The End of Mugabe’s Rule: A Timeline of How Recent Events Unfolded in Zimbabwe

Political Posturing

The events that have taken place since Tuesday 14th November, have been momentous. In the space of a few weeks, we have witnessed one of the most peaceful coups with minimal violence, which led to the resignation of Zimbabwe’s only president; a man who held onto power for 37 years. Leading up to the coup, a lot of political posturing had been taking place behind the scenes.

In early September, more than two months before the coup took place, Reuters published a special report. It was based on leaked intelligence documents from Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organization (CIO), and explained how senior figures such as Emmerson Mnangagwa were positioning themselves for a future after Mugabe. According to Reuters, Emmerson Mnangagwa planned to lead a transitional government with the opposition party’s Morgan Tsvangirai.

This is significant, because Zanu PF and the MDC are not natural bedfellows, despite the fact that they have shared power in the past. So the idea that both sides were willingly considering to work together is a positive sign.

Background to the Coup

The ruling Zanu PF party was effectively comprised of two factions. One was led by Emmerson Mnangagwa, nicknamed ‘the crocodile’, who has been beside Mugabe for decades. The other was led by Mugabe’s wife, Grace, and had the support of the Zanu PF youth league. There has been intense rivalry between Grace and Mnangagwa as they vied to succeed Robert Mugabe. In August this year, Mnangagwa alleges that Grace Mugabe tried to poison him, and that he had to be airlifted to neighbouring South Africa for treatment.

Then on the 6th November, Mugabe made the decision that ultimately led to his downfall, when he fired Emmerson Mnangagwa as Vice President, paving the way for Grace to succeed him. Mnangagwa fled the country and days later released a statement, which in hindsight appears very prophetic:

“You (Mugabe) and your cohorts will, instead, leave Zanu PF by the will of the people and this, we will do in the coming few weeks as Zimbabweans… As I leave this post (VP) for now, I encourage all loyal members of the party to remain in the party, to register to vote, as we will, very soon, control the levers of power in our beautiful party and country. Let not your hearts be troubled for peace, love, unity, development and prosperity are around the corner. I will be communicating with you soon and shall return to Zimbabwe to lead you.”

Mugabe took no heed of these warnings and began purging Mnangagwa’s supporters from within the ruling Zanu PF party. This angered General Constantino Chiwenga, who is leader of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF). On Monday 13th November, General Chiwenga held a press conference, where he said that:

“The current purging, which is clearly targeting members of the party with a liberation background, must stop forthwith… We must remind those behind the current treacherous shenanigans that when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in.”

While we had no idea at the time, this was a precursor to the coup. However, there may have been more going on behind the scenes than we realised. On the eve of the coup, General Chiwenga, was in China speaking to his military counterparts. The timing of this meeting raises questions about whether the Chinese played a role, or at least ‘sanctioned’ the coup. This matters because China has been a staunch investor in Zimbabwe and had forged strong ties with Mugabe.

The Coup

Below is a fairly concise timeline of some of the events that took place in Zimbabwe. Given the role that social media played in keeping people informed, I have incorporated some key tweets throughout.

Monday 6th November

Robert Mugabe sacks vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa, paving the way for Grace Mugabe to succeed him and one day become president of Zimbabwe.

Wednesday 8th & Thursday 9th November

Emmerson Mnangagwa flees Zimbabwe, fearing for his safety. He releases a statement saying that he will return to lead Zimbabwe in the coming weeks. This is a big threat to Mugabe, as Mnangagwa has significant backing within the ruling party.

Monday 13th November

General Chiwenga warns that if Mugabe doesn’t stop the purge of Mnangagwa’s supporters, then the military could be forced to step in.

Tuesday 14th November

Reports begin to emerge of tanks on the outskirts of the capital city Harare.

Throughout the day more military movement is seen throughout the country, with most reports suggesting that these forces are heading towards Harare.

However, it didn’t sound like all was going well. Thomson Reuters Foundation reported that one of the tanks heading for Harare came off its tracks.

Despite the military presence, business still carried on as usual in the capital. At this point, commentators and analysts didn’t know why the tanks were there, who ordered them or who they were protecting. Rumours swirl on social media and in the press about what exactly is going on in Zimbabwe.

As the night draws on, Zanu PF labels the army chief’s actions as treason. This is the first indication we have that the tanks may not be there to protect Mugabe.

Throughout the day, there have been rumours and counter-rumours that the state broadcaster ZBC has been taken over by the military. The usual 11pm news doesn’t take place prompting further speculation about what might be happening at ZBC.

Reports surface that three blasts have been heard in the capital, along with gunfire in the northern suburbs.

This is followed by confirmation that the ZBC has fallen into military hands.

Wednesday 15th November

The army statement is broadcast on ZBC news.

Full statement from ZDF.

The military say that Mugabe and his family are safe, and that they are only targeting criminals around him.

Emmerson Mnangagwa supposedly returns to Zimbabwe from exile in South Africa. If he is allowed such free movement, then does this imply that the South African government was quietly allowing the coup to take place?

Police are kept off the streets by the army.

Rumours begin to surface about where Grace Mugabe might be.

What we know for certain is that Mugabe is ‘confined’ to his house.

Zuma announces that he has spoken to Mugabe.

SADC release a media statement.

The Zanu PF youth leader apologises to the army. The jersey/sweater he is wearing turns into a national symbol that people associate with apologies, and it gains the title of an ‘apolojersey’.

Finance minister reportedly found with $10 million in his house.

Thursday 16th November

Mugabe says only the party can remove him.

Speculation mounts that this coup had been planned for some time.

Pictures emerge of Mugabe with General Chiwenga and mediators.

Not your traditional coup…

Whatever happens, these events can’t be undone now.

Challenge faced by SADC.

The thoughts and feelings of Zimbabweans summed up by Trevor Ncube…

…And by Fadzayi Mahere. A petition is set-up asking SADC to stay out of affairs in Zimbabwe.

Meanwhile, the AU says they can’t accept a coup.

Friday 17th November

Bizarrely Mugabe is allowed to officiate at a university graduation ceremony… in the middle of a coup.

A coup can cause fatigue and tiredness…

Zanu PF threatens to fire Mugabe and impeach him.

Plans for a protest are announced for the very next day (Saturday 18th), calling for Mugabe to go.

Police grant clearance for the protest.

A day many people thought they would never see — Zanu PF openly denouncing Mugabe and encouraging the public to attend protests the next day.

Botswana’s President, Ian Khama calls for Mugabe to step down.

Saturday 18th November

Massive protests take place in Zimbabwe. The people can finally speak their mind and express their emotions.

Protests also take place around the world.

The people of Zimbabwe showing their respect to the military for taking on Mugabe.

Sunday 19th November

Is Zimbabwe the only country where violence goes down when the police are off the streets?

Statistics from the march.

This is what Mugabe was doing as protestors filled the streets on Saturday.

Zanu PF officially sacks Mugabe as President of the party.

Mugabe is given until 12pm on Monday to resign as President of Zimbabwe, otherwise he faces impeachment.

Excitement builds when we hear that ZBC is heading for State House.

It’s expected that Mugabe will resign in his speech.

The army insists on reading Mugabe’s speech before he addresses the nation.

Zimbabweans and the world hold their breath.

During the speech, Mugabe stumbles over his words and gets pages mixed up. He receives some assistance from General Chiwenga.

Mugabe fails to resign as the world anticipated, instead saying that he will preside over the Zanu PF conference in December. This is despite the fact that earlier in the day he was removed as leader of Zanu PF.

Reactions to Mugabe’s speech.

Monday 20th November

After his failure to resign last night, impeachment is the next stage for Mugabe.

University of Zimbabwe students protest and refuse to sit exams. They are calling for Mugabe to go and also protesting about Grace Mugabe, who was awarded a PhD after just 3 months (whereas most people take around 3–4 years to complete this degree).

Rumours continue that Mugabe may have swapped his speech last night.

Hopes of a unity transition government between Zanu PF and MDC appear to be dashed, when Zanu PF say they don’t need help from the opposition party.

This is why reading the tabloids is a bad idea.

Tuesday 21st November

Mugabe calls for a cabinet meeting, but few ministers turn up.

Zimbabwe Parliament begins proceedings to impeach Mugabe.

History is made, when Mugabe resigns after 37 years in charge of Zimbabwe.

The resignation letter.

Reactions to Mugabe resigning.

Wednesday 22nd November

Mnangagwa arrives back in the country officially.

But not before meeting with Jacob Zuma.

It is announced that Emmerson Mnangagwa will be sworn in as president on Friday 24th November.

That awkward moment when the AU offer you praise, but fail to mention the coup that they weren’t able to accept a week earlier.

Where will all those pictures of Mugabe go?

A week can feel like a long time in politics…

Thursday 23rd November

Mugabe granted immunity from prosecution.

Friday 24th November

Emmerson Mnangagwa is sworn in as President of Zimbabwe.

My profound thanks to all those who’ve provided excellent updates and analysis over the past few weeks.

The Future

Zimbabwe’s new president has a notorious background and was closely involved in many atrocities over the past few decades. That being said, I still feel hopeful for Zimbabwe. Not only are Zimbabweans some of the most resilient people you will meet, but those living in the diaspora have picked up a wealth of skills and knowledge. With the right leadership and policies in place, there could be a flood of Zimbabweans returning to their homeland who are ready to rebuild the nation. It will be a difficult path, but if the politicians are serious about rebuilding the country and back this up with concrete actions, I think it could happen a lot quicker than many people anticipate.

With hope for a free and prosperous Zimbabwe.

About the Author

I’m a Freelance Writer, Blogger and Journalist who was born in Zimbabwe. I’m available for writing commentary and analysis pieces on the developing situation in the country. For more information about me, please visit my website: ryanmizzen.com