Now that the smoke of the gunfire has drifted away and the caked gore has been hosed down the drain, it’s worth asking what the Zimbabwe coup was all about and what it meant.
Zimbabwe was always going to have a hard time going it alone. It’s a small country with a small economy, and trying to punch above its weight in diplomatic and military terms, while superficially easy in the tiny pool of SADC, meant making big, powerful enemies elsewhere such as Britain, which could, with the help of its EU friends and the US, make things very bad for Zimbabwe, especially since the British were trying to install a puppet government in Harare in the meantime.
And so they did. Zimbabwe’s government floundered; it was able to use its control of the state machinery to head off the puppet government, but at the cost both of delegitimising itself and of damaging the economy through the informal but devastating financial sanctions which Zimbabwe faced until the global economic crisis made such sanctions unnecessary to enforce. The attempt by Mbeki to broker an interim government to bring political peace to the country was successful on its own terms, but was completely pointless because since neither the potential puppet nor ZANU had any idea of how to sort out Zimbabwe’s problems and nobody had either the money or the will to do this.
As a result, Zimbabwe was a de facto one-party state, but the party had no real programme or policy. It also had no competitors and no challenges except the steady deterioration of the national polity and economy. So, inevitably, it became corrupt. As its leader grew older and more infirm, the elite increasingly partied in the ruins of what had been a potential dynamo for southern Africa.
In which case, the leader naturally could not trust his party to do what was right. So, naturally, he chose a successor from outside — namely, his girlfriend and subsequent wife. Of course nobody liked her; they wouldn’t have liked her even had she been likeable. However, the governing party had been so hollowed out, so stripped of any political meaning other than greed for cash and desire for comfort, that when the leader spoke, who were they to stop him? Anyway, was there any real reason, under these circumstances, why any person was better than any other person to be leader?
Of course there was — plunder. And the most effective plundering force was the army, which had gained immense financial interests in what remained of the Zimbabwean economy. And their man in ZANU was Emmerson Mnangagwa, long seen as the heir apparent before Mugabe changed his mind. With him in the Presidency, the military could look forward to a looting spree, at least for a little while longer. So, when Mnangagwa decided to organise a coup, he had no trouble finding allies. His only problem was that he had plenty of competitors who were willing to betray him, so that his plot was discovered and he was ignominiously removed from power. However, Mugabe failed to act against the army, as he would certainly have done in his heyday, and thus the army was able to reverse the political decision by main force. First Mnangagwa prepared the way by fleeing the country under the pretense of being in danger, and then, the pretext having been established, the tanks (actually, mostly armoured personnel carriers) could roll in.
The coup itself was characterised by surrealism on all sides. A general proclaims that his armed seizure of political power from an elected government is not a coup. Thereafter, the South African press (after an initial period of uncertainty, presumably while they were waiting to hear what the opinion of their handlers in London and Washington was) launched enthusiastic support for undemocratic seizure of power, having spent years warning everyone prepared to listen about the clear and present danger of the ANC undemocratically seizing power. This reached the point at which verious members of the South African press, plugging into the propaganda of the NATO countries, were proclaiming that the only problem thrown up by the “not-coup” was that the beastly President Mugabe was brutally refusing to tear up the Zimbabwean constitution which he was sworn to defend. Again, given that our press have devoted decades to telling us how blind obedience to the constitution is the only sign of true democratic values, there might have seemed to be something slightly amiss with this.
Surreal, yes, but also strangely inevitable how it worked out. Of course people turned out in their numbers to demand the installation of the new dictator — it is advisable to do so when troops are pointing guns at you, and when your employers tell you to go or else. The tens of thousands who materialised became hundreds of thousands in the local media, and eventually millions in the articles of those journalists whose white mentors have never bothered to tell them how to lie convincingly. No doubt some people believed all this stuff, just as some people believed in the staged toppling of Saddam Hussein’s status.
But it didn’t matter. A shit sandwich was being imposed instead of another shit sandwich, and the Zimbabwean people had no choice but to eat it. Since one shit sandwich is much like another, what difference does it make? Of course, the claim, of course made by the generals and the winning team of Zimbabwean politicians but also, pathetically, made by the local right-wing media, that This Must Be A Zimbabwean Solution, was itself shit — bullshit. Zimbabweans were not consulted; only generals and to a lesser extent the ZANU party bosses had any say in the matter. Those who believed that the Zimbabwean people had defeated a dictator and would now be free to decide their own destiny were boobs, and would get the ethical and humanitarian treatment customarily reserved for deluded boobs.
Obviously, the current situation benefits the people who have been trying to get ZANU out for their own purposes. It seems that the coup was not simply something engineered by foreigners — indeed, the usual British suspects, such as the Guardian and the BBC, seem to have been caught flatfooted, suggesting that the Secret Intelligence Service and their operators in the Foreign Office had not told their journalist helpers what to say — which in turn suggests that the SIS hadn’t exactly been told what was going to happen, or the where and when, though it is widely assumed that Britain, China and South Africa, at least, must have been given some hints by the Mnangagwa faction.
Still, the fallout from the coup is beneficial for some. The conspicuous failure of the AU to condemn the coup, for instance, is an indication of how completely that organisation has fallen under the control of the West (and hence a reminder that while Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma may be a better option than Cyril Ramaphosa, she isn’t going to save us from imperialism). The ineffectual huffing and puffing of SADC is less significant, but it’s interesting how stridently and enthusiastically the imperialist propaganda machines have been attacking it and proclaiming that Zimbabwe’s political integrity must be safeguarded against Southern African interference (for which read: only NATO countries are allowed to interfere anywhere, as in the Black Sea and the South China Sea, not to mention the West African train-smash).
In any case, now that it’s over, Mnangagwa and his generals are a far less homogeneous bunch than Mugabe and his cadres. They are much less likely to refuse to do what they are told by foreign bosses. The MDC will be greatly invigorated, although this does not mean that they are going to get anywhere in the election scheduled for next March — by all accounts Mnangagwa is not a man inclined to share power with others, and he is ultimately in charge of counting the votes. Still, he will have to do something to show that he is different from Mugabe and pretend to attract investment (which will not come, since it barely exists any more and there is very little to invest in).
He has already promised to pay compensation to everyone who lost farms during the land invasions early in the century — compensation which he does not possess, of course, so he is lying, but it’s the thought that counts. Perhaps he is hoping to do a deal with Britain under which they will furnish the cash and he can channel it towards the elderly white farmers — after taking a substantial cut, of course. (Dream on, Emmerson; Theresa May has spent all the dosh on an unseaworthy aircraft carrier without aircraft, and even if she had the dosh she isn’t going to give it to a crowd of un-English darkies half-way across the world.)
Many Zimbabweans are happy. Who can blame them? They haven’t had much to be happy or proud about for some time, unless you count the virtual pride which arises from the empty but truthful phrases which Mugabe used to spout. Now they can pretend, against all logic and evidence, that the future will be bright and better things can happen.
In the long run, Zimbabwe will be recolonised in some way, even if only by gradual deterioration into a failed state, as a ghastly example of what happens to those who dare to challenge the colonial powers. Unless, of course, The People Rise Up In Their Majesty And Demand Justice, as various yammerers like Patrick Bond pretend. Which is likely to happen on the second Tuesday following the resurrection of the dead by the Archangel Gibreel.