What is Behind the Military Coup in Zimbabwe?

by Gregory Elich, CounterPunch

Long-roiling factional conflict within Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF political party exploded last week in a military coup that quickly seized control of the government and state media. The coup was led by Commander of Zimbabwe Defense Forces Constantino Chiwenga, who is closely aligned with former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Emboldened by President Robert Mugabe’s declining mental sharpness and physical health in recent years, Mnangagwa actively maneuvered to ensure that he would succeed the president. Mnangagwa served as one of Zimbabwe’s two vice presidents. From that position, he and his supporters, known as Team Lacoste, became embroiled in a bitter struggle with younger party members who coalesced around Secretary of Women’s Affairs Grace Mugabe, wife of the president, and whose group was known as Generation 40, or G40.

As early as 2015, Mnangagwa began reaching out to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to discuss plans to implement a five-year transition government, in which both men would play a leading role. The unity government would compensate and “reintegrate” dispossessed former owners of large-scale farms. Reuters obtained hundreds of internal documents from Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organization that revealed the plan. “Key aspects of the transition planning described in the documents were corroborated by interviews with political, diplomatic and intelligence sources in Zimbabwe and South Africa,” reports Reuters. The same sources left open “the possibility that the government could be unelected.” In one report, it was said that Mugabe feared that Mnangagwa would attempt to reverse land reform. [i]

According to the documents, senior military officials met with Tsvangirai, many of whom were “saying it is better to clandestinely rally behind Tsvangirai for a change.” Security officials also secretly met with Mnangagwa to discuss Mugabe. “They all agree that Mugabe is now a security threat due to his ill health.”  Not surprisingly, “four people with direct knowledge of coalition-related discussions about post-Mugabe rebuilding” indicated that Great Britain had at least peripheral involvement in discussions, and British ambassador to Zimbabwe Catriona Laing was said to favor “Mnangagwa to succeed Mugabe.” [ii]

Such behind the scenes machinations did not sit well with G40, and mutual recrimination escalated between Team Lacoste and G40 in recent months. In an explosive politburo meeting on July 19, Minister of Higher Education Jonathan Moyo played a damning video that exposed Mnangagwa’s plans. The video accused him of “working to systematically undermine President Robert Mugabe by capturing the party and state institutions.” The video also revealed that General Chiwenga was deeply involved in those plans. Audio recordings of Zimpapers journalists stated that “they are working to further VP Mnangagwa’s succession agenda and that they work closely with General Chiwenga.”  [iii]

[read more here]

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