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Zimbabwe Scenarios . . . And What About The Army?

Two of our foremost Zimbabwe experts answer your most pressing questions about events north of the border.

21/11/2017 13:27 SAST | Updated 21/11/2017 13:28 SAST
Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters

Professor Anthoni van Nieuwkerk from Wits University and analyst Liesl Louw-Vaudran from the Institute of Security Studies are two of our foremost experts on Zimbabwean politics. Van Nieuwkerk believes we should "forget about a miracle solution" in that country, while Louw-Vaudran thinks the Zimbabwe Defence Force (ZDF) has painted itself into a corner with its move on President Robert Mugabe.

Scenario 1

MPs from both sides of the aisle in the Zimbabwean National Assembly work together to start impeachment proceedings according to the letter of the law. This option will take weeks, maybe months, to conclude.

Scenario 2

MPs, emboldened by public support and calls for Mugabe's removal (and inspired by Mugabe's own flouting of the rule of law), push through the immediate dismissal of the aged president without following the exact tenets of the law.

If the impeachment process goes ahead, how does it work?

It could take months to conclude, and even then Mugabe can conceivably resort to the country's courts and the judges he appointed to make a final decision. The National Assembly will first have to pass a motion of no-confidence, following which a parliamentary committee is appointed to investigate Mugabe's fitness for office. Only then will the committee's findings be put to a vote in a joint sitting of the Assembly and Senate.

Will the ZDF intervene?

The ZDF is in a quandary. The generals set the process in motion but will now have to step back if it wants to remain legitimate and retain the support of bodies like the African Union and the Southern African Development Community. These organisations don't want to go back to the 1960s where bloody and violent coups were commonplace. They will have to intervene if events veer in that direction. But the ZDF is not only holding the figurative gun to Mugabe's head -- they're also cleaning up behind them.

What is Mugabe's plan?

He wants to manipulate events as far and for as long as he can. He is aiming to preside over Zanu-PF's congress in December, where he might again try to ensure that his chosen successor is elected leader. He also knows where the generals have buried the bodies, he knows what they've stolen and whose blood they have on their hands.

Is he planning to make an exit?

Mugabe might look old, but he's far from a spent force. He still has advisors and henchmen surrounding him, and he knows the system and the dynamics. He will be stalling and frustrating the process, exploiting divisions between the different factions while ensuring safe passage for his family and his loot. There is a lot at play for everyone involved.

Can the genie be put back in the bottle?

It is highly unlikely. Previously Zimbabweans were simply too scared to go out into the streets to protest. That has changed. The whole dynamic of the situation has changed. There is enormous expectation of change in the air, with people pouring out onto the streets, with the army and the police no longer acting as violent enforcers. There is enormous external and internal pressure for Mugabe to leave and political leaders to effect change. Zimbabweans are tired of being unable to afford buying basic foodstuffs.

Are they over-optimistic?

Zimbabweans might be a little too enthusiastic, and in many quarters there is a certain naivety about the process and pace of change. It is way too early to predict with any certainty what is going to happen. There is a lot of emotion on the streets, and an "Arab Spring" is in the air. People have renewed hope, they are clamouring for change.

Could this be another false start?

We have seen sudden transitions from one-party authoritarianism to an open society, like in Romania with Nicolai Ceasescu's regime. But we've also seen, as with Egypt, that dictators are merely replaced with generals. Even in South Africa's case it took four years after FW de Klerk's speech to get to a point where we had a semblance of democracy. We should scale down our hopes for a Zimbabwean miracle.