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Zimbabwe

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South Africa

A passer-by in the upscale Johannesburg suburb of Saxonwold observed, the South African Police would never have raided the enormous, high-walled compound of the Gupta family if President Jacob Zuma were not on the brink of being removed. But early Wednesday morning, the police did exactly that.

The Guptas, three Indian immigrant brothers who became extremely rich due to their close partnership with Zuma, used to be untouchable. They were accused of ‘state capture’ in the media, but they were safe because of their alliance with Zuma. He did very nicely out of the deal too.

All that’s over now. One of the Gupta brothers was arrested in the raid, and the other two cannot be far behind. It was a signal to Zuma that the gloves were coming off, and fifteen hours later he was gone. He had clung desperately to the presidency since the African National Congress (ANC) voted him out as its leader in December, but on Wednesday evening he resigned “with immediate effect”.

Jacob Zuma joined the ANC, the country’s main liberation movement, in 1959, and had an illustrious career. He served ten years’ imprisonment on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela, fled abroad in 1975, and became chief of the ANC’s Intelligence Department during the 1980s.

A man who served as his chief of staff in those years, a white South African now living abroad who has no reason to seek Zuma’s approval, told me recently that he was a brilliant strategist. He had admired Zuma greatly, he said, and like many others he was as much puzzled as dismayed by what Zuma became during his later years. After the decades of
sacrifice and dedication, it has been a tragic fall from grace.

Technically, Zuma still had a year left in his second term as president, but the ANC wanted him out now because he was blighting the party’s chances of winning next year’s election. Friendly hints and subtle pressures were not shifting him, so on Tuesday the ANC’s newly elected National Executive Committee ordered him to resign from the state presidency.

Zuma was still telling various media that he would refuse to quit until late afternoon on Wednesday, although it was clear that there was no way he could win. The state president is elected by parliament, not by a popular vote, and parliament can also remove him by a non-confidence vote. The ANC has a majority in parliament, and such a vote was already scheduled for the 22nd.

Why did he hang on so long if he was bound to lose in the end? Probably because he was hoping to negotiate some sort of amnesty deal in return for going quietly. But that’s a hard thing to do in South Africa, as the government does not control the courts.

Until recently Zuma’s exit plan involved getting his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chosen to succeed him as ANC president. She would then protect him from the many corruption charges that awaited him after he left the state presidency, at least in theory. But the ANC elected Cyril Ramaphosa as its president instead.

After that, Zuma’s only hope, if he wants to stay in South Africa after leaving office – which he clearly does – was an amnesty deal. But if the ANC is to rebuild its credibility with the voters there must be no amnesty, and Ramaphosa has said publicly that it is not on the cards. That is probably true.

In any case, it’s over now. Ramaphosa, a former trade union leader who became a very rich businessman, will probably take over the state presidency only briefly now, choosing some other ANC worthy to serve out the last year of Zuma’s term. He would prefer to be elected state president next year in his right. But in fact he will already be running the show behind the scenes, and much will be expected of him.

South Africa’s economy has stagnated during Zuma’s nine-year reign, in large part because both foreigners and local people were reluctant to invest in a country whose government had become so corrupt. There needs to be a massive cleansing exercise within the ANC, and it needs to start now if the results are to be visible before the election.

Zuma may stay to face the music – or, more likely, he will move abroad and live in the $25 million palace that the Guptas reportedly bought for him in Dubai. (He has categorically denied owning any property abroad himself, but the denial was carefully phrased.)

The ANC has fallen a long way from its glory days, but it is a legitimate and democratic political party that still commands the loyalty of many, perhaps most South Africans. Now that Zuma has finally quit, Ramaphosa, a competent and by all accounts an honest man, can get started on rebuilding the party’s reputation.

If he succeeds, the ANC could still win next year’s election and another five years in power. Whether that is the best thing for South Africa, given that the ANC has already been in power for a quarter-century, is another question.

Zimbabwe: Good Luck, Grace

“Someone, anyone, with close links, please make sure Uncle Bob reads the correct speech … Old man reads the 2013 inauguration speech and we’re in kak for another 5 years,” tweeted Mubaiwa Bandambira just before Zimbabwe’s beleaguered president, Robert Mugabe, went on television with what was supposed to be his resignation speech. After all, Mugabe is 93 years old, and he has read the wrong speech before.

He did it again, but it was not a mistake. With the generals who intervened last week to remove him from power ranged in chairs behind him, Mugabe stumbled and bumbled through a 20-minute speech in which he made no mention of resignation. No doubt his resignation was a key part of the speech they had agreed he would make, but he skipped those pages.

The Old Man is clearly delusional. He vowed to preside over next month’s congress of the ruling Zanu-PF party, although it has just fired him after 42 years as its leader. He ignored its threat to begin impeachment proceedings if he does not resign the presidency within 24 hours. And his wife Grace, who was being positioned to succeed him as president but has now been expelled from Zanu-PF, is just as out of touch with reality.

It was Grace who persuaded Robert Mugabe to sack two vice-presidents in a row in order to take the job herself. This is what triggered the army’s intervention, because her second victim, Emmerson Mnangagwa, is an extremely powerful politician with close connections to the military. He had expected to succeed Mugabe when the old man finally died, and he took his dismissal personally.

Mnangagwa went into exile in Mozambique for a week, but then the army intervened on his behalf and the current crisis erupted. The generals hoped that they could get Mugabe to resign voluntarily, because they could then pretend that their action was not a military coup.

That was important, because the African Union no longer tolerates military coups in its member states and might even intervene against the generals. But Mugabe has tricked them, using his live television speech to declare that he plans to stay in power – and the soldiers are bound to conclude that it was Grace who put him up to it. She probably did.

Ten days ago, not knowing what was to come, I wrote a piece about Grace Mugabe and her ambition to take the presidency when Robert Mugabe finally dies. But she is hated in the party and deeply unpopular with Zimbabweans in general because of her greed and arrogance, and I ended the article by saying: “Once he dies, she will be lucky to get out alive.”

For a moment there, when the army intervened last week, I thought she might escape that fate. Uncle Bob would be offered a dignified exit from power, she would be excluded from the succession, and they would both go off to a comfortable retirement in Singapore or some other city where they already own very comfortable homes.

Well, that’s not going to happen. She has encouraged the old man to deceive the generals and cling to power, which wrecks their plans for a semi-constitutional transfer of power that doesn’t look like a coup. He will still be ejected from power, but no longer with dignity. They won’t kill him, because he is a hero from the time of the liberation struggle, but she is in mortal danger.

Emmerson Mnangagwa is now back in Zimbabwe, and will shortly be the president. He is known as “the crocodile”, and he has no reason to protect Grace Mugabe. Her best hope is exile, but she had better take the exit soon. And what Zimbabwe will get is not an end of the dictatorship, but just a new dictator.

What is happening in Zimbabwe is not a popular revolution but a power struggle inside the ruling Zanu-PF party, and Mnangagwa is no democrat. He is a brutal political operator who directed the massacre of at least 20,000 people in the early 1980s, when the Ndebele people of southwestern Zimbabwe resisted the takeover of the whole country by Mugabe’s party.

Mnangagwa was also in charge of the military intervention in the 2008 election, in which so many civilians were assaulted, imprisoned or killed that the opposition leader withdrew his candidacy to save lives even though he had beaten Mugabe in the first round. Zimbabwe has always held elections, but there has never been any doubt about the result.

The Zimbabweans are celebrating Mugabe’s impending departure in the streets now, but there is no cause to believe that things will now get better for them. The same elite that has looted the country and run its economy into the ground will still be in power, led by a man more ruthless and violent than Mugabe.

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 6 and 12. (“That..did”; and “Mnangagwa…result”)

DisGrace

Grace Mugabe, second wife of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, had a moment of awful clarity about her future three years ago. Speaking about Joice Mujuru, the woman who was then vice-president and the elderly president’s likely successor, she said: “She has been telling people that once Mugabe is gone…she will drag me in the streets, with people laughing while my flesh sticks to the tarmac.”

It’s doubtful that Mujuru said any such thing, but it was very revealing about Grace Mugabe’s fears. So she had a word with her husband, and Joice Mujuru was no longer vice-president. She was replaced by Emmerson Mnangagwa, who served as Mugabe’s special assistant during the liberation war of the 1970s and had been close to him ever since.

Mnangagwa survived an attempted poisoning in August, but now he is gone too. People began to see him as the heir apparent, so on Sunday Grace Mugabe told a rally in Harare “The snake must be hit on the head. We must deal with the real snake behind the factions and discord in the party.”

On Monday, Mnangagwa was fired in an official statement that accused him of “traits of disloyalty.” It was almost verbatim the same statement that was issued when Joice Mujuru was dismissed in 2014 – and it is expected that Grace Mugabe will be appointed vice-president herself at a special congress of the ruling Zanu-PF party next month.

It looks like ambition run amok, but it’s actually more complicated than that. She is rich and powerful at the moment, but as Zimbabwean journalist Andy Moyse pointed out a couple of years ago: “She’s going to be terribly exposed once (Robert Mugabe) is gone because there’s no political structure to save her. She’s trying to entrench her position and her assets.”

Grace Marufu was a 20-year-old typist at State House in Harare when Robert Mugabe, 44 years her senior, started to take an interest in her. She was already married to her childhood sweetheart, an air force pilot, but one thing led to another and she had her first child with Mugabe as his wife lay dying of kidney failure. She later divorced her husband, and in 1996 she became Zimbabwe’s ‘First Lady’ by marrying Mugabe.

For the next 18 years she took no visible interest in politics, but her frequent and expensive shopping trips abroad – she allegedly once spent $120,000 in a single day in Paris, and she was spotted in the business class lounge at Singapore airport with fifteen trolleys full of purchases – made her deeply unpopular with the Zimbabwean public. She was known as the ‘First Shopper’, or ‘Gucci Grace’, or just ‘DisGrace’.

And then, three years ago, everything changed. It was probably just Mugabe’s advancing age that made her realise how vulnerable she would be after he died: he’s in pretty good shape for 93, but he clearly isn’t going to be around much longer. So she suddenly plunged into politics.

She had her husband make her the head of the powerful women’s league of the ruling Zanu-PF party, she was awarded a PhD in sociology by the University of Zimbabwe in the record time of two months (no thesis has ever surfaced), and Dr. Grace Mugabe started traveling around the country holding rallies that became known as the ‘Graceland Tour’.

All the senior members of Zanu-PF are quite rich, but she is probably the richest of all, so she has resources to buy allies. She has the Old Man wrapped around her finger, and he holds absolute power for as long as he stays alive and alert. In only three years she has shoved aside all the other contenders for the succession.

“They say I want to be president,” she said. “Why not? Am I not Zimbabwean?” And president she will be after Robert Mugabe dies – at least for a week or two. But she has made a lot of enemies in the party, and she has no real popular support.

She will probably have a couple of years to build a political machine of her own, because Mugabe is planning to run for president again next year, and will of course win. But he would be 99 years old when his next term expires, and he is likely to expire himself well before that.

Grace Mugabe is literally a bare-knuckle fighter. In 2002 she beat up a journalist who offended her using a “knuckle-duster of diamond rings”, as one report put it. Just this September she assaulted a young South African “model” whom she caught visiting her grown sons, who are both living the high life in Johannesburg. She won’t go down easily – but she almost certainly will go down.

It was not Grace Mugabe who turned Zimbabwe into an economic wreck so extreme that most people’s main source of income is remittances from the fifth of the Zimbabwean population that has fled to South Africa or Botswana. Her husband is really to blame for this human disaster, but her extravagant spending makes her a target for the resentment too.

Once he dies, she will be lucky to get out alive.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 12 and 13. (“She…down”)

Count Dracula and the WHO

It was a bit like appointing Count Dracula as the goodwill ambassador for the blood donor service.

Truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction has to be plausible. Reality is under no such constraint, and regularly produces events that would never be credible in a novel. Like the decision last Thursday to appoint Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe as the World Health Organisation’s goodwill ambassador.

The newly elected head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said he hoped that the Zimbabwean president would “influence his peers in the region” to devote more effort to health care, but Mugabe doesn’t really have much by way of peers.

Mugabe, in power since 1980, is effectively president-for-life, whereas all the neighbouring countries except Angola are more or less functional democracies. All of them, again except Angola, provide better healthcare to their citizens than Zimbabwe. Not good, but significantly better.

In Zimbabwe, heathcare improved significantly in the first twenty years of Mugabe’s rule, as did the economy in general. He built clinics, hospitals and schools, and Zimbabweans became one of the healthiest, best educated, and most prosperous populations in Africa. But then it all went wrong.

After a referendum in 2000 rejected a new constitution designed to strengthen Mugabe’s grip on power, he became increasingly paranoid and authoritarian. The sole purpose of government became hanging on to power at any cost (to others), so favoured cronies in the ruling party and the military were allowed to loot the economy – which duly collapsed..

By now, in fact, there is hardly any Zimbabwean economy left beyond subsistence agriculture. Unemployment has soared to 75 percent or higher, and the schools and hospitals have fallen apart. Adult life expectancy has plunged from 61 years to 45, and state-run hospitals and clinics frequently run out of even basic medicines like painkillers and antibiotics.

Mugabe has presided over this catastrophe for seventeen years now, insisting all the while that all is well. At the World Economic Forum on Africa in Durban last May, he claimed that “Zimbabwe is one of the most highly developed countries in Africa.” He is planning to run for re-election as president next year at the age of 94, and nobody dares to defy him.

He will win, of course, after the usual number of opposition activists has been beaten up, jailed or murdered – if he lasts that long, but he is beginning to show serious signs of wear. In fact, Mugabe has made three “medical visits” to Singapore for treatment this year.

Why Singapore? The presidential spokesperson, George Charamba, says that it’s a problem with Mugabe’s eyes, which would helpfully explain away the fact that he frequently appears to fall asleep at public meetings. (He’s just resting his eyes, really.) He needs a foreign specialist for that, but for everything else, Charamba claims, Mugabe goes to a Zimbabwean doctor – who is, he assures everybody, a “very, very, very black physician”.

There are very good Zimbabwean doctors, of course, but most of them, frustrated at the lack of medical supplies, have long since left the country for greener pastures. And it does seem unlikely that it’s an eye problem that has caused Mugabe to make three “medical visits” to Singapore this year. It’s probably something more serious, and Mugabe just doesn’t trust his own health service to deal with it.

How did the new head of WHO hit upon the idea of making this man, of all people, the organisation’s “goodwill ambassador” for Africa? He and his advisers must have discussed it in various meetings for weeks before announcing it. Did nobody ever bother to point out that it would be a public relations disaster? “Special ambassadors” don’t have to do very much, but their choice does shine a light on the judgement and integrity of those who choose them.

In the event, the public outcry about the choice of Mugabe was so instant and widespread that within three days his appointment was cancelled. Mugabe had been the head of the African union when the organsation endorsed Tedros as the sole African candidate for the WHO job, and no doubt Tedros felt some obligation to return the favour, but the organisation’s financial support comes from elsewhere.

So it’s just politics as usual. The WHO’s reputation will eventually recover, but healthcare in Zimbabwe won’t as long as Mugabe is alive. And the world will continue to rotate in an easterly direction.
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To shorten to 700 words, omit paragraph 5. (“In Zimbabwe…wrong”)