Arrest of Chombo no easy pushover for Zimbabwe military

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The arrest this morning of Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo, who is also the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front secretary for administration, was no easy pushover as evidenced by a picture of his kitchen which appeared in the South African media this evening.

Chombo was arrested  when the military took over the country in what it said was not a coup but was a move to stop counter-revolutionaries and criminals from taking over the country.

He was one of the members of the G40 faction that was pushing for President Robert Mugabe’s wife Grace to become vice-president.

The major drivers of G40 were, however, Higher Education Minister Jonathan Moyo who until lasted night brushed off the statement from Zimbabwe Defence Forces chief Constantino Chiwenga saying “kungovukura vukura, ini zete kuvata zvangu” and Local Government Minister Saviour Kasukuwere who was also the party’s national commissar and has purged all those alleged to be loyal to Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Wednesday saw the spotlight firmly fixed on Zimbabwe following what looked like a coup in the eyes of everyone, except for those pulling the strings in staging it.

Things came to a head in the country’s capital, with a heavy presence of military resources and personnel, immediately sparking speculation of whether a coup was underway. This was confirmed – though quickly denied – when the Zimbabwe Defence Force (ZDF) seized control of the country’s national broadcaster, with army spokesperson major general SB Moyo addressing the nation on what was happening.

Moyo alerted the public that President Robert Mugabe had been detained but was “safe and sound” and refused to call the day’s proceedings a coup, but rather a “bloodless peaceful transition”. According to him, the elderly statesman was not the main target of this action, but rather the “criminals” surrounding him, implying that there are others pulling the strings.

The man who could not be moved

Since it came to be, the country previously known as Rhodesia has only ever known one leader. In his 37 years in office, Mugabe has transformed from the hero who liberated his people to somewhat of a tyrant who the people were now in desperate need to be liberated from.

The last two decades under his rule have seen political and economic turmoil of unimaginable proportions as his ruling Zanu-PF forcibly seized privately-owned farms. A move which ultimately saw the country’s economy suffer dire consequences which, to this day, has shown very little signs of recovery.

There was also mass emigrations into neighbouring countries as the standard of life in the country had deteriorated sharply.

For close to two decades prior to the turmoil, the ruling party had never been really challenged in the polls, but the chaos of the late ‘90s brought about the rise of an opposition party seen as capable to pose a challenge, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Morgan Tsvangirai.

Ousting a leader who has put his people under strife via the polls would have been the straightforward outcome, wouldn’t it?

It proved not to be.

The 2002 general elections came at the height of the economic chaos and were closely contested, but the ruling Zanu-PF were the outright winner, claiming 56% of the vote while the MDC managed a respectable 42%. This highlighted a huge dent in the ruling party’s popularity, having claimed an overwhelming 92% majority in the previous elections.

The following elections in 2008 presented a rather unexpected landslide victory for Mugabe which proved to be quite contentious. With no notable change in policy or improvement in the quality of life for the people, the incumbent leader had, according to the 85% percent earned at the polls, gained soaring popularity.

This raised many questions as reports of rigging and voter intimidation came to the fore.

There was stark improvement for Tsvangirai’s party in the 2013 elections but not enough to pose a challenge to the elderly statesman.

The enemy within

A man believed to have been central to Mugabe’s “success” in the 2008 elections – due to his alleged role in voter intimidation – would prove to be his undoing.

Emmerson Mnangwagwa had fought in the country’s liberation struggle in the 1970’s and had risen through the ranks of the Zanu-PF, ultimately promoted to deputy president by Mugabe himself.

Fears that first lady, Grace Mugabe was being groomed as the next president by her husband and a certain faction within the party might have sprung Mnangwagwa into action as it was not guaranteed that he would hold on to his position.

There was a clear rivalry between the deputy president and the country’s first lady, with the latter struggling to disguise her contempt for her rival and calling him out at a rally on one occasion, in a manner that was indirect but clear enough.

Things came to a head when Mnangwagwa was finally removed from his position, a move believed to have been orchestrated by the first lady.

That move seems to have backfired considerably, as the current “bloodless peaceful transition”, so to speak, is seen as Mnangwagwa’s retaliation and an effort to purge the government of the faction opposing him.