Zimbabwe president Mnangagwa to protect his “father, mentor, comrade-in-arms” Robert Mugabe

Former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe is unlikely to be held accountable for the numerous human rights abuses he committed during his 37-year authoritarian reign. His successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, and his military backers, won't let it happen.
Former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, 93, in power since 1980, was forced to relinquish power in November 2017 following a smart coup staged by Zimbabwe Defence Forces. Photo credit: Al Jazeera English / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Obert Madondo |  | Dec 10, 2017

Former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe, 93, is unlikely to be held accountable for the numerous genocidal atrocities committed by the Zimbabwean state during his 37-year authoritarian reign. His successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, and his military backers, won’t let it happen.

During his inauguration last month, Zimbabwe’s new president paid glowing tribute to the man he propped up through violence and election manipulation for more than there-and-half decades. Mnangagwa, 75, said of Mugabe:

To me personally, he remains a father, mentor, comrade-in-arms and my leader. We thus say thank you to him and trust that our history will grant him his proper place and accord him his deserved stature as one of the founders and leaders of our nation.

Mnangagwa’s loyalty to Mugabe should not be underestimated. He uttered the statements above even after Mugabe had tried to destroy his own political career. In early November, Mugabe fired Mnangagwa, then his vice president and heir apparent. 

Barely two weeks later, Gen. Constantino Chiwenga, the commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, staged a smart coup that forced Mugabe to resign while installing Mnangagwa as president. Mugabe had led Zimbabwe since the southern African country, formerly Rhodesia, gained independence from Britain in 1980.

Mugabe has been Mnangagwa’s “father, mentor, comrade-in-arms and my leader” for over 52 years, dating back to black Zimbabweans’ successful 1970s armed struggle against the racist regime of the late white supremacist Rhodesian prime minister Ian Douglas Smith. After independence, Mnangagwa served Mugabe in various capacities including as justice minister, defense minister, housing minister, and speaker of parliament.

Mnangagwa, 75, is one of the key architects of the atrocities committed by the Zimbabwean state during the Mugabe era. As Zimbabwe’s national security minister between 1980 and 1988, he played a leading role in Mugabe’s genocidal Gukurahundi massacres, which claimed the lives of an estimated 20,000 Ndebele-speaking minority people in Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland and Midlands provinces.

RELATED: Zimbabwe military coup: Army “targeting criminals”, not Mugabe

During the November coup, the military dropped hints that the post-Mugabe government would protect Mugabe.

First, echoing Mnangagwa’s now confirmed effort to accord Mugabe “his deserved stature as one of the founders and leaders of our nation”, the coup was dubbed “Operation Restore Legacy”.

Second, the military assured Zimbabweans through a message broadcast on the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), the state broadcaster, that its unprecedented action was not “a military takeover of government”. Rather, the statement stated, the military was only “targeting criminals” around Mugabe. The statement, read by Major Gen. Sibusiso Moyo, who is now Mnangagwa’s foreign affairs minister, said:

Firstly, we wish to assure the nation that His Excellency, The President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Head of State and Government and Commander in Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, Cde R.G 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.

Prior to the coup, the military had repeatedly violated Zimbabwe’s constitution, committed human rights abuses, suppressed democracy, and propped up Mugabe. For example, the Joint Operations Command (JOC), a powerful organ comprising the chiefs of the army, air force, intelligence services, police, and prisons service, sabotaged the 2008 presidential election. Mugabe lost the first round to Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) party. The JOC intervened and threatened to unleash violence against the opposition during a planned re-run. Fearing for the safety of his supporters, Tsvangirai pulled out of the second round, allowing Mugabe to be controversially re-elected. Mugabe eventually beat a weakened Tsvangirai during the 2013 presidential election.

The Zimbabwean military’s loyalty to Mugabe should not be underestimated. The military affirmed its commitment to Mugabe’s security less than four months after the former president had fiercely attacked the military in public and told it to “remain in the barracks“.

But the Zimbabwean military is also “looking after its own interests” here. A report released by Human Rights Watch in 2009 highlighted some of the human rights abuses committed by the security forces during the Mugabe era. According to the 62-page report, “Diamonds in the Rough: Human Rights Abuses in the Marange Diamond Fields of Zimbabwe,” the military engaged in “forced labor of children and adults”on the diamond fields of Marange district in eastern Zimbabwe. It tortured and beat local villagers. The military seized control of the diamond fields “after killing more than 200 people in Chiadzwa, a previously peaceful but impoverished part of Marange, in late October 2008.” According to the report, the military’s abuses were carried out “under the overall command” Gen. Chiwenga and Air Marshal Perence Shiri, the former commander of the Air Force of Zimbabwe.

President Mnangagwa’s first 22-member cabinet includes two senior ZDF members associated with the military coup. Retired Air Marshal Perence Shiri is now Mnangagwa’s Minister of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement. Major Gen. Sibusiso Moyo is Zimbabwe’s new foreign affairs minister. Importantly, Mnangagwa’s “new” cabinet recycled individuals who served under Mugabe, including Kembo Mohadi (Defence), Obert Mpofu (Home Affairs), Super Mandiwanzira (ICT and Cyber Security)”, and Patrick Chinamasa (Finance).

In case you missed it, Mnangagwa has already initiated efforts to accord Mugabe “his deserved stature as one of the founders and leaders of our nation”. He recently designated Feb 21st, Mugabe’s birthday, a public holiday. A proclamation issued by the Mnangagwa regime stated, “It is hereby declared that the 21st February of every year henceforth, shall be a public holiday to be known as the Robert Gabriel Mugabe National Youth Day.”

Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based blogger, activist, photographer, digital rights enthusiast, former political aide, and former international development administrator. He’s the founder and editor of these blogs: The Canadian ProgressiveZimbabwean Progressive, and Charity Files. Follow him on Twitter: @Obiemad

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Obert Madondo
Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based blogger, photographer, activist, digital rights enthusiast, former political aide, and former international development administrator. Obert is the founder and editor of The Zimbabwean Progressive and The Canadian Progressive, both of which are independent political blogs dedicated to producing fearless, evidence-based, adversarial, unapologetic, progressive and activism-oriented journalism situated right at the intersection of politics, technology and human rights. Follow Obert on Twitter: @Obiemad