Robert Mugabe is gone, Zimbabweans are on the streets. Emmerson Mnangagwa, the vice president sacked by Mugabe three weeks ago, has been quiet during this very Zimbabwean coup d'état, biding his time and watching his back by retreating to South Africa. Today he flew in to Harare, having issued a lofty statement which announces that the new era – ‘in its full glory’ (we look forward to that) – ‘is not a job for Zanu PF alone but for all people of Zimbabwe’. Music to the ears of the downtrodden. In the past, food aid has been distributed first, and sometimes only, to hungry people holding a ZANU party card. Mnangagwa will be sworn in tomorrow. The transition is peaceful so far, and Mnangagwa is plausible. So far.
On 4 November, Grace Mugabe announced that she could see no problem with her succeeding her husband as president of Zimbabwe. ‘What if I get in?’ she said. ‘What’s wrong with that?’ Then Robert Mugabe fired the vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, the last of his long-term allies. That wasn’t wise. Mnangagwa, one of the original freedom fighters from the 1960s, is deeply embedded in the army and Zimbabwe’s security structures. He had been planning to succeed Mugabe himself.
For the last three months I’ve been in Johannesburg helping to curate an exhibition of photographs at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, part of the Mandela Foundation. On the Frontline looks back over the difficult years, from 1975 to the early 1990s, when South Africa’s neighbours gave their support to the liberation movements in South Africa – both the ANC and the Pan-Africanist Congress – and the South-West Africa People’s Organisation, in return for harsh treatment by the apartheid regime. Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia and other leaders acted on the conviction that their newly won freedom was illusory until apartheid was a thing of the past.