HARARE – History will record that it was a previously under-estimated woman, Grace “Dr Stop It” Mugabe, who succeeded in spectacular fashion to achieve what hardened male gladiators who include opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and former American and British leaders George W Bush and Tony Blair had dismally failed to do — to engineer former president Robert Mugabe’s fall from power.
And in the end, it also took military tanks controlling the streets of Harare under the guise of Operation Restore Legacy to stop this then increasingly powerful woman from completely effecting what fearless former war veterans’ leader, Jabulani Sibanda, had colourfully but prophetically called a bedroom coup d’état at State House.
For Grace, what started as a seemingly innocuous appointment by her husband to the leadership of the Zanu PF women’s league three years ago ended up as the political move of the past 20 years in Zimbabwe — precipitating scores of stunning political developments that culminated in Mugabe’s spectacular fall from power last month.
In the process, Grace also fell just short of becoming her husband’s unlikely successor in an intriguing political tale that has uncanny similarities to the story of the infamous Gang of Four — which became powerful in the last days of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong.
The Gang of Four comprised Mao’s wife Jiang Qing and her associates Wang Hongwen, Yao Wenyuan and Zhang Chunqiao — a tight political quartet that mirrored Zanu PF’s Generation 40 (G40) group whose kingpins were Grace, Jonathan Moyo, Saviour Kasukuwere and Mugabe’s nephew Patrick Zhuwao.
And just like the original Gang of Four which was arrested and later charged with plotting to overthrow the Chinese government after the death of Mao in 1976, the local group is scattered in self-imposed exile — save for Grace who is licking her wounds in embarrassing fashion having pushed too hard a bargain and engineered her husband’s inglorious fall from the throne in the process — in addition to possibly facing myriad criminal charges.
Locally, it was liberation struggle stalwart and former Zanu PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo who first made reference to the G40’s leading lights as the Gang of Four.
Below we look at some of the key moments and utterances of 2017 which led to Mugabe’s dramatic fall:
The year started with President Emmerson Mnangagwa under the cosh as the G40 faction hammered him mercilessly and relentlessly, including over his infamous coffee mug which was inscribed with words “I am The Boss” — which the faction used as a weapon to portray the then VP as disloyal to Mugabe and as having unbridled presidential ambitions.
So bad did things get for Mnangagwa that Mugabe went on to pooh-pooh his longstanding lieutenant’s chances of succeeding the nonagenarian in his ritual birthday interview with the ZBCTV which was flighted days before his 93rd birthday.
Also, so scathing was Mugabe during the interview, that he bluntly dismissed all his colleagues’ political credentials — describing them as being not worthy candidates to take over from him.
“The call (for me) to step down must come from my party, my party at congress, my party at central committee … I will step down.
“Of course, if I feel that I can’t do it anymore, I will say so to my party so that they relieve me. But for now I think I can’t say so … The majority of the people feel that there is no replacement, a successor who to them is acceptable, as acceptable as I am,” Mugabe said boastingly.
“But the people, you know, would want to judge everyone else on the basis of president Mugabe as the criteria.
“But I have been at it for a longer period than anyone else and leaders will have to be, as it were, given time to develop and to have the ability to meet with the people and to be judged by the people.
“Silently, in the majority of cases, the people must see and be convinced that yes, so and so can be the successor. Others think, yaa, yaa, that they are this in the party, they are capable of succeeding the president. It’s not that easy,” he added as he rubbished his lieutenants.
Mugabe was also to later become a key player in Mnangagwa’s humiliation by Grace and others at the high-octane Youth Interface rallies which were held in nine provinces.
And as Grace was roasting Zanu PF bigwigs in Buhera, including Mnangagwa, for dreaming about succeeding her husband, Mugabe himself also banished for good the whispers within sections of the warring former liberation movement that she sometimes operated without his blessing.
The increasingly frail nonagenarian not only lavished praises on Grace, he even backed her to succeed him and to hold her own in the deeply-divided ruling party — making it clear in the process that he had been mentoring and guiding her all along, as Zanu PF’s deadly tribal, factional and succession wars became more intractable.
“She is very acceptable, very much accepted by the people. I thought you saw her on television … (in Buhera North). It’s fireworks, isn’t it?” he said with a glint of mischief in his cunning, aged eyes.
The previously publicity-shy Grace entered mainstream politics with a bang in 2014, when she landed Zanu PF’s influential post of secretary for the women’s league, in the run-up to the ruling party’s sham congress of that year, which saw former long-serving Vice President Joice Mujuru and other senior officials — including former secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa and Gumbo — being expelled from the former liberation movement.
Mugabe moved to defend his decision to allow Grace to enter politics in his interview with the State broadcaster, drawing parallels between her rise with the role that his late first wife Sally — who also led the women’s league — had played.
“But I had my first wife Sally … she organised the women. We did not have the women’s league here. The Ghana style, the (Kwame) Nkrumah style of the women’s league which gained acceptance in our region was introduced by my wife and others in Zimbabwe, my late wife (Sally) I mean.
“But in fact people were saying aah, the leaders must not disallow their wives from participating in politics. We want their wives to lead us. But what you get nowadays from some quotas is that the leader’s wife should not participate in politics. Why not? Why not?” the nonagenarian asked.
After Grace’s high voltage rally in Buhera, it became even clearer that Grace was being primed for the highest seat in the land.
Using the politics of smearing which she had successfully employed on Mujuru, Grace was accorded unprecedented and ubiquitous live television coverage as she addressed her rallies where she directly attacked Mnangagwa, war veterans and those in the military.
During the first youth interface rally held in Marondera in June, Mugabe cunningly sent people into speculating that former Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi, who had been publicly touted by Moyo as his preferred successor days earlier during a discussion forum in Harare, was indeed the one destined to succeed him.
“The sun rises in the East that’s why we have chosen this province to hold the first rally,” Mugabe said.
Although Sekeramayi was the most senior politician from Mashonaland East Province at the time, many people overlooked the fact that Grace was also from the same province and was actually — as it later turned out — the one he was referring to when he said “the sun rises in the East”.
Zanu PF’s ugly succession wars later took an ominous turn in August when Mnangagwa fell sick during an interface rally in Gwanda — a development which his backers said was a poison attack by his G40 rivals.
Mnangagwa was later airlifted to South Africa where he had emergency surgery.
The alleged poisoning saga worsened the infighting in the former liberation movement with Mugabe coming out publicly to warn his senior officials over the allegations that Mnangagwa had been poisoned by ice cream from his Gushungo Dairies farm.
Grace claimed that the allegations were calculated to destroy the First Family’s businesses and nothing was said about investigating the poisoning incident after that.
But Mnangagwa suggested to hordes of his supporters who had converged at Mupandawana Growth Point in Gutu, for the late Masvingo Provincial Affairs minister Shuvai Mahofa’s memorial service — not for the first time — that he was poisoned in the same way Mahofa was in 2015.
In September during the Bindura youth interface rally, Mugabe — without any hint of irony — revisited the “I Am the Boss” coffee mug saga, urging Mnangagwa to dump the mug.
“Zvino wofira chikapu ichocho … rasaka (do you surely want to die for that coffee mug, throw it away),” Mugabe said weeks after Mnangagwa had been poisoned in Gwanda.
In the end, the penultimate Bulawayo youth rally which was held on November 4 marked the beginning of the end for Grace and her husband.
She was booed while speaking on stage as she tore into Mnangagwa — leading to Mugabe’s direct warning to Mnangagwa and his supporters that he would fire the then VP.
“Tinogarotukwa zuva nezuva muzita ravaMnangagwa. Ko ndakatadza here kuita vaMnangagwa deputy wangu, kana ndakatadza ndinovadonhedza mangwana chaiye (We are denigrated and insulted daily in the name of Mnangagwa. Did I make a mistake in appointing him as my deputy? If I made a mistake by appointing Mnangagwa … I will drop him as early as tomorrow),” Mugabe thundered.
The following day, which was dubbed Super Sunday, Grace delivered what she saw as the final nail into Mnangagwa’s political coffin in front of hired members of Apostolic sects — likening him in the process to a snake whose head needed to be crushed.
“The snake must be hit on the head. We must deal with the real snake behind the factions and discord in the party. We are going for the (Zanu PF) congress as a united party.
“Women who are involved in the Lacoste project, I say to you, ‘you are dead’. (Then youth league leader Kudzanayi) Chipanga, those youths who are aligned to Lacoste are gone. They must all be dropped before the congress,” Grace thundered.
On November 6, Grace’s march to the presidium appeared done and dusted when Mnangagwa was fired from the government, and two days later the former VP was also expelled unceremoniously from Zanu PF.
As Grace and Mugabe celebrated Mnangagwa’s demise, he fled into self imposed exile in neighbouring South Africa from where he released an ominous statement warning that he would be back to lead Zanu PF and Zimbabwe in a matter of weeks.
In the end, it took him just 16 days to do that!
But Moyo, ever contemptuous and dramatic as he always is, went on to Twitter where he dismissed Mnangagwa’s statement warning Mugabe and his wife saying, “The difference between a Press Statement issued by a fugitive in the luxury of a 5-Star hotel in a foreign country & Zanu PF is like that of day & night. Zanu PF is the people whose one centre of power is Pres Mugabe who has asserted the people’s authority!”
He also made fun of Mnangagwa’s flight into exile writing that, “When a senior official is fired from a high ranking government office & they jump the border into self exile within hours of their dismissal, you know that they are running away from being legally held to account for heinous crimes they committed & covered up while in office!”
But as the saying goes, what goes around comes around, it is Mnangagwa who has had the last and longest laugh — and Moyo is languishing in self-imposed exile facing an uncertain future.
In the meantime, and in a later major development which would spark a series of events that would lead to the fall of Mugabe, then commander of the Defence Forces general Constantino Chiwenga and more than 80 generals warned Mugabe on November 13, that the army would not hesitate to step in if Zanu PF continued brawling and expelling senior figures from within its ranks.
Moyo called Chiwenga’s ominous warning a bluff and dismissed securocrats on Twitter as, “kungovukura vukura, ini zete kuvata zvangu!” while military tanks were preparing to storm the capital city, Harare.
On November 14, the military duly made good on its threats and intervened in the country’s governance — placing Mugabe and Grace under house arrest in the process.
Several Cabinet ministers linked to the G40 faction subsequently fled Zimbabwe, while others such as former Finance minister Ignatius Chombo were detained.
Curiously, the military moved two hours after Zanu PF, through its spokesperson and former minister of Information, Simon Khaya Moyo, had released a statement accusing Chiwenga of carrying a “treasonous act” when he issued the military’s warning on November 13.
But the country’s securocrats were undeterred.
“Following the address we made on November 13, 2017, which we believe our main broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and The Herald were directed not to publicise, the situation in our country has moved to another level.
“Firstly, we wish to assure the nation that His Excellency the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, and commander-in-chief of Zimbabwe Defence Forces, Comrade RG Mugabe, and his family are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed.
“We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice.
“As soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy. To the civil servants, as you are aware, there is a plan by the same individuals to influence the current purging that is taking place in the political sphere to the civil service.
“We are against that act of injustice and we intend to protect every one of you against that,” then major general Sibusiso Moyo, who is now Foreign Affairs minister, said as he announced the widely supported military intervention.
Subsequently, hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans took to the streets across the country on November 18 to demand Mugabe’s resignation, demos that took place simultaneously with a solidarity march by war veterans in Highfield.
The following day, the Zanu PF central committee met in Harare and expelled Mugabe, his wife and other high ranking officials including Chombo, Kasukuwere, Moyo and Zhuwao.
Mnangagwa was then nominated to lead the party and the government by the same meeting — marking a remarkable turnaround for Ngwena, as Mnangagwa is affectionately referred to by his admirers, who had a mere two weeks earlier appeared doomed following his expulsion from both the ruling party and the government by Mugabe.
After 37 years of his controversial rule, the curtain finally fell on Mugabe on November 21 when he resigned moments after a joint sitting of parliament had started impeachment proceedings against him.
And with that, Grace’s higher office plans were dead in the water, and Mnangagwa’s path to the presidency that he had seemingly coveted for a long time, had been finally cleared.
Mnangagwa was sworn in as Zimbabwe’s second executive president on November 24.
Chronology of some of the memorable moments of 2017
May 20, 2017 — Mugabe starts nationwide rallies and holds the first one in Marondera.
August 12, 2017 — Mnangagwa rushed to hospital after reportedly ingesting poison at a Zanu PF rally in Gwanda.
November 4, 2017 — Grace Mugabe is booed in Bulawayo at a youth rally.
November 4, 2017 — Mugabe threatens to fire Mnangagwa.
November 5, 2017 — Grace calls for Mnangagwa’s crushing.
November 6, 2017 — Mnangagwa is fired from government.
November 8,2017 – Mnangagwa is expelled from Zanu PF
November 13, 2017 – Army warns Mugabe it could step in
November 14, 2017 — Tanks are seen on the outskirts of Harare
November 15, 2017 — Army takes over radio and television station, announcing its taking over of government.
November 18, 2017 — Massive citizen protest is held in Harare against Mugabe.
November 20, 2017 — Zanu PF resolves to impeach Mugabe
November 21, 2017 — Mugabe resigns after 37 years in power.
November 24, 2017 — Mnangagwa sworn in as president of Zimbabwe.
The garrulous Jonathan Moyo on Twitter:
Kungovukura vukura, ini zete kuvata zvangu! (12:53 PM – 13 Nov 2017)
Zanu PF has spoken! – When KHAYA Moyo issued a statement criticising Chiwenga’s comments as an Act of Treasonable Conduct.
I did not jump the border when I was fired in 2005. I stayed put right here in Zimbabwe as I had nothing & no one to run away from into self exile. It’s real thieves & murderous cowards who jump the border after they’re fired from the high positions they abused when in office!
When a senior official is fired from a high ranking government office & they jump the border into self exile within hours of their dismissal, you know that they are running away from being legally held to account for heinous crimes they committed & covered up while in office! (12:50 PM – 9 Nov 2017)
Memorable quotes of Dr Amai:
1. Iwe George, George, hauna right yekumisidzana naMinister, you are too junior (as she admonished Information permanent secretary George Charamba).
2. Mnangagwa wajaira, wajaira Mnangagwa.
3. Every day tinogara tichityityidzirwa naMutsvangwa kunzi Munangagwa ane support yemasoja, ngavauye vatipfure.
4.VaMugabe nyange vakafa nhasi he will rule from the grave.
5. Kasukuwere is not going anywhere.
6. Zvamunoona ndakadai nditoriwo muKaranga pandiri pano, Chivhu yakazodimburwa ichiiswa kuMash East later.
7. Mnangawa chii, what is Mnangagwa on this earth, munhu akatopiwavo basa nemurume wangu?
8. Fanika aka kamurume kanonzi (Ray) Kaukonde ndakakamaka fani, kapedza vakadzi vevanhu kachingosekerera ende mazino akanaka.
9. Kazembe Kazembe huya pano mhanya, wanga wave kutozviona wave chairman ka?
10. I am a wife of the President. Who is Mnangagwa on this earth? Who is he? Why would I want to kill him? I want to ask, what do I get from him? I am the wife of Mugabe, but someone says I want to kill Mnangagwa, what do I want from him which I don’t have? … So what do I want from another person? Why would I want to kill him, someone who was given a job by my husband? It is nonsensical (in response to claims by then VP Mnangagwa that he was poisoned).