A portrait of lost power

2017-11-19 05:58
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GALLERY: Zimbabweans march against Mugabe

Blacks, whites, young and the old have come together in Harare to send a message to President Robert Mugabe that he "must go". Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years.

On November 14 1997, the Zimbabwean dollar crashed spectacularly, losing more than 70% of its value against the US dollar. Investors panicked and fled the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange. More than 46% of the country’s stock market value was wiped out in one day.

The day came to be known as Black Friday and was immortalised in grief-stricken annual newspaper columns.

Black Friday set off an economic depression so devastating that hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans turned their backs on their relatives and the country of their birth in search of new lives in South Africa, Britain and Botswana.

On Tuesday, on the 20th anniversary of Black Friday, Harare’s residents watched in astonishment as tanks and soldiers, armed with Uzis and semi-automatic rifles, marched into the capital. The military positioned the tanks outside strategic buildings including the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe on Samora Machel Avenue, President Robert Mugabe’s office down the street, and Parliament on the corner of Kwame Nkrumah and 3rd Street.

On Wednesday morning, Zimbabweans woke to the news that the military, under General Constantino Chiwenga, had seized the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and placed Mugabe under house arrest, pressing him to step down. A coup had been staged. At the time of writing, Mugabe had agreed, in principle, to step down, but his departure terms were still being thrashed out.

The end of an era

Mugabe has smashed many records: north of 93, he is the world’s oldest serving president and the second longest serving in Africa, after Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who came to power a year before him. Mugabe is both liberator and villain, having won every election since 1980, legitimately or not.

He entrenched himself as a dictator when he lost the 2008 election to Morgan Tsvangirai but refused to step down, forcing the Southern African Development Community to implement a power sharing deal through a government of national unity.

Mugabe had no plans to retire. He has said he would like to be in office “until I hit a century”.

He is famous for his dislike of the West and white people in general. In 1999 he said: “The only white man you can trust is a dead white man. Our party must continue to strike fear in the heart of the white man, our real enemy.”


He has taken aim at celebrated statesmen including Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama. Of Obama he once said: “I’ve just concluded that, since President Obama endorses the same-sex marriage, advocates homosexual people and enjoys an attractive countenance, thus if it becomes necessary, I shall travel to Washington, DC, get down on my knees and ask his hand.”

In 2013, he stunned the world when he said: “Mandela has gone a bit too far in doing good to non-black communities. That is being too saintly, too good, too much of a saint.”

The casualties

On Black Friday, Andrew Rwodzi was a carefree 14-year-old teenager growing up in Chitungwiza, a sprawling township about 30km outside Harare. The day would have a profound effect on his life.

After graduating with a BCom from the National University of Science and Technology, Rwodzi landed a job at Regal Insurance as an underwriter.

“Regal employed me in 2004, and I was doing well, my man. They paid me about $1 500 (about R21 000) per month and I reported to the general manager. I was going places. I had bought a VW Polo and rented a flat for $250 in Chitungwiza.”

He also got a marketing diploma from the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

But for Rwodzi and most Zimbabweans, life turned upside down towards the end of 2008. Hyperinflation hit 79 600 000 000% that November, creating a country of poor billionaires. Pensioners lost their life savings and companies collapsed. There were crippling fuel shortages, and supermarkets and other stores ran out of basic goods.

“Suddenly, the economy started collapsing. You would work the entire month, only to find that your salary could only buy one loaf of bread. I quit. We queued for up to three hours just to buy a loaf of bread. Some of those queues were as long as 300 metres,” Rwodzi recalled.

Almost a decade later, Rwodzi, now 34 and married with two children, lives in a rented back room in Harare’s new township, Southlea Park. He survives by selling sweets, airtime and cigarettes downtown.

Zimbabwe’s political events have filled him with renewed hope.

“I think everybody is happy. We were all waiting for somebody with courage to do what the soldiers did. They have liberated us for the second time. I think Tuesday should be declared independence day,” he said.

Definitely a coup

Speaking from his offices in Milton Park, Harare, former finance minister Tendai Biti, who left the Movement for Democratic Change and formed the Opposition People’s Democratic Party, said what happened in Zimbabwe was a coup.

“Once you see a soldier on national TV disturbing normal programming and once you see soldiers in town, you must know it is a coup. Civil servants are working, but the attitude is that of disengagement.”

The problem, he said, was that while the army was in control, Mugabe had not been defeated.

“The idea that Mugabe will give up power is nonsense. Power is all he knows. You cut his veins, no blood will come out, only power will flow out. It is now a blinking game and we don’t know who will blink first between him and the army.”

The army kept Mugabe in power “as long as he toed their line. He thought he was in charge, but they have shown him that they are in charge.”

Biti said he hoped the coup was not orchestrated to benefit Emmerson Mnangagwa, the country’s vice-president, whom Mugabe deposed from government and Zanu-PF two weeks ago.

“If that is the case, we will be creating another Mugabe,” he said.

Read more on:    robert mugabe  |  zimbabwe  |  coup

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