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.
The news that Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace were among the million people (including 22 ‘world leaders’) who thronged St Peter's Square for the beatification of the late Pope John Paul II lends a piquant note to what was already a gothic occasion. Their presence was not, in itself, surprising: Mugabe tends to remember he is a Catholic whenever it is convenient – as in the case of his marriage to Grace, celebrated in a Catholic high mass in Harare, although they had by then already had two children. More recently, however, the main point has been to evade the EU's targeted sanctions and thus provide Grace (widely known as ‘Dis-Grace’) with opportunities for her extravagant shopping trips. The Mugabes were in Rome in 2005 for John Paul II's funeral, and again in 2008 and 2009 for UN food conferences – they get a free pass from the Vatican and from the UN, of which Zimbabwe is still a member.