mckenzie zimbabwe
New reality on Zimbabwe streets after apparent coup
02:08 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Former finance minister: Mugabe 'won't go down without a fight'

Opposition leader appeals for election but says transitional government is 'way off'

Harare, Zimbabwe CNN  — 

In a country that has known only one leader since independence in 1980, the very idea that Zimbabwe could be seeing a change of guard at the top has people here wondering what change even means.

Newspaper headlines like “Mugabe under house arrest” and “Transitional govt planned… as Mugabe is cornered” litter lampposts and street corners across the capital. Although Robert Mugabe is yet to resign, Zimbabwean Defense Forces (ZDF) are effectively in charge of the country right now, making any political future difficult to decipher.

Former finance minister Tindai Biti says he has known Mugabe long enough to know he “won’t go down without a fight. It’s only over when it’s over.”

But should Mugabe go quietly and announce his resignation from office, the man believed to be in pole position to succeed him is Emmerson Mnangagwa, the former vice president whose firing by Mugabe stirred up this latest seismic political shift.

Before his abrupt dismissal last week, Mnangagwa chaired the government’s Joint Operation Command, an umbrella organization that governs all of the state security apparatus: the intelligence services, army, air force and police. It is doubtful the ZDF’s move to put the aging Mugabe under house arrest was done without Mnangagwa’s knowledge.

Even with a growing youth population, the liberation of the late 1970s is still at the center of the ruling ZANU-PF’s ideology, and political power has traditionally rested with leaders who fought for an independent Zimbabwe – and Mnangagwa is widely seen to have that pedigree.

But not to be dismissed is the longtime leader of the main opposition party, Morgan Tsvangirai, who is back in Harare and speaking out. The leader of the Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T) told CNN’s David McKenzie that a change of government can’t be forced “by any means other than by the ballot box.” And although there is much talk around a transitional government, Tsvangirai tells CNN the actual formation of such a government is “way off.”

Chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement, Zimbabwean Prime minister Robert Mugabe, delivers a speech, on August 29, 1986, at the International centre of Harare, before the 8th non-aligned summit. / AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER JOE        (Photo credit should read ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images)
How Zimbabwe's Mugabe came to power (2017)
04:56 - Source: CNN

Grace Mugabe, for her part, has had one of the most meteoric rises to the center of power. It’s been gradual and orchestrated, and largely sanctioned by her husband. But for all her political ladder-climbing in the past three years, the First Lady is unlikely to be part of any new government. Tendai Biti puts it more bluntly: “No absolutely not, she is illegitimate. She can’t lose what she never had – all she had was a husband.”

For the time being, this country’s political future remains in the army’s hands – the same army at pains to convince people here and around the world that this is not a military coup. They’re aware that labeling it as such would force both the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union to intervene, which is not what the army wants.

“Once you call it a coup, you have committed a crime,” says Biti, explaining why the military simply won’t go there. He is however is in no doubt of what it is: “If it walks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck, it squeaks like a duck, it is a duck.”

So where does Zimbabwe go from here?

“Nobody knows where this is going” – this from a man who knows the ins and outs of this high-stakes game. “The issue is not about any individual – it’s about the country as a whole. We need to get to an election.”