Calgary, November 20, 20179 (GMN) - The events that took place last week in Zimbabwe will be remembered in African and global politics as the day a nation reclaimed its voice and stood up to defend its freedom from the 37-year rule of a senile, 93-year-old man.
Issuing a statement via the national broadcaster, a high-ranking Zimbabwe general said they had President Robert Mugabe and his family “safe and sound” under house arrest while defence forces targeted criminals around the president who were “committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country.” They maintain this is no coup. Zimbabweans quickly dubbed it a “Coup-not-coup.”
These remarkable events unfolded after Grace, Mugabe’s wife, hijacked her husband’s presidency and led a purge that has left casualties and division. She waltzed onto the political scene in 2014 to head the ruling party’s women’s league, holding rallies across the country where she ranted and raved. This month, Mugabe fired one of his vice-presidents — and potential successor — Emmerson Mnangagwa to further pave the way for her ascension. For many Zimbabweans, it was the final straw.
I grew up in Zimbabwe on the backdrop of a vibrant economy, thriving health care and education systems, robust mining, booming agriculture and flourishing industries. Students graduating from local universities, colleges, teaching and nursing schools were guaranteed work.
In 2000, Mugabe and his government embarked on violent land seizures, distributing land from successful white farmers to black Zimbabweans. Fair land distribution was always in the cards and formed the basis of the Lancaster Agreement when Zimbabwe obtained its independence from Britain in 1980. However, the manner in which it was carried out contributed to the deplorable state that Zimbabwe now finds itself.
By clinging to power and stealing elections through a wave of political violence, Mugabe continued to rape Zimbabweans, while the Southern African Development Community and the African Union watched. Without a currency of its own as a result of skyrocketing hyperinflation, Zimbabwe became the begging bowl of Africa.
Teachers, nurses, and graduates left in droves to neighboring countries, such as South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana. Before long, government hospitals were understaffed, had no medicine, were inadequately equipped and jobs altogether became scarce. Unemployment is pegged at over 80 percent. People’s rights and freedoms became suppressed and any form of dissent was dealt with. City councils now struggle to provide clean running water and load shedding from the electrical grid affects hospitals and what’s left of the industry. The harassment and detention of journalists and activists escalated.
Today, university graduates have been reduced to street vendors or forced into the Diaspora.
As Zimbabwe fell to her knees and the masses suffered, Mugabe and his goons amassed inexplicable wealth for themselves. Vast revenues from diamond proceeds remain unaccounted for to this day. While government hospital patients died due to lack of medicines and hospital personnel, Zimbabweans seethed at the word the despot continued to fly to Singapore for his regular health checks, commandeering a national airliner for his comfort.
The nonagenarian was warned to rein in his wife, who staged the first coup in Zimbabwe in the form of a “bedroom coup.” He should have listened. We all know the story of Troy and how it ended.
For me, this intervention reignites a hope that was lost.
Not one shop or institution has been vandalized or looted. Soldiers were fist-bumping civilians and taking selfies as people marched in a demonstration against Mugabe organized by war veterans that showed civilian solidarity towards the army’s actions. The arrested president was even able to attend a graduation ceremony and cap over 3,000 graduates without the threat of harm.
This “coup-not coup” is more peaceful than Zimbabwe elections.
So we’ll deal with what tomorrow brings at another time, preferably at the next elections and remain hopeful that the jewel of Africa will reclaim her title. For now, we marvel at how the mighty fall from grace.
Onai Petra Paswani-Abote was born in Zimbabwe and worked as a journalist there. She now works for Postmedia in Calgary.