Zimbabwe’s former president Robert Mugabe appears to have no intention of going quietly into retirement following his removal from power last November.
In recent weeks the 94-year-old has seemed to tacitly endorse a new opposition party, the National Patriotic Front, which is backed by an ousted faction of the ruling Zanu-PF party.
He recently met and posed for a photograph with the National Patriotic Front’s leader, Ambrose Mutinhiri, a former Zanu-PF cabinet minister who plans to contest the parliamentary and presidential elections expected before the end of August.
Mugabe also gave his first media interview last week since reluctantly resigning on November 21st. He bitterly described his departure from office as a “coup d’ état” rather than a transfer of power, which is how is successor has framed it.
In the early hours of November 15th last a large section of Zimbabwe’s army rolled into Harare and took control of key installations before placing Mugabe and members of the Generation 40 faction of Zanu-PF under house arrest. The faction had backed Mugabe’s wife, Grace, to succeed him.
The army’s move was sparked by Mugabe’s sacking of his then deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa, earlier in November. Within days, Mugabe resigned as the Zanu-PF party, which he had led since the early 1970s, was preparing to launch impeachment proceedings against him in parliament.
Mnangagwa succeeded him as party leader and was sworn-in as Zimbabwe’s president on November 24th. Both he and the military have gone to great lengths to steer away from the notion that what occurred was a coup d’état in the hope their administration will gain international acceptance.
In his interview with South Africa’s state broadcaster, the SABC, however, Mugabe said the army’s intervention was illegal and unconstitutional: “I say it was a coup d’état even if some people have refused to call it [one], he said, arguing that he should be invited to participate in a proper transitional process.
It is unlikely the National Patriotic Front (NPF) can mount a serious challenge to Zanu-PF and Mnangagwa given the contempt most Zimbabweans have for Mugabe and those associated with him.
However, the new party may seek to undermine the ruling party’s desire to have the poll recognised as free and fair, which is essential if Zimbabwe is to stand any chance of tempting investors to provide the billions of euro needed to kick-start its depressed economy.
According to Zimbabwe’s Daily News newspaper this week, Mutinhiri told the head of a South African Development Community (SADC) election team that visited Zimbabwe recently that at least 5,000 soldiers have been deployed to rural areas ahead of elections he believes will take place in July.
“The army confirms that by November 15th, 2017, it had put over 2,000 of its officers and embedded them in every community in Zimbabwe, not just for the coup but for the forthcoming election,” Mutinhiri was quoted as saying in a communique to SADC delegation head Leshele Thohlane.
He continued: “The number is now over 5,000. Zimbabwe cannot hold free, fair and credible election with over 5,000 army officers embedded in every village and street communities across the country.”
Mugabe’s actions have drawn the ire of the new leadership of Zanu-PF, of which the former dictator remains an ordinary member.
The party said Mugabe’s outburst and actions could see him lose his immunity and privileges as a former head of state as well as face expulsion from the party.
“Zanu-PF will have to meet to discuss these new developments… to review whether it is still necessary or not for him to continue enjoying the status we had given him,” the party’s secretary for legal affairs, Paul Mangwana, told the state-run Herald newspaper.
He said Mugabe should be a “father figure” and he “should not join active politics, particularly opposition politics”.
Mnangagwa, the new president, responded to Mugabe’s utterances by saying his predecessor was “entitled to express himself freely, as is the case for any private citizen”.