Zimbabwe power struggle: the main players
Four people in the spotlight after country’s military moved on Robert Mugabe
Robert Mugabe: The military leaders who have taken over have not yet deposed him from the presidency and have promised to keep him and his family safe. Photograph: Reuters
Robert Mugabe, at 93, is the oldest head of state in the world. Once thought of as a liberation hero and potential nation builder, his 37 years running Zimbabwe have taken the country from promise to disaster. His Zanu-PF party has increasingly relied on violence and intimidation to retain power.
Although he has become frail in recent years, frequently dozing off at meetings and travelling abroad for medical treatment, Mugabe has resisted all efforts to ease him from office, purging anyone who appeared to be challenging him. His ailing health has triggered vicious and sometimes open warfare to succeed him, with factions within Zanu-PF aligning around potential successors – all the time professing absolute loyalty to the president.
Until this week, Mugabe planned to run in presidential elections scheduled for next year, which would theoretically have given him another five-year term. The military leaders who have taken over have not yet deposed him from the presidency and have promised to keep him and his family safe.
Grace Mugabe, the wife of Mugabe and 40 years his junior, had been making an increasingly open bid to succeed as president, one of the triggers of this week’s military intervention. Last week she told a rally: “They say I want to be president. Why not? Am I not a Zimbabwean?”
Once Robert Mugabe’s secretary, she is disliked by many people in Zimbabwe, particularly in the military, which considers her vindictive and a political opportunist with no history in the liberation struggle.
She has frequently been involved in public fights, most recently in South Africa, where she was accused of beating up a young woman she said had been cavorting with her playboy sons. Her whereabouts are unknown.
Emmerson Mnangagwa, vice-president until he was fired last week and fled the country, is in a strong position to lead Zimbabwe following the military intervention. Robert Mugabe’s right-hand man for more than half a century and known as the Crocodile, he was an activist and guerrilla fighter from his teens and ran the security services in the early days of independence.
He oversaw the crushing of the opposition of Joshua Nkomo in Matebeleland between 1982 and 1985 in which at least 10,000 people, many of them civilians, were killed.
After his promotion to vice-president in 2014, Mnangagwa was considered the most likely successor to Mugabe. But he became involved in an increasingly vicious war of words with Grace Mugabe, accusing her of trying to kill him with a poison-laced ice cream and seize power for herself. Friends of Mnangagwa say they believe he is preparing to fly back to the country within hours.
Chairman of the joint operations command
Constantino Chiwenga, the man in charge of the military takeover, is chairman of the joint operations command, which includes the army, police and air force.
A participant in the liberation struggle, he has been a loyal Zanu-PF member for years and is close to Mnangagwa. Mugabe chose to fire his deputy while General Chiwenga was on a trip to China and for several days rumours circulated that the president was about to sack the military chief as well.
On Monday, the general called a press conference to say the army would “not hesitate to step in” to protect the revolution and called for an end to the purge of Mnangagwa’s allies.
On Tuesday, Zanu-PF accused him of “treasonous conduct”, a statement that crossed a red line and led directly to the military takeover early on Wednesday.
– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017