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Luke-ing the Beast in the Eye: The day Mugabe “resigned” ….. and my early warning about ED

By Luke Batsirai Tamborinyoka

Today is Tuesday 21 November 2023. Exactly six years ago to the day on yet another Tuesday, 21 November 2017, former strongman Robert Mugabe was forced to resign in a popular military coup.

Amid the euphoria of national excitement on that momentous day as Zimbabweans revelled in the departure of a dictator who had ruled with an iron fist for 37 years, I warned the nation on the dangers of the man who was coming in to fill the dictator’s shoes.

Two days later, on 23 November 2017, barely 48 hours after Mugabe’s resignation while Zimbabweans chatted happily and optimistically in the villages and in the living rooms about the country’s political prospects, I gave a dire warning to Zimbabweans that in ED, the then incoming President, most of my fellow nationals were mistaking brass for gold.

In the previous weeks and months before he was forced out, Mugabe had gone around the country in what he called “national interface rallies” with his wife Grace publicly excoriating ED and his Lacoste faction.

The well-attended ED-bashing nationwide rallies had given the impression that Mugabe was a well-loved leader nationwide. But given the even bigger crowds that now flooded the streets and celebrated Mugabe’s departure, I publicly wondered where those huge crowds that had cheered Mugabe only in the previous weeks had disappeared to.

Today, on the sixth anniversary of Mugabe’s forced resignation, I republish the story of Bob’s resignation and my early warning about having ED as President that I wrote on 23 November 2017, barely 48 hours after Mugabe’s ouster.

When he was militarily forced to throw in the towel exactly six years ago today, Zimbabweans thought no one could be more corrupt and more incompetent than Robert Mugabe. But Mnangagwa has burrowed further down to an all time low on all the governance indices.

ED has also polished and perfected his credentials as a killer in the past six years. Zimbabweans only last week buried a cleric from Mabvuku, the latest in a string of State-sanctioned murders under Mnangagwa.

And only last week, Mnangagwa was the main agenda item at an investigative journalism workshop at Wits University in South Africa where two investigative journalists who led the probe in Al Jazeera’s Gold Mafia documentary took the conference through their four-and-half year investigation in the plunder of gold in Zimbabwe.

Sarah Yeo and Alexander James told journalists at the conference that Mnangagwa was the kingpin of all the rival mafia groups that he had allowed to mine and spirit away the country’s gold while he received personal payments from all of them, in the process looting national wealth that prudent national leaders ought to be holding in trust on behalf of everyone, including future generations.

That is how far the man has betrayed the initial optimism under which he rose to power in 2017 amid the acrid smell of gunpowder and against the lyrical backdrop of Jah Prayzah’s Kutonga Kwaro .

Dear reader, read yet again this November 2017 instalment and kindly take note of my warning about this man, who has now turned this country into a family enterprise and has cemented his credentials as a murderer, with his unbridled incompetence dripping through all the sectors of the country’s tenuous body politic.

Mistaking brass for gold as Mugabe bows out

It had to happen while I was right in the place of my birth. The time was exactly 6pm and, as if of any significance, the day was Tuesday 21 November 2017, exactly 10 days after the 52nd anniversary of the unilateral declaration of independence by Ian Douglas Smith.

I was at Chirodzero business centre in Domboshava, popularly known as paShowground when the country’s second uhuru was announced.

The car radio suddenly blurted it out: President Mugabe had resigned!

The otherwise sleepy growth point in this area of my birth suddenly burst into life—-cars hooting, people shouting, touts whistling and vendors leaving their wares unattended.

I just went numb, silently savouring the eerie scene around me in typical journalistic wonderment.

A vendor selling cucumbers developed a sudden bout of generosity and started moving around, handing out the freshly fruits for free.

That is how the news was received at this rural growth point in my rural home area, a mere 32 km north-east of the capital city.

Barely an hour earlier, I had accompanied President Morgan Tsvangirai to a rally at Africa Unity Square just outside parliament building in Harare. He had just been invited by the war veterans to address the burgeoning crowd itching for change, reflecting the national convergence that had inadvertently developed in the country on the eve of Mugabe’s departure.

The euphoria and wild scenes of celebration that rippled through all the country’s cities and rural growth points at the news of Mugabe’s resignation had a loud ring of irony attached.

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Mugabe had finally achieved with his departure what he had failed to achieve in 37 years of incumbency; he had united a divided nation.

If nation-building was supposed to be the immediate task of a newly installed political leadership in Africa post-independence, then Mugabe ironically united the nation on the day he left office.

The kaleidoscopic sight of people of all political colours charging into streets and celebrating in unison was an unprecedented national marvel. It was an uplifting sight that gave life to the otherwise innocent print in the preamble to our Constitution: “ We the people of Zimbabwe , united in our diversity …..”

For a nation torn by hatred, intolerance and exclusivity, the unity and togetherness that suddenly emerged in the country was a soothing sight.

However, this inclusive atmosphere had been building up in the last hours of Mugabe’s tenure, starting with the massive demonstration attended and addressed by both ruling party and opposition party leaders on Saturday, 18 November 2017.

For Mugabe, it ended where it all started—it ended at the Zimbabwe Grounds in Highfield—-that ceremonial home of people power where huge crowds had gathered in 1980 to welcome the then popular nationalist leaders.

Never again, one hopes, should a leader and their family be allowed to capture the State, in the process fertilizing their profligate disposition. The former First Lady Grace Mugabe had carved out quite a reputation for herself—- buying plush homes around the world while the people were suffering.

The sons were known for their wild binges and it is no wonder that Bellarmine Chatunga, the President’s younger son, only recently splurged US$60 000 in scarce foreign currency buying a trendy wrist watch at a time whole families in the country are surviving on less than US$1 a day.

Everyone is wishing for this country a fresh start, but the human inputs into the process are not encouraging. The character presumed to take over the running of the country, Emmerson Mnangagwa is not himself without any blemish. They are all tainted by history as they were all vital cogs of Mugabe’s violence, repression and incompetent leadership.

I do not wish to dampen the prevailing carnival atmosphere in the country but the reality check is somehow dispiriting. The incoming lot equally has a bloody past.

Unless they boldly take advantage of this political daybreak to break free from their dark past, there could really be no reason for celebration at all.

Mine could be a dim and unpopular view in a country blindly drunk with hope, yet this should be a moment for sober reflection on what awaits our beloved country at this its watershed moment.

Suddenly—and surprisingly—everyone now appears to have been against Mugabe all these years as the man finds himself with very few sympathizers.

Mugabe now cuts a pitiful figure. For a man who claimed to have won elections with millions of votes and whose rallies, including one held only twelve days ago, were always teeming with mammoth crowds, it is a puzzle how all those people have suddenly gone underground.

Where are all those people today?

It could be a chilling indictment that humanity is replete with hypocrites, who abandon friends in their dark hour of need.

If everyone appears to have been in the opposition all these years; where have Mugabe’s purported millions of followers disappeared to?

Why have all those chants of “ Gushungo chete chete ”suddenly turned into a high pitched national chorus of “Gushungo kwete kwete?” Where is this man’s much-vaunted following if the whole nation is now in celebration over his departure?

In one fell swoop, Mugabe’s mammoth following has suddenly ebbed into a shocking nothingness.

However, in the euphoria of the moment, let us not lose sight of what needs to be done.

We should poise this country for growth and prosperity and give every Zimbabwean a reason to hope again.

This is no time for cheap experiments and our journey to normalcy and legitimacy must start with a free, fair and credible election next year.

One hopes that Mnangagwa’s supporters—-with some prominent diplomatic missions among them—are not committing the cardinal error of mistaking brass for gold!

I could be dampening the current national euphoria but given his history, I have my serious doubts on whether the incoming Mnangagwa will live up to this palpable national faith and optimism currently brimming across the country.

In the meantime, please help me find the supporters of the one centre of power, which early this week suddenly turned into the sole centre of implosion!

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