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Luke-ing the Beast in the Eye: Robert Mugabe: Hoist by own petard (Republished)

Hoist by own petard is a phrase first used in William Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet To be hoist means to be blown up while petard refers to a bomb or a small explosive device. Hoist by his own petard literally means a bomb-maker has been blown up by his own bomb. It means the villain’s own weapon is the cause of their downfall or their death.

The Shona people have an equivalent phrase. They say Shiri inokangwa nemafuta ayo , which literally means a bird is stewed in its own fat. This week is the fifth anniversary of the ouster in a coup of former President Robert Mugabe by his own army to which he was Commander-in-Chief.

It was the same army he had used to kill, to brutally attack or maim his political opponents. When the army he led removed him from office in a coup in November 2017, Robert Mugabe was hoist by his petard. Like a child injured by his own toy, Mugabe was indeed akin to a bird stewed in its own fat.

In the week of the fifth anniversary of his ouster from office by his own army, I today republish a piece that I wrote during Mugabe’s final hours in office just before he was forced to resign from a political terrain he had straddled for over half a century.

And I borrowed as the headline the befitting phrase from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It was an apt title to a valedictory piece of a man removed from office by his own army: a bomb-maker blown up by his own bomb.

Robert Mugabe : Hoist by his Own Petard

It may well have had to happen this way; to complete a story the same way it was begun. It may well be fair that those who came to power by the gun at Mgagao, those who were kept in power by the barrel of the gun would have to bow out at the behest of the same condign power that birthed and kept them in office all these years.

Well, at least not yet, judging by President Robert Mugabe’s stubbornness in his televised address. Yet we are living in uncertain times, unclear what holds for us the next hour but for some of us, it must all end with a return to legitimacy through a free, fair and credible election.

It has turned out the acrid smell of gunpowder that kept Robert Mugabe in office all these years is the same chilling stench now itching to accost him to his Waterloo after a bloody 37 years in charge.

His ignominious exit, in keeping with his tempestuous tenure that was littered with cadavers and graves, could only be a gunnified one.

For one who led a venerated liberation movement and who came into office amid sonorous ululation, t can only be shameful that he could now be landing — unloved and unmourned by friend and foe alike — into the annals of history.

His stubbornness aside, Zimbabwe will never be the same again, judging by the convergence across the political spectrum that we saw in Harare on Saturday.

And it could not have happened in worse irony and similarity of circumstance. On the same day that Gianlugi Buffon, the old and veteran Italian goalkeeper was kissing goodbye to international football following the Azurri’s failure to qualify for the World Cup, Robert Mugabe was militarily being hounded out of office in Harare. For Buffon was football’s Mugabe, given the longevity of his service to our beloved sport.

He too bowed out in humiliation.

Buffon was bowing out following the Azurri’s failure to qualify for the global football’s fiesta for the first time in 60 years. Meanwhile, in faraway Harare, a veteran political goalkeeper, so wont to deflect genuine goals by foul means that included crude tackles on his opponents, was being hounded out in similarly humiliating fashion by an army in which he is Commander-In-Chief.

Yet another dynasty was winding up in the same week in Angola, where the billionaire daughter of former president Eduardo dos Santos was sacked by the new President Joao Lourenco from the oil firm she had been seconded by her father who served as President of Angola for 40 years.

In Harare, we await to hear the full conclusion of our own dramatic script and what will happen to the appointments of Mugabe’s daughter, Bona, and her husband, Simba Chikore, who were similarly deployed to strategic national institutions.

For Mugabe, the human source of his trouble has always been firmly tucked in his own sheets, literally. Some of us had warned that Marujata, his voluble wife with the penchant to excoriate Cabinet ministers and senior government officials at political rallies would land him in trouble. But he would not listen.

Today, he stands on the verge of a political sunset, amid the stench of the acrid gunpowder of the same soldiers who have controversially kept him in office all these years.

The explanation is simple. Mugabe must take the blame for his predicament. Mugabe ndiye mwene wazvo (no pun intended). Put simply, the man has been hoist by his own petard. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves, as William Shakespeare would say.

However, amid the celebration of the imminent departure of a strongman, we must not lose sight of the hard facts. I wish to start by stating that I am an unrepentant regime change activist in respect of the current regime, a mission for which I have served on the trenches of the democratic struggle for the past 20 or so years.

However, it is also my unstinting belief as a democrat that, notwithstanding our justified excitement at the army’s role in this whole drama, we must celebrate with caution, mindful of the fact that we need to vaccinate civilian political processes from military interference, in line with the dictates of the Constitution of the country. We need to ask ourselves, where and when they will stop.

Our soldiers, regardless of what we may regard as their heroic role in the past few days, must stay in the barracks and never dabble in politics, in accordance with the letter and spirit of a Constitution that we collectively wrote as a people and overwhelmingly affirmed in a referendum.

For some of us, Mugabe was an illegitimate President who was in the process of being removed illegitimately, which makes two negatives. I am not quite certain what two negatives amount to in arithmetic. Yet we must, as a principle, stick to the dictates of our Constitution.

It appears the country is paying the price for the needless Zanu PF culture of State-party conflation, abetted by none other than Mugabe himself who always benefited from a situation where there was no distinction between State and party.

In a situation of that conflation, you can always have the army doing what they have just done in Zimbabwe.

Yes, soldiers may support and vote Zanu PF privately, but they must certainly not overtly support a party in the course of their duty, as they have now done to the personal detriment of Mugabe, who has himself nurtured and condoned — encouraged even — this unconstitutional behaviour over the years.

Who knows what the soldiers will do next if Mugabe continues standing his ground? Judging by what appears to be an unstinting resolve on their cause, the stockholders may well liquidate their stock, literally.

After all liquidation means just that — liquidation!

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What we are witnessing, sadly, is the arena of the State being a playground for internal party politics. If Zimbabwe’s military commanders felt they were stockholders in the ruling party, as they have stated publicly, they were supposed to allow internal party processes to address their concerns, not to use the arena of the State to settle internal party factional disputes.

Indeed, notwithstanding the national euphoria around the events of the last few days, it sets a chillingly dangerous precedent to allow a State institution such as a national army to spearhead the redress of what in essence are internal party issues, in flagrant violation of the national Constitution.

Some of us are very worried. Given that Zimbabwe is standing on the cusp of a watershed election that is constitutionally due next year, what now for the country? Now that the army appears to have taken over all processes, including civilian matters, is the safety and credibility of the electoral process guaranteed?

Has the same army also not taken over the biometric voter registration exercise currently underway? And all this at a time the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has confirmed that soldiers and other security officials constitute part of the secretariat of this “independent” election management body?

In other words, what does it say about the purported autonomy of Zec if a whole head of State can be put under house arrest by the military? Even if Rita Makarau were to run a credible process whenever we hold the next election, can she muster enough courage to announce that the army’s preferred candidate has lost, if these guys can have the audacity to hold hostage their own commander-in-chief, a whole Head of State?

In any case, are we still having an election next year, given that to all intents and purposes we have a coup on our hands, with all its imponderables?

One more irony is that the army continues to hide under the thin veil of semantics; insisting that they have not staged a coup when it is a public secret they have literally taken over, with cabinet ministers running for cover like common criminals and a whole President probably still under house arrest.

The army says we have not taken over, we are simply “ pacifying the situation ” — just like a rapist would insist with a straight face that he was simply pacifying his desires, but please do not call it rape!

Mugabe has simply been hoist by his own petard; he is on the verge of removal by the same army that kept him in office when he was shellacked by Morgan Tsvangirai in 2008. Indeed, there is need to unpack the country’s new “saviours.”

The mantra of “ 27 June vaMugabe muoffice ” was a militarily orchestrated chorus. I will never forget that contrived chaos and the violence that led to over 200 people losing their lives; with some of us spending half a year in prison on trumped up charges of banditry and terrorism.

Barely 10 months after my first stint in the D- class section of one of the country’s notorious prisons, I remember the chill that went down my spine when a gun was put on my head as I enjoyed braaied meat with friends at the popular Mereki joint in Warren Park, Harare.

That was on 15 April 2008 when the electoral body was engaged in what it called “ meticulous verification ” of the election results. I was being accused of public violence, the allegation being that I had burnt a bus in protest over the delay in the announcement of the results.

I was to spend yet another month in prison, only to be released on the day the “results” were finally released. So my two stints in prison and the failed transition in 2008 — all had to do with these guys now purporting to be the nation’s “saviours”.

True, the June 27 2008 contrived run-off poll and its attendant violence were driven by the same forces now bandying themselves as the people’s saviours in the latest coup; the same forces now pledging they want to save the nation from imminent economic catastrophe.

It is the classic case of the mosquito purporting it can cure malaria!

Since the brazen pick-pocketing of the people’s will in the past two elections, Zimbabwe was always a society pregnant with a new one.

The question is, does the military want to prepare the nation for a proper delivery of the baby or they intend to do a Caesarian, with them as the doctors?

As we stand on the cusp of a new society, Zimbabwe’s army cannot pretend to be playing honest midwife in the birth of a new country. We all know their candidate; the baby they could fish from their pocket and pretend it is the baby the election has birthed!

The ouster of Mugabe the strongman with the army at the forefront could be a cause for celebration. But there is certainly need for caution. As president Tsvangirai said this week, we must adopt a roadmap for an expedient return to legitimacy and to Constitutional order. The army may have assisted in removing Mugabe but there must be an urgent plan to return the country to legitimacy and to civilian authority.

It is only an agreed transitional mechanism with a specific mandate to deliver a free and fair election that may be trusted to play honest midwife in the birth of a new society. We cannot entrust the army with that midwifery role.

The army can only hand over to a professional midwife, in this case an agreed transitional body, just as the nyamukuta from the village should do upon arrival at a hospital.

The army should quickly wind up their project and place the running of the country in civilian hands. After all, a project is a task or a set of tasks executed over a fixed period of time within a defined schedule (Rondineli 1998).

A project is temporary and the army certainly cannot take charge in perpetuity — ad infinitum , ad nauseam ! There must be an urgent scaling down of this project, however necessary it may have been.

My brother, Mugabe’s spokesman, George Charamba, whose role had been usurped by Mugabe’s wife, is probably rubbing his hands with glee, awaiting a new political life in what he could be presuming to be a pending dispensation under the new (but not-so-new) man given the mandate by the central committee. He has not bothered to tell the world what is really happening around his boss, for whom he is the official spokesperson.

Seeing Charamba seated in the meeting with Mugabe, the military’s top brass and Zuma’s envoys, I was not sure on whose side he was. Given his political preferences as we are made to believe they stand now, and his public excoriation by Grace Mugabe the other day in Chinhoyi, his presence could have been a classic case of one who runs with the hare and hunts with the hounds.

Was he on Mugabe’s side together with Mukonori, or he was there in the meeting in agreement with the guns pointed at his boss?

Questions. Questions.

As Mugabe struts what could be his last hours upon the political stage, let us prioritise both stability and democracy. It is easy to sacrifice democracy for stability but stability alone in our case will not endure.

The country needs to adopt a proper roadmap to legitimacy. That legitimacy can only come from a free and fair election and only a transitional mechanism with a specific mandate can be entrusted with ensuring the delivery of a credible election.

Meanwhile, Mugabe’s 10th — and probably his last — interface “rally” may turn out to be this ominous interface with his own army to which he is the Commander-In-Chief.

Or maybe, judging by the tinge of stubbornness in his televised address, is the proverbial cat about to snatch a ninth life?

Well, Mugabe the cat didn’t snatch a ninth life. He bowed out alive but thoroughly humiliated.

Luke Tamborinyoka, a journalist and ardent political scientist by profession, is a citizen from Domboshava. He is a change champion in the Citizens Coalition for Change ( CCC ). You can interact with him on his Facebook page or via his twitter handle @ luke_tambo.