Whither Zimbabwe?

For the last two years, I have warned that Zimbabwe was facing a perfect storm – the unique convergence of several factors, which could tear the country apart.


The eye of that storm hit Zimbabwe in mid-November and although it tore down the house of Robert Mugabe, it left remarkably little other damage.

What I did not anticipate was the level of unity within the military.

I feared that the divisions within Zanu PF were reflected in the military and that the removal of Mugabe would result in a firefight within the armed forces.

Although there was serious tension between the police and the army, the army and air force stood together causing remarkably little loss of life.

Whilst, with most Zimbabweans, I rejoiced the end of Mugabe’s ruinous tenure, I remain appalled by the illegal and unconstitutional manner in which it was done.

Aside from anything else, section 213 of the Constitution states that armed forces are only to be deployed with the authority of the President, something that clearly did not happen.

That alone made the entire exercise unlawful.

The only lawful way to remove Mugabe was to impeach him – I have argued that consistently since 2000 and ironically it was only the real threat of impeachment that eventually caused him to resign.

Many Zimbabweans were so delighted by Mugabe’s removal that they were willing to overlook the coup, and some even praised the military for what they did.

Some have even criticised those of us who complained about the illegality, saying that we were purists and out of touch with the need to remove the biggest evil, namely Mugabe.

However, it is not the main purpose of this opinion to argue why the coup was wrong.

Let me rather quote the words of the great philosopher, John Locke who wrote in 1690 that ”wherever law ends, tyranny begins”.

Tyranny, not Mugabe, was our greatest evil, and the breach of our laws and Constitution has merely entrenched and perpetuated tyranny.

If there is any doubt about this, one needs only to consider the composition of the new Cabinet.

Since 2008, Mugabe was in essence a fig leaf – the thin veneer of a civilian ruler over a military regime.

The military engineered both his runoff election “victory” in June 2008 and 2013.

That fig leaf has now been removed and the inclusion of three military officers in the Cabinet is confirmation of where the real power lies.

Zanu PF apologists point to the fact that United States President Donald Trump has several ex-military officers in his Cabinet – the difference is that none of those officers played any role in Trump’s election; whereas in Zimbabwe, President Emmerson Mnangagwa owes his new role to the very same officers he has appointed to Cabinet.

Former army generals, Constantino Chiwenga delivered the army, Perrance Shiri the air force and Sibusisio Moyo had the guts to be the public face of the coup.

Without their actions, Mnangagwa would still be in exile, and would certainly not be President now.

Mnangagwa is beholden to these men, whereas the ex-military officers in Trump’s administration hold their offices solely at Trump’s pleasure.

President E.D Mnangagwa

The appointment of Chiwenga as Vice-President and putting him in charge of the Defence ministry demonstrates where the real power lies.

In making this appointment, Mnangagwa has breached the Constitution – section 215 states clearly that the President “must appoint a minister of Defence”.

Section 203 states that a Vice-President “may not hold any other office”.

In other words, Mnangagwa is obliged to appoint a substantive Defence minister and cannot appoint someone who simply oversees the ministry.

Mugabe stretched the meaning of the Constitution to appoint Mnangagwa as Vice-President and the person who oversaw the Justice ministry, because there is no constitutional obligation for a President to appoint a Justice minister.

But there is no ambiguity in the Constitution regarding the Defence ministry.

So Mnangagwa finds himself between a rock and a hard place – he could not politically appoint Chiwenga to the position of a mere Defence minister or a Vice-President without any real power, and yet he cannot lawfully appoint Chiwenga to be both Vice-President and the person in charge of the military.

So he has decided just to brazenly ignore the Constitution.

There is a further political footnote to this move; in making this appointment, Mnangagwa has stripped ex-Zapu member, Kembo Mohadi of the Defence and Security ministry role (a powerful position) and made him a weak Vice-President with responsibility for national healing.

Put simply, this is the illegal concentration of enormous power in the hands of Chiwenga.

Having risked so much to remove Mugabe, the architects of the coup are not then going to be prepared to relinquish that power lightly.

These are the same men who organised the military to brutalise the opposition in 2008 and who cunningly organised the electoral fraud in 2013.

Accordingly, for all the platitudes about holding free, fair and credible elections, it is unlikely that will happen, unless Mnangagwa himself determines otherwise.

This is all the more so given the current political environment.

For all the wave of goodwill seen since mid-November towards Mnangagwa from the middle class and business sector, it remains to be seen whether that translates into votes in certain key constituencies.

Despite all the electoral violence and fraud in 2008 and 2013, Mugabe’s Presidential victory still needed the core support he got from the highly populated regions of Mashonaland Central, West and East provinces.

In addition, because of his historical stature, Mugabe enjoyed a modicum of support in Matabeleland South and North provinces.

Without that support, it would have been difficult for Mugabe to win even with the violence and fraud.

Mnangagwa, on the other hand, can only be assured of grassroots support on a similar scale to Mugabe in Midlands and Masvingo.

While unprincipled politicians within Zanu PF changed their loyalties overnight from Mugabe to Mnangagwa, the same will not automatically happen amongst diehard Mugabe supporters; rural men and women, who have supported Mugabe for 40 years and who do not understand why he has been treated in the way he has may not shift their support to Mnangagwa.

It is significant that the mass demonstrations of November 18 were only held in Harare and Bulawayo, both MDC strongholds.

There was no such outpouring of joy in most rural areas.

And therein lies Mnangagwa’s problem.

In addition, there is also no doubt that some G40 leaders and supporters will be actively campaigning against Mnanagwa in those areas.

Compounding the problem for Mnangagwa will be the attitude of rural voters in Matabeleland South and North.

Mnangagwa, Shiri and Chiwenga were even more directly involved in the crimes against humanity perpetrated against civilians in Matabeleland between 1983 and 1987 (known as the Gukurahundi) than Mugabe himself.

Mugabe used all his political cunning and his position to distance himself from Gukurahundi at the time.

However, Mnangagwa was minister in charge of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) at the time, and made damning statements in affected areas.

Shiri was commander of the Fifth Brigade, and Chiwenga, then known as Dominic Chinenge, was commander of 1 Brigade based in Bulawayo, which provided nearly all the logistical support to the Fifth Brigade.

As a result, they are all part of the folklore of Matabeleland.

Some may complain that raising this issue is an attempt to stir up old wounds.

That is not the intention – it is simply stating a political fact, which is hard for people outside of Matabeleland to understand.

These three men (who are all now in Cabinet), even more so than Mugabe himself, are held responsible for what happened, and people have not forgotten.

The Unity Accord itself is dead for all practical purposes.

Although Mohadi is ex-Zapu, he is now in a very weak position and there isn’t a single other ex-Zapu leader of any consequence in Cabinet.

Mohadi’s effective demotion from the powerful position of Defence and Security minister to a Vice-President responsible for National Reconciliation has sent an unequivocal message about the state of the Unity Accord.

Against this is the opportunity provided to Mnangagwa by the disarray in the opposition, which has left many of the opposition’s traditional supporters, namely urban workers and the professional and business community, disillusioned and more inclined to support Mnangagwa than they did Mugabe.

There is no doubt that Mnangagwa’s pledge to tackle corruption, make government more efficient, repeal certain legislation such as the Indigenisation Act, has struck a chord among many, who historically have supported the MDC.

There is also no doubt that many Zimbabweans are afflicted by the Stockholm syndrome – they have been held captive for so long by Mugabe and the Zanu PF regime that they have fallen prey to the condition that causes hostages to develop a psychological alliance with their captors as a survival strategy during captivity.

People have been so delighted to see the back of Mugabe, that they have embraced the very people, who have kept Mugabe in power for so long, and who have been the willing executors and beneficiaries of Mugabe’s violence, corruption and abuse of law for decades.

However, despite this, Mnangagwa remains in a honeymoon period and it will be difficult for him to deliver on his promises in the short time left before the election.

To secure the votes of urban working class people, he has to convince them that he is serious about tackling corruption and cutting back on government expenditure.

In that regard, he has already failed in two key respects.

His retention of a few extremely corrupt Cabinet ministers, one in particular whose name I will not mention because of our defamation laws, but whose identity and deeds are widely known, has given the lie to his promise to tackle corruption.

Most people are of the opinion that the arrest of certain ex-Cabinet ministers on corruption charges has more to do with settling factional scores than genuinely tackling corruption.

Secondly, his pledge to pay civil servants’ bonuses, while popular with civil servants, means that the chances of restoring the economy are greatly lessened.

Unemployed people and most people employed in the private sector did not receive bonuses last year and the payment of bonuses sends a powerful message to urban workers that this new government isn’t serious about cutting back on government expenditure.

These problems place Mnangagwa in the ultimate Catch 22.

As I have stated before, Mnangagwa’s greatest strength is that he understands economics better than Mugabe ever did.

Because of this, he understands that unless he is able to attract foreign investment, he will not be able to deliver on his promises, particularly to urban workers and the business sector.

Foreign investment will come if he can project Zimbabwe as a stable country where investments will be protected, and key to that is the holding of free and fair elections.

He also desperately needs to hold free and fair elections so that he can restore his own legitimacy; for all the hoopla, the fact remains that he came to power on the back of a coup.

However, if Mnangagwa holds free and fair elections, it will be extraordinarily difficult for him to garner the 50% +1 he needs to win the presidential election.

If he does not achieve that, he then faces the prospect of standing in the runoff election against the one opposition presidential candidate, who gets the most votes among all the various opposition presidential candidates, who stand in the first round.

That will be an unattractive prospect because this constitutional provision will force the opposition to put aside their petty differences and rally around one candidate.

That will result in a formidable convergence of political opinion – if those in the Mashonaland rural areas, unhappy with the way Mugabe and the G40 have been treated and others unhappy with the way Mujuru has been treated, join hands with traditional opposition voters, diehard MDC supporters, supporters of Nkosana Moyo, the people of Matabeleland and others, it will be well nigh impossible for Mnangagwa to win a free and fair election.

That will then place him with the dilemma of choosing between bludgeoning his way to power, and in the process undermining his attempts to attract foreign investment; or being prepared to allow a smooth transfer of power to an opposition candidate.

In all the circumstances Mnangagwa, has a unique opportunity in the coming months to choose between becoming one of Africa’s greatest statesmen or just another tyrant.

He has to choose whether he wants to be a Gorbachev or a Milosevic.

If he chooses the former as his role model, then he faces the possibility of losing power but of going down in history as a man prepared to put Zimbabwe ahead of his personal interests.

Somewhat paradoxically, if he chooses this route, he may well make his path to actual electoral victory easier because he will be able to exploit the undoubted amount of goodwill shown towards him by many and convert it into real votes.

However, if he chooses to be a Milosevic, he may retain raw power but destroy his legacy and any prospects Zimbabwe has to recover in the short term.

I am praying that Mnangagwa chooses to be inspired by Gorbachev.

David Coltart is a lawyer, former senator and Education minister

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  1. Well said Senator.


  2. Vachingovukura Vachingovukura!

    Coltart is nothing but an incorrigible Selous Scout who will never rest on his laurels till the whites have taken over the country. How can he say Mnangagwa was worse than Mugabe in the emotive Gukurahundi issue? Wasn’t Mugabe the progenitors of Gukurahundi? Surely the YouTube is awash with videos of Mugabe threatening to unleash terror in Matebeleland. In one of the videos, Mugabe barked: ” We have treated them with kid gloves all along and we are going to crush them!” For Coltart to say most rural areas did not celebrate Mugabe:s demise, is not only far fetched but is an outright liar by the pathological Rhodesian liar. It is high time Coltart tells us about Smith’s atrocities during the liberation struggle.

  3. Very clear and straight to the point. Let’s call a spade a spade and make no apologies for doing so….the next 12 months will reveal it all.

  4. More comprehensively, David Coltart is a lawyer, former Selous scout, senator and Education minister

  5. Undoubtedly and premising on his past record in the political and military arenas, Ed’s going to choose the Milosevic route. So we’ll stay in the mud!!

  6. Love him or hate him, Coltart’s views are spot on regarding the militarisation of the State by Mnangagwa. In the US, it is only former soldiers who are appointed to political positions after having served with distinction in wars like WW1, WW2, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq etc. True most US Presidents appoint former military officers to their Cabinets, not what transpired here as it is ED rewarding the ‘boys’ for a job well done, not the US scenario. I have often argued on this platform form that when Zimbabweans celebrated Mugabe’s demise, ‘Takapembedza gona nerinobata mai’ because it is the military who will rule this country for the next four decades with Chiwenga, Shiri, Sibusiso Moyo and even Valerio Sibanda taking turns to become Presidents after Mnangagwa. Di you honestly see the military acceding to an electoral defeat by the opposition if it so happened? Let’s just wait and see.

  7. David Coltart is largely a sensible man. However, he has a weakness of selectively deploying and exaggerating history while being conveniently silent on other truths. Do you really believe yourself when you say this Mr Coltart:”Tyranny, not Mugabe, was our greatest evil”?

  8. “That will then place him with the dilemma of choosing between bludgeoning his way to power, …… or being prepared to allow a smooth transfer of power to an opposition candidate.”

    Coltart in this assessment misses one more likely alternative – even before any run off is necessary: manipulation of the results, something that seemed inevitable the moment Zanu PF (then under Mugabe) declared they were all set for elections tied to BVR. They clearly already had a plan to take care of their unpopularity – as in 2013.

    Finally, although we would all welcome a Gorbachev-like experience, that seems like pie in the sky, given the history of our own man, someone apparently prepared to wait 37 years for one particular job (who even does that?) Someone who never featured in any of the known attempts to reform Zanu PF from within by other (mostly now ejected) members. Lets not even start on the current deputy, who awaits his turn….

  9. That was the truth.Coltard is a straight forward man. There is no need to label him a selous scout what ever one may want to say. What i can say is the Commander in Chief of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces Robert Mugabe is the one who signed and allowed Fifth brigade to go and kill people in Matebeleland. Even if Mnangagwa is not perfect what we wanted was a new person to sit on the chair of the President not the Mugabe Family. The head was Mugabe not Mnangagwa. So the only challenge is that of putting the Evestment policy into paper, stop corruption, retire some of his useless cabinet ministers inheritted from Mugabe and start afresh without bias from the army.

  10. What are you talking about again Coltart upping the game of licking but using hidden language i am not deceived.

  11. I hope Mr D.Coltart also condemn the atrocities committed by Smith and Lieutenant General George Peter Walls who was directing the bombing in 1979 of villages in Chivi South where I lost school mates and relatives. They got of scot free. This happened only 4 years before Gukurahundi

  12. There is no need to debate who is more guilty. Guilt is just that, guilt. While Coltart will not mention the corrupt one in the cabinet there in no need to expressely indicate what needs do be done to deal with the national guilt in all its manifestations.Might can even appear right. In the longrun it will not win.

  13. “That will then place him with the dilemma of choosing between bludgeoning his way to power, …… or being prepared to allow a smooth transfer of power to an opposition candidate.”
    Coltart in this assessment misses one more likely alternative – even before any run-off is necessary: namely manipulation of the results, something that seemed inevitable the moment Zanu PF (then under Mugabe) declared they were all set for elections tied to BVR. They clearly already had a plan to take care of their unpopularity – as in 2013.
    Finally, although we would all welcome a Gorbachev-like experience, that seems like pie in the sky, given the history of our own man, someone apparently prepared to wait 37 years for one particular job (who even does that?) Someone who never featured in any of the known attempts to reform Zanu PF from within by other (mostly now ejected) members. Lets not even start discussing the current deputy, who awaits his turn…..

  14. Tawanda Mpambwa

    While it is a good pastime to write academic pieces like David Coltart has done, the truth is that ED and crew did us a favour by removing the person of Robert Mugabe and company for their impunity and desire to create a Dynasty over the people of Zimbabwe.Can you imagine what could have been hapenning right now if Grace had succeeded in her shenanigans? Where could we be? Lets be serious guys the new (ED ministration) needs to be given a chance and i believe they will achieve definitely with our support, i mean all Zimbabweans. The way the majority were united in demanding that Mugabe must Go IS THE SAME UNITY we need to have going forward in supporting ED. I am happy that Coltart acknowledged that ED knows economics better than Mugabe. This is very true because ED has always been a businessman while Mugabe is (was) more of a Teacher and Theorist hence did not have business acumen. Mugabe knew everything and so you could not tell him anything as he would have any answer to any problem and this is what killed the country. Munangagwa is prepared to listen to good advice hence his engaging of the various stakeholders for inputs. Bob did not do this, any veneer of consultation was in fact him telling the people what he wanted done, never the other way round. ED has done wonders in the few weeks he has been in charge, never wanting to be hero worshipped while bringing a new work ethic in the country. Munoda munhu akaita sei? Ngatisupportei Shumba.. definitely we will reach our own Canaan. We don’t want Prophets of Doom. Mugabe was the problem and now that he is gone i pray that comrade ED should try and correct all the wrongs that the former President did. Pamberi nokusevenzera a New Zimbabwe!

  15. Comment…look at this bafoon calling himself tawanda trying to relagate a teacher into a nonity when the so called business acumen yu pride yourself with came directly from the teacher. I think you are not only shock headed but shambling and ackward, mke your contributions and leave teachers alone

  16. Lizwi Lapha Ntuli

    Thank you Mr. Coltart. The truth is very bitter to some people

  17. Mnangagwa need not be Gorbachev nor Milosevic. The situations are totally different and not even comparable. The ZANU PF election machinery is intact while the opposition is in disarray. What has the opposition done since 2013 to improve its chances of winning the election? Zero. There is simply no evidence that die hard ZANU PF supporters are shifting camp or apathetic. There is also no evidence that Mugabe was more popular than any politician in the Matebeleland provinces. I simply do not know of anyone who is as hated as Mugabe in those provinces.
    There are a few reasons why I believe that Mnangagwa will win outright.
    1. Organizationally, ZANU PF is far ahead of the opposition in terms of election preparedness.
    2.Mnagagwa has basically snatched the thunder from the opposition palm. The opposition has no coherent message to run on right now.
    3. Anyone who does not see the optimism prevailing in the country is either blind or just chooses to be in denial. Hope sells, and at the moment Mnangagwa is in a better position to peddle hope than the opposition.
    4. Mnangagwa can actually expand the ZANU PF support base. There is a lot of goodwill towards Mnangagwa, and many people who were anti Mugabe but not pro MDC are more than willing to give him a chance.
    5. In the end it will be and has always been a game of numbers; and the numbers clearly favor Mnangagwa.
    6. Who will stand against Mnangagwa? Is it Tsvangirai? Is he marketable to the electorate? Even die hard MDC supporters doubt his health, stamina and acumen. Will someone else stand as the opposition leader? Who has the gravitas and appeal among his subordinates?
    It is advantage ED and ZANU PF. The opposition has a lot of catching up to do.

  18. Spot on IHezvo! Those r the true facts

  19. Hope has been sold to the electorate before and govt performance has NOT matched that hope so based on this point, it becomes difficult to predict future success based on hope. It is implementation that voters will and are yearning for. Frankly, I think most voters want everyone to exercise their vote freely without threats, coercion, intimidation, assaults, murders etc so that the winner will not be disputed. Changing electoral laws to align them to the constitution is one of the expected outcomes BEFORE the elections. So is fair balanced debate on State Media and free access to all the constituencies by all participating parties and of course, effective non-partisan policing. In fact, FDI is on hold pending evaluation of these crucial aspects. Then there is the “honesty” test. This time the biometric system ensures single voting per person. But in such a secret voting system, with all OBSTACLES to fair campaigning out of the way, it becomes VERY difficult to predict voting patterns….but will all the parties and individuals accept and respect the result. It all depends on the political honesty of all the participants in taking the right actions starting from now.

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