When Zimbabwe’s military seized power in a well oiled so-called “bloodless coup” on 15 November 2017, it promised to end the grinding poverty caused by social and economic saboteurs in government. The military said the coup was to “target criminals” around the then president Robert Mugabe and weed out corrupt elements that had caused suffering for the masses.
The military’s spokesperson at the time was then Major-General (now retired Lieutenant-General) Sibusiso Moyo, who was later appointed Foreign Affairs Minister. During the coup, he made an announcement on state television saying army was targeting “criminals around” Mugabe, who were “committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in order to bring them to justice.” A statement that was easy to say and yet difficult to implement.
How did the coup unfold?
Former president Robert Mugabe seems to have been caught off guard as he was chairing the usual cabinet session right before coup unfolded. The events of that evening of November 14 when tanks rolled into the streets of Zimbabwe’s capital Harare are unclear, confusing and contradictory, and much of the information has not been revealed officially. Very few details have emerged about the coup, as the government has tried to keep a tight lid on information. What we do know, however, raises a great number of suspicions.
First and foremost the military announced that it was not a “take-over of government”. But it was. The military occupied the seat of the government and captured then president Robert Mugabe and only one high ranking government official, former finance minister Ignatius Chombo, as some of the alleged targeted individuals either managed to flee or where out of the country.
Almost immediately, a massive wave of purges followed within the police force and Central Intelligence Organization (CIO), presumably in an attempt to cleanse the security apparatus of Mugabe loyalists. These were the two security arms that did not participate in the coup. As of November 1 2018, several senior police officers and CIO operatives have been relieved from duty and a few politicians and public office bearers have been arrested for corruption.
But with the first anniversary of the coup, President Mnangagwa’s administration is facing a public perception crisis, with the economic activities declining and the corruption epidemic continuing unabated. Over the past year the Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration has began to clamp down on civil liberties across Zimbabwe, continued to restrict the media and ordered arrests of dissenting activists, private media journalists and the intimidation of political opponents.
The government has also been accused by the main opposition of stealing the July 30 presidential election, thereby perpetuating a legitimacy crisis with international election observers mission, notably the European Union (EU) and a joint National Democratic Institute (NDI) and International Republican Institute (IRI), which stated that the harmonized elections fail short of being free, fair and credible.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance (now just Movement for Democratic Change-MDC) challenged the presidential election result at the Constitutional Court which went on to rule that Mnangagwa had won overwhelmingly. It is now clear that electoral reform to cut the advantage of incumbent is a necessary condition for a truly free and fair outcome in future. Mnangagwa went on to be inaugurated on August 26, signaling continuation of the big challenges facing the country after decades of neglect and repression as the legitimacy crisis brought about by the coup persist.
MDC Alliance’s defeated leader, Nelson Chamisa is adamant that victory was stolen from him branding the electoral debacle “the theft of the century”. Chief Justice Luke Malaba seating with eight other Justices read a unanimous judgment that dismissed Chamisa court application on the grounds that it “failed to provide direct and substantial evidence to allegations of vote rigging, which would be sufficient for the court to invalidate the election results.”
“Had the applicant placed all the V.11 forms (which contain voting data from polling stations from all polling stations) before the court, they could have been compared with the residue in sealed ballot boxes, and that would have addressed the allegations of over-voting, the differences in presidential and parliamentary tallies, the alleged surge of voters (in the last hour of voting day) in some provinces, and the question of probability of some polling stations having similar results”.
In his inaugural speech on August 26, Mnangagwa pleaded for unity above political differences in order to confront the tasks that lay ahead. “We are all Zimbabweans, what unites us is greater than whatever divides us”, he said. “Let us look forward to the journey ahead, a journey we will walk together as one people, a united people. Together let us explore new frontiers in every facet and sphere of our economy and society”.
When he first came to power on November 24, 2017, Mnangagwa said his rule was the “beginning of a new and unfolding democracy” and vowed to revitalize Zimbabwe’s ravaged economy and to rule on behalf of all the country’s citizens. But in recent months his government has been the subject of ridicule with locals saying conditions have deteriorated since July’s contentious election. Fuel, food and medicine shortages are biting amid sharp rising prices of basics.
In recent weeks, some basic commodities have become scarce, with motorists, spending nights in their cars queues outside petrol stations (although the situation has greatly improved recently), supermarkets rationing purchases or shutting entirely, and chemists unable to provide some basic medicines with some patients having to rely on relatives in foreign countries such as South Africa to send them necessary medication.
The immediate cause of the crisis was the adjustment of electronic payment tax from five cents per transaction to two cents per every dollar for all amounts above $10. The administration intended to raise revenue from the vast informal sector that has mushroomed in recent decades.
In the meantime, corruption is worsening. Zimbabwe was last year ranked 157th of 175 countries on the Transparency International index, which measures the public’s perceptions of corruption in public institutions. Zimbabweans are still waiting for relief.