On 15 March 2018, former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe finally spoke out about his removal as president of the Republic of Zimbabwe in November 2017 in much-anticipated interviews with various news outlets such as the SABC and ITV. Unsurprisingly, Mugabe’s bitterness could be heard throughout the speech, and his demeanour one of dissatisfaction and aggravation.
His speech must not be discredited as a mere expression of sour grapes as it resurrected questions that have remained silenced in Zimbabwean society both in the Mugabe and post-Mugabe era. Though in his old age, the former head of state remains as shrewd as before.
Mugabe would not have spoken out in the way and at the time that he did if he did not see this as a power move in the run-up to the July 2018 elections in Zimbabwe.
Legacies of violence and subversion have long remained at the helm of how politics is conducted in Zimbabwe under Mugabe’s rule. Examples of these include but are not limited to the 2008 electoral violence, Operation Murambatsvina in 2005 and the Gukurahundi Massacres in the 1980s. However, Mugabe speaking out on his experience during the coup d’état and in the post-coup period is a sombre illumination to how the current government continues to function like its predecessor regime.
It is a sobering realisation to the people of Zimbabwe and the international community at large that the current government has done little to address legacies of violence in their ascension to power and in their service to date. It is at this point that Mugabe has managed to push forward the idea that it is time for civil and political rights to be decentralised in a state where he, ironically, ordered their control to access the manipulation of legitimacy.
Given this, “operation restore legacy” as a policy narrative for the new dispensation cannot be regarded as a feasible pathway to take Zimbabwe forward – particularly if they want to continue separating themselves, as they have been doing, from the previous regime. It is within this context that the current dispensation cannot afford to continuously ignore the importance of addressing civic rights through transitional justice mechanisms such as truth telling and subsequent accountability by shielding brotherhood loyalties at the cost of its citizens.
Justice tools such as the recently redefined National Peace and Reconciliation Commission must thus be given the space to interrogate and deliver on its mandate. Centres of unbiased national conversations on difficult issues remain vital to the longevity of positive peace. It is now that access must be given to civil society organizations to create unbiased national narratives to address the atrocities of the past. This would be more favourable to them leading up to the elections. Dealing with these issues renders the new dispensation’s “goodwill” regarding economic reforms easier to justify.
It remains a case of precarious positionality by President Emmerson Mnangagwa to come out and say “the nation has moved on” in his press statement released on the morning of 16 March, 2018. By Mugabe coming out and declaring his exit from office as both unconstitutional and a coup d’état, the legitimacy of the current government leading up to the elections remains questionable – this especially given the current dispensation’s refusal to call the events of November 2017 a coup d’état.
Though Mugabe was well within his rights as a citizen to give the interviews he gave on 15 March, 2018, the weighting of citizen endorsement is different when it comes from a former head of state. Mugabe’s condemnation of his removal both verbally discredits the current government and questions the legal viability of the current government in the run-up to the elections.
This remains significant for the Zimbabwean transition process even if former president Mugabe currently has no role in the said transition. His rumoured involvement with the new and upcoming New Patriotic Front (NPF) party may however reveal that he still believes he has knowledge that can impact on the upcoming elections. Time will tell here.
Moreover, Mugabe’s sentiments remain supported by constitutional provisions in sections 95, 96 and 97 of the constitution of Zimbabwe which speak to the terms, resignation and removal of a president in the Republic of Zimbabwe respectively. The Mnangagwa regime is thus stuck between a rock and a hard place in justifying their entry into power. This complicates the work of the president by raising questions of legality and legitimacy in the run-up to “preparing for free, fair and credible elections in 2018” as he indicated was his focus in his statement release.
Stretching beyond the Zimbabwean conversation, Mugabe’s words further lead one to enquire impertinently into the ever-criticised double standards of the international community when it comes to condemning or endorsing sovereign leadership in line with their own agendas. It is no secret that Mugabe was no longer the darling of the West; however, the acceptance of the way the current government ascended to power without questioning the adherence to the Zimbabwean Constitution remains a problematic precedent.
One then asks, should countries such as Lesotho, which is always on the brink of a coup, follow suit? Will the regimes that takeover be endorsed? By calling the coup d’état a “disgrace”, Mugabe inherently questions this idea of precedence and whether it has now become acceptable to remove a sitting head of state via this method.
Mugabe alludes to governance as intertwined with precedence set by what we accept as normative practice within international law by questioning what we condone as “normative”. Furthermore, he wittingly challenges the international community and regional organisations such as SADC and the AU to interrogate their stance on democracy as a principle which respects domestic law and international law as an extension of that.
These are broader issues that need to be discussed considering Mugabe’s current revelations. All in all, the nature of Zimbabwe’s transition is one which is still unravelling. Intricate truths are yet to be revealed and it is evident that the upcoming elections will play a pivotal role in deciding the path the country takes.
Mandipa Ndlovu is a Zimbabwean academic and researcher. She is currently a 2017/2018 Scholar with the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s Governance for Development in Africa Initiative where she is studying towards her MSc in Violence, Conflict and Development at the Department of Development Studies housed at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). This article was first published by the Daily Maverick