelling him a “rebel” and “criminal” who should be held accountable for the country’s missing diamond revenue.

Zanu PF spokesperson Simon Khaya Moyo later issued a statement describing Chiwenga’s utterances as “treasonous”.

The military responded by moving equipment including tanks into Harare after which it secured strategic places such as the Munhumutapa Building, which houses the President and his deputies’ offices, Supreme Court, Parliament and ZBC.

And then things seem to have unfolded pretty much as reported in MSN – except that we know nothing yet about the fate of the so-called “criminals”, or the “G40 faction” upon whom the army was last seen “descending on… between 2am and 2:30am on Wednesday morning.”

Early that same morning, Wednesday, two senior military officers, Major General Sibusiso Moyo and Air Vice Marshall Jacob Nzvede, read out a prepared statement on national television. This appears to have been extremely well-prepared for so early in the morning and, as reported in the Bulawayo Chronicle, is, mostly, an astounding model of reason and moderation – not something one would expect from people whose behaviour over the last three decades or more has often been anything but.

The statement specifically addresses a range of groups and organisations in Zimbabwe, from MPs, the judiciary, armed forces, and civil servants to “the generality of the people of Zimbabwe”; from “all churches and religious organisations” to youth groups, the media, and traditional leaders. It appears to be very encompassing and unthreatening. However, there’s one very important group which is not specifically mentioned at all – the police. There is one reference to “other Security Services“, with a thinly veiled threat:

We urge you to cooperate for the good of our country. Let it be clear that we intend to address the human security threats in our country. Therefore any provocation will be met with an appropriate response.

We have to wonder if this was why there was no obvious signs of any police on the streets of Harare on the day Comrade Bob resigned.

We also have to wonder why, given the quantity of information about the coup that’s publicly available, the BBC never said a word about it. Last Sunday, five days into the coup, the BBC’s twenty four hour news channel had absolutely nothing to tell us, except the events unfolding in Zimbabwe. The BBC has been banned from Zimbabwe for some years, but they had journalists in Harare by Sunday who were reporting live from the capital. Despite the obvious opportunity to be asking these questions, the Beeb said not one word about the apparent confrontation between the army and the police at the airport, asked no questions about how the relatively primitive military intelligence found out the police planned to arrest Chiwenga at the airport, nor where the police are now, nor the fate of the “G40 faction” who were “descended on” by the army in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Almost needless to say, the BBC asked no questions about the role of the British government, or the two billion dollars which appear to be bankrolling the coup.

A week later the BBC had caught up a little, and tucked away on its website was a superficial reference to the airport confrontation – contained in two sentences – and probing no deeper into the story.

It is unquestionably a good thing that Mugabe has been removed from power. I hope that he’s now quickly indicted for the numerous crimes against humanity for which he’s undoubtedly responsible. Almost certainly it’s the fear of such indictments that has kept him in power for so long, aided and abetted by the military, who are every bit as indictable.

The really big question now is what’s next for Zimbabwe? The Brits appear to have their fingerprints all over this. What does the Foreign Office have in mind now? It looks like Mnangagwa is their chosen successor, for the interim at least, but who will they be pushing forward in the imminent general elections? Technically, Mnangagwa, who appears to be a very nasty piece of work, has no right to the job – as he was fired from the role of Vice President. So the very first thing he should be doing is calling new elections.

It might be worth keeping an eye on Patrick Chinamasa, a previous ally of Mugabe who has served as finance minister and is currently head of “cyber security” – someone who should be fairly well placed to hear about any plans to arrest generals coming back from China. According to ZI, he’s recently been busily jet-setting around the world, visiting influential “think tanks” such as Britain’s Chatham House.

Grace Mugabe has been scapegoated in this story, and like most things, it’s hard to know where the truth really lies. But the fact that she and this so-called G40 group seemed to want to overthrow the old regime, and have been “descended on” by the army, just makes me wonder if the old regime has really been defeated. Unquestionably the army will be very concerned about themselves, and are unlikely to support anyone who might send a few of them off to The Hague along with Comrade Bob. Given that the army were so worried about the possibility of Grace coming to power just makes me wonder if the right “criminals” have been “descended on”.

I know it’s an impossible dream, but I just hope someone takes a lesson from Costa Rica’s history and takes this opportunity to scrap the army altogether.

On the day Mugabe resigned the BBC was interviewing various ecstatic people in Harare. One of these, whose name I’ve unfortunately forgotten, was a lovely young woman who has been an opposition activist for some years – and has the scars to prove it. At the end of her interview she was asked a very good question, which went something like this: we know about all the bad things Mugabe did, but can you tell me two good things about him – after all this is the man who ended British colonial rule in Zimbabwe? Her answer was superb. She said that the fact he ended white minority rule was indeed one good thing; but the other was to provide an excellent example of what not to do – meaning that as Zimbabwe charts its new course it may not have a definite idea of what it wants, but it has a very clear idea of what it doesn’t want.

John Andrews is a writer and political activist based in England. His latest booklet is entitled EnMo Economics. Other Non-Fiction books by John are: The People's Constitution (2018 Edition); and The School of Kindness (2018 Edition); and his historical novel The Road to Emily Bay Read other articles by John.