By: Ibbo Mandaza
All the same, the 2002 election and its immediate aftermath appeared to have dented Mugabe’s confidence and, as will be discussed shortly, this might have caused him to consider an exit plan by the end of that year; most of his politburo members — especially the likes of Solomon Mujuru, Dumiso Dabengwa and Zvobgo — had not been enthusiastic about his bid for re-election, leaving him to rely for his election campaign on the likes of Jonathan Moyo and other young turks who had been appointed to cabinet after the 2000 general elections.
Also, according to some sources, former presidents of Nigeria and South Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo and Thabo Mbeki respectively, acknowledged Mugabe had lost the election and, it is said, he had quietly mandated Mbeki to manage his safe exit and help search for a successor from among the Zanu PF leadership, with Simba Makoni featuring strongly in 2002-2003 till Joice Mujuru’s election as vice-resident in 2004.
By January 2003, the military leadership in Harare had almost succeeded in organising a safe exit for Mugabe, with a little help from the Western capitals.
This refers to a story broken in the Sunday Mirror, of which I was publisher, on January 12 2003, a subject which received a more detailed analysis by Blessing-Miles Tendi in the Journal of Southern African Studies in December 2013.
Through the services of a former Rhodesian soldier, Colonel Lionel Dyke and his business associates like General Vitalis Zvinavashe sought to establish a power- sharing government to be headed by the then Speaker of parliament, Mnangagwa, with Tsvangirai as one of the presidents.
My enquiries at the time also revealed that Dabengwa had been approached with an offer to be the other vice-president, but he declined.
The plan, according to Dyke’s own confession to Tendi, was designed to address the “crisis of political legitimacy alongside deepening economic decline”, following the disputed March 2002 election:
“I said to Zvinavashe that the solution was to give Mugabe a chance to retire properly. ‘What if I get permission from the international community for Zimbabwe’s constitution to be changed to allow Mugabe to handpick a successor?’, I said to Zvinavashe.
Zvinavashe said if I can do it, I should do it. So I went around speaking to the (British) Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the American Assistant Secretary for Africa Walter Kansteiner.
It was interesting, talking to the Brits and Americans, that they were quite happy for Zanu PF to continue in power for as long as Mugabe was not there.
I kept relaying my dealings with the Brits and Americans to Zvinavashe. Rex (Nhongo or Solomon Mujuru) knew what we were up to. He was thrilled with the plan for Mugabe to leave office, but cold on Mnangagwa. Rex and Mnangagwa were not cosy.’’
Tsvangirai refused to be part of what he described as a “dirty plan” designed to “legitimise the rogue regime”.
Both Zvinavashe and Mnangagwa denied involvement once the story hit the headlines. Mugabe described the Zvinavashe-Dyke exit plan as “foolhardy” and “counter-revolutionary”.
Yet, could such a plan have gone that far without Mugabe’s consent, let alone knowledge of it? There is more than meets the eye here: some suggest that the plan might have carried the day were it not for Solomon Mujuru’s opposition to it.
Certainly, it was Solomon Mujuru who leaked the story to the Sunday Mirror and might have also leveraged on Tsvangirai to jettison what appeared a done deal.
And, so, with Solomon Mujuru now out of the way, would it be possible for Mnangagwa to emerge finally as the successor? Or, as some cynics are suggesting, could there be a link between the demise of Solomon Mujuru in 2011 and the political misfortunes of his widow in 2014?