Over the past fortnight the world has witnessed an event that many thought they would never see. Almost forty years into his premiership, Robert Mugabe was forced to resign as Zimbabwean President. He has ruled the country with an iron grip since they first gained independence from Britain.
A former teacher, Mugabe made his name in the 1970s-independence war against Britain. He was imprisoned and exiled, and eventually gained control of the ZANU Party, both a political and military entity. After Britain eventually relinquished control of her former colony, Mugabe gained national power. He spoke of reconciliation with remaining colonial settlers and was seen by many throughout the western world as a favourable leader to take the country forward.
As time passed, this rhetoric shifted drastically. Mugabe turned on white farmers and led a brutal campaign against them, mirroring his violent suppression of groups and individuals he saw as a potential threat to his power. Zimbabwe was also economically ruined through years of economic mismanagement and financial corruption. Despite this, Mugabe was able to maintain control throughout a number of elections, widely discredited by outside observers.
The fall of Mugabe has been prematurely predicted countless times over the past forty years, but each time he was able to maintain and often strengthen his authority. In his ninety-third year, many now believed that his leadership would inevitably continue up to his death.
The tide began to shift when Mugabe sacked Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the man widely seen as Mugabe’s eventual successor. Mugabe accused his Vice-President of plotting against him and instead favoured his fifty- two-year-old wife, Grace, to take up the reigns upon his death.
This was significant for two reasons. Firstly, it marked the start of a potential Mugabe dynasty. The realisation that a Mugabe would remain in power long after the current President’s death was a bitter pill for the people, and military, to swallow. Secondly, it was also significant because of Mrs Mugabe’s deep unpopularity, which rivalled that of her husband.
For the army, this was the final straw. With minimal bloodshed, they seized control of the capital and addressed the nation via a televised statement. They assured the safety of Robert Mugabe (effectively under house arrest) and attempted to paint their takeover as a legitimate. With Grace Mugabe reportedly in exile, Robert Mugabe was nonetheless defiant and refused to step down. The army was keen to portray their involvement as entirely legal, in an attempt to safeguard Zimbabwe’s future standing in the global community. Impeachment proceedings thus began against the President, and with his own ZANU-PF Party turning against him, Mugabe finally accepted that his time in power had come to an end. His resignation letter was met with rapturous celebrations in Zimbabwe’s parliament, and on ordinary streets throughout the country.
The exiled former Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa returned to Zimbabwe and has now been sworn in as the country’s new leader. Mnangagwa is known locally as “the crocodile” due to his ferocity whilst serving under Mugabe.
The man once considered an accomplice to the Mugabe regime has transformed into a national hero, promising his people a ‘new democracy’, with aid from the military. Nonetheless, history has shown that for Zimbabwe actions speak louder than words.