After 37 years of servitude, autocracy and corruption under President Robert Mugabe, Zimbabweans can finally breathe a sigh of relief after the 93-year-old head of state resigned on Tuesday.
Mugabe’s resignation came hot on the heels of an overnight military takeover last week that saw several top government officials arrested and President Mugabe put under house arrest. The takeover was triggered by the unceremonious firing of Vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa and the subsequent suspicion that Mugabe was planning to name his wife Grace Mugabe as the new vice-president.
The bloodless military coup was followed by calls from Zimbabweans for Mugabe to resign. And although he was reluctant at first, he finally bowed to pressure and tendered his resignation in a letter addressed to the Speaker of the National Assembly. His resignation sparked nationwide celebrations as Zimbabweans ushered in the new dawn.
Devil versus Crocodile
Even as the dust settles, a sense of uncertainty is slowly creeping in as the Zimbabwean population contemplates the country’s future. The most nagging question at the moment is whether the next President will be able to revive the Zimbabwean economy and move the country forward.
Before Mugabe resigned, his ruling party ZANU-PF had already replaced him with the embattled VP Mnangagwa as its president. Mnangagwa, who returned from exile on Wednesday, was sworn in as the new President of Zimbabwe on Friday.
While many Zimbabweans seem content with Mnangagwa’s selection, pundits are concerned that he may be reluctant to change the status quo given that he has been an integral part of Mugabe’s extended reign. They argue that getting rid of Mugabe alone won’t guarantee Zimbabweans an end to autocracy and corruption.
Mnangagwa, commonly referred to as the “Crocodile” for his callousness during the Rhodesian Bush War against the British colonial government, has been a longtime ally of Mugabe, serving as the first vice-president of Zimbabwe since 2014. He has also served in numerous ministerial dockets, including Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Defense, Rural Housing and Social Amenities, among others.
At the age of 21, Mnangagwa was imprisoned by the colonial government for 10 years after he confessed to blowing up the Fort Victoria railway locomotive. Upon his release and after spending a few years practising law in Zambia, he migrated to neighbouring Mozambique, where he, alongside Robert Mugabe, participated in the Mozambican War of Independence against the Portuguese administration.
Mnangagwa was part of the team that formed the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), which went on to win independence for Zimbabwe in 1980. He was also part of the team that negotiated with Britain for independence.
Still No Change
In his latest column on the Zimbabwean crisis, Patson Dzamara, a Zimbabwean-born political activist, argued that under his prolonged reign Mugabe became more than a person. He contends that the veteran President has become a system and a way of doing things.
“Regardless of how people view Mugabe and which side they view him from, most have missed the separation between Mugabe the person and Mugabe the system,” Dzamara wrote.
“The reason I harbour reservations is that those presiding over this fallacious transition are creators and products of Mugabe the system. They have not convinced me in any way that they have reformed out of the system. A devil cannot cast another.”
He also warns Zimbabweans not to ignore the portentous reality of sliding back to the bottomless hole of servitude and poverty that they’ve been struggling to get out of for the last 37 years.
In its congratulatory statement to Zimbabweans on Wednesday, the U.S government through the State Department called on Zimbabwean leaders to ensure there is “a genuine transition” of power and create space for citizens to determine their future.
But for many Zimbabweans, especially those who were already tired of President Mugabe, his exit spells hope and prosperity for the country. Even so, Zimbabweans, who have felt the pinch of bad leadership for decades, should not sell themselves short.
They must demand full accountability from their leaders and ensure the incoming government puts in place policies that will guarantee them responsible and democratic governance.