Zimbabwe's 'Bond Coup': a nuanced analysis

26 Nov 2017
26 Nov 2017

CAS Post doctoral Research Fellow Dr Toendepi Shonhe shares his critical perspective on the current unfolding political situation in Zimbabwe.

The recent ‘bond’ coup wherein a so-called ‘democratically’ elected government or leader of government was forced to resign speaks of a massive fiction, of a theatrical performance directed by the military. This piece of theatre takes place in 4 acts; the “bond coup” being the last. 

First Act: It must be understood that the real coup took place in 2008, when the military removed the democratically elected government led by Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC. Here the military and the security services intervened and refused to allow Mugabe to step down, proceeding to adjust the vote and eliminate Morgan Tsvangirai’s majority vote.
Second Act: The 2013 election was rigged though complex multiple processes led by Nikuv, an Israeli company, charged with compiling the national voter’s roll - that rendered the actual casting of a vote meaningless. 

Third Act: The level of fear, emanating from the 2008 Presidential run-off election where several MDC supporters were killed and maimed, influenced the 2013 voting pattern undermining democracy in Zimbabwe.

Act 4 is the one that has just unfolded: Robert Mugabe was rescued by the army and security service who denied him the right to relinquish power following his defeat by Morgan Tsvangirai in 2008. From the bizarre appearance of Mugabe at the graduation ceremony we understand that the military wanted him back as their puppet. They just didn’t want Grace and the G40’s. But he vacillated and from that moment the centre of power shifted from the civilian puppet to the military forces, with Emmerson Mnangagwa, being elected as the new president. The coup of 2008 has finally been revealed. All fiction of democracy has been removed. This is significant and has had far-reaching implications for Zimbabwe’s politics. How did we get here? In this article, I briefly track the role of the army since the liberation war era to the 15th November intervention and suggest how the fake ‘coup’ may likely impact on the future of democracy in the country.

After 37 years of ruthlessly oppressive rule, Robert Mugabe finally resigned in response to multiple interwoven processes executed with military precision. But not before a cocktail of shifts and switches in a comedy that left the whole world in suspense for at least one week. Interestingly, political analysts have struggled to define and characterise the nature of the military intervention, in which Mugabe was left in apparent authority while seemingly under ‘house arrest’. 

Moreover, due to the disguise, SADC and the member states were left unable to condemn the developments in Zimbabwe. On the surface, the ‘coup’ is a culmination of a bitter contestation for power within the context of the succession battle, which heightened in response to Robert Mugabe’s advanced age. Much less thought-out is the increasingly popular view that the military intervention was the army general Chiwenga’s response to Mugabe’s attempts to boot out his long-time ally in a bid to accelerate the ascendance of Grace to Presidency. 

At independence, in 1980, the War Comrades were distributed between postcolonial state civilian and army roles, with the civilian forces commanding a veneer of authority over the armed ones. To consolidate Zanu PF political power, the army was deployed in Matebeleland where through Gukurahundi, Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu), led by Joshua Nkomo, was decimated. It was here that Emmerson Mnangagwa rose to prominence. As then Minister of State Security, he was a key author of the butchery that took place. We should not forget this, as the world did. For this remiss of condemnation sets the terms for Zimbabwean politics henceforth.  In 2000 and 2002, the combined effort by the army and the war veterans eliminated the newly emerging opposition, and helped build the foundation of the rigging machinery that is currently undermining democracy and freedoms in Zimbabwe. 

To be sure, Robert Mugabe became a puppet of the military. Put differently, he and Zanu PF became merely a front for military rule in Zimbabwe. The military, through the Joint Operations Command, became the new arbiter of state power and a vehicle for subordinating other arms of state security. Simply put, Mugabe and Zanu PF served to the whims of the military and would survive only to the extent he served the interests of the same. 

In practical terms, all the party structures and independence of all the arms of the state, being the judiciary, cabinet and parliament were usurped by the military from thereon, a plan that was to be consolidated through the deployment of retired and serving men from the military in key positions in the various government departments. The long and short of it is that an elaborate plan was set off to assert the military as the ultimate authority in Zimbabwe, with the President, Robert Mugabe, Zanu PF and the government as the main vehicles and civilian face. 

The role of JOC, in marshaling consensus and compliance within the various security services arms, became obvious and exhibited through the unity of purpose by the service chiefs as they executed a ‘bond’ coup, outsmarting SADC and the rest of the international community. 

Moreover, to the extent that such consensus and compliance were established within JOC and Robert Mugabe remained unaware of the details and possibility of the ‘bond’ coup plan, it can be deduced that all along, it has been up to the military as to what information to share with the ‘principle’ or not. 

Somehow, perhaps just as the majority of Zimbabweans remained unaware of this real power base, Robert Mugabe seems to have misled himself into believing that he had leverage over the shape and direction of Zimbabwe’s power politics and therefore sought to define its future after his own departure. This angered the military who had their own plan with Emmerson Mnangagwa as the next political head of government. 

Notwithstanding Grace Mugabe’s own inadequacies, her husband’s, Robert Mugabe’s, planned removal of Emmerson Mnangagwa and replacement with her meant ironically that the power would have more likely shifted back to the civilian authorities. 
Just as Robert Mugabe was taken advantage of following his defeat by Morgan Tsvangirai in 2008, Mnangagwa was to be dismissed and only brought back by the military. And therefore, owes his ascendance to the military. The ‘bond’ coup, is therefore a fake process engineered only to orchestrate the continued existence of a military rule, fronted by compliant faces within Zanu PF. 

Now, what progress has this change brought to the democratisation of Zimbabwe? In my view, none. A possible election in 2018 remains one between Zimbabweans and the military, whose new face will win at all cost. If Mnangagwa is to protect his wealth and remain insusceptible, given his own deeds of the past, so shall the military men be assured of their own security. 

Regarding the democratic transition in Zimbabwe, the country remains captured under military rule, following the 2008 coup. To imagine that the military intervention of 15 November 2017 is a coup, is to inconceivably postulate that the military deposed itself.  

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