Many Zimbabweans wished former President Robert Mugabe well when he retired near the end of November last year, under pressure from his own political party and hoped that not only would he have a dignified retirement, but that as passions cooled the record of his own legacy would highlight the successes of his long spell in power rather than the failures, and in a long public life there must be both.
Building on the constitutional provision that a retired president was entitled to the salary of the serving president, the Government went further to ensure that the pension package of retired presidents included provision for housing, a reasonable personal staff, three quality vehicles and their running costs, adequate personal security and the like. It even arranges charter flights for the retired president to consult the medical practitioners of his choice in Singapore. Not even opposition leaders want to see a retired president living in poverty or lacking dignity.
So it now saddens many Zimbabweans that the former President seems to be attempting to rewrite history, and rewrite it in almost the exact words used by one of his ex-ministers, a bitter Twitter man who sees his own dreams of power dashed.
We all remember those tremendous events of the “10 days of November”.
Yes the Defence Forces intervened on Wednesday November 15 and, in effect, neutralised the office of the President. But they did not seize power, so there was no coup.
There were the negotiations between the generals and the President. The word on the streets was that the military wanted the President to reconcile with his former Vice President.
That deal never materialised.
Instead, the people and the President’s own party moved into the driver’s seat. On the Saturday the people marched. There must have been a degree of nervousness in military headquarters, since no one could be sure what the people would say. While the initial organisation came from the leadership of the war veterans, a group that for obvious historical reasons is pretty core Zanu-PF, it attracted many, many others. The people believed they had been led down a blind alley that was suddenly about to narrow into a darker tunnel with no escape. They behaved perfectly and in unity.
Then on the Sunday the ponderous legal processes started. Zanu-PF’s Central Committee met, replaced President Mugabe as party leader and announced it would initiate impeachment proceedings in Parliament if there was no voluntary resignation. The President in his last address to the nation that night, in which he was careful to clear the military of unconstitutional action, implied he did not take the decision seriously.
But on the Tuesday it came home to him. Ministers excused themselves from a Cabinet meeting to attend the caucus meeting discussing the impeachment proceedings. That afternoon, on a motion by a Zanu-PF backbencher and seconded by a MDC-T member, the National Assembly and the Senate met in joint session to be presented with the formal motion of impeachment. Just before that motion, the President resigned. His resignation at that stage helped preserve his own dignity; it did not change the situation. Within 48 hours the complex impeachment process would have been concluded and his office declared vacant. So President Mugabe did not resign under military pressure; he had already successfully resisted that. He resigned because his own party wanted a new leader and, joined by the opposition, had started the constitutional process that would by the Thursday have removed him from office.
Because all the legal and constitutional processes had been followed, Chief Justice Luke Malaba had no hesitation swearing in the new President on the Friday; a judge of his integrity and standing would obviously have refused to swear in a coup leader or degrade his office by acceding to unconstitutional action.
We now desperately hope that the retired President can preserve his own dignity and retain the affection of those who admire him. Already, three months down the line, passions have cooled. Everyone would be disappointed if he turned into a whining old man. Even former opponents, and their bitterness is fading fast, would like to think they opposed a real man, one who could face success and defeat with dignity.
And his admirers fervently wish that many-fold.