THE LONG GOODBYE

Robert Mugabe’s sacking makes way for hope in Zimbabwe—and uncertainty

Quartz africa
Quartz africa

Robert Mugabe has been fired as head of the Zanu-PF party, marking the end of his 37-year grip on power in Zimbabwe, and even longer at the helm of the ruling party. Mugabe was fired on Sunday (Nov. 19) and his wife, first lady Grace Mugabe, was expelled from the party for inciting division.

Mugabe was replaced by Emmerson Mnangagwa, the deputy president whose axing was the catalyst for this extraordinary moment in Zimbabwean history. Mnangagwa was nominated to stand in as interim president and will be the party’s presidential candidate for next year’s general election.

Following the party resolution at an emergency Zanu-PF meeting, Mugabe has until Monday noon local time to resign from his position as state president, said Patrick Chinamasa, the former finance minister who was shuffled to the cyber security department. If Mugabe fails to resign, the party promised to impeach him.

Like any 93-year-old, Mugabe nodded off often and struggled to maintain his health, and yet he seemed immortal. He’d resisted stepping down as president for over a decade, using questionable election results and brute force to stay in power. Citizens tried and failed to force him to step down.

Then, the military that had propped him up for years pulled him from power in a surprise move on Nov. 14. The military has, without a sense of irony, said that they are intervening specifically to stop Grace Mugabe’s ascension to power. Their intervention was triggered by Mnangagwa’s removal—pushed aside in a “bedroom coup.” Sidelining political rivals is a move that has served Mugabe well throughout his political career, but this time, he overestimated his power. Mnangagwa has returned to Harare, and Grace Mugabe has yet to surface in public.

Rather than imprison or expel him to South Africa, the generals tried to negotiate with Mugabe, during which they continued to honor him with the title “Commander-in-Chief.” Seemingly isolated, Mugabe clung to power, telling the world that his people still love him. A mass demonstration on Saturday (Nov. 18), sought to prove otherwise.

Thousands of Zimbabweans celebrated his departure, even though Mugabe has not yet formally left office. Independent Zimbabwe knows no other leader. He has taken the country to great heights, and heartbreaking lows. There was a time when being Zimbabwean meant a future in “Africa’s breadbasket,” raised in what was arguably the continent’s best public education system, and contributing to a stable and thriving economy.

Today, it means navigating a broken system, trading “zombie” bond notes, while hoarding US dollars because the Zimbabwean dollar means more as a memento of a bygone era. Those who stay face food insecurity, while others cross into neighboring countries where they are often seen as a burden, despite the skills they offer. Perhaps now, they may finally return.

For now, however, hope is tinged with uncertainty. Will the military truly relinquish its power to the people? Is Mugabe’s longtime ally turned foe really the man to bring change? And will the opposition, beaten down for so long, finally find strength? One thing is sure though, this marks the end of Robert Mugabe.

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