94-year-old dictator Robert Mugabe returned to the spotlight on Thursday, four months after he was removed from the office he held for four decades.
Despite an extravagant exit package that guaranteed Mugabe a lifetime of luxury in exchange for his graceful departure, he bitterly criticized the “coup” that swept him from power, denounced his successor Emmerson Mnangagwa as a “disgrace,” and suggested his ouster should be reversed.
Speaking to South Africa’s SABC, Mugabe said his reign ended with a “coup d’etat,” even though “some people have refused to call it a coup d’etat.”
“We must undo this disgrace which we have imposed on ourselves, we don’t deserve it … Zimbabwe doesn’t deserve it,” he said.
Mugabe said Mnangagwa “betrayed the whole nation” by replacing him, denouncing the Mnangagwa presidency as “illegal” and “unconstitutional.”
“People must be chosen in government in a proper way. I’m willing to discuss, willing to assist in that process but I must be invited,” he said, hinting that he plans to play a role in the August elections, which will present Mnangagwa’s first test at the ballot box.
In another interview, Mugabe claimed he personally had no ambition to return to power, presumably envisioning a role for himself as power broker or kingmaker instead. “I don’t want to be president, no, of course. I’m now 94,” he insisted.
The BBC’s analysis stresses the importance of unpacking what Mugabe meant when he said, “We must undo this disgrace.” It is tempting to dismiss him as a bitter old man getting in a few last licks at those who overthrew him after decades of tyrannical misrule, thwarting his ambition to either die in office as a legendary ruler or retire after installing a handpicked successor such as his wife Grace.
The BBC found a few Zimbabweans who were not happy to see Mugabe resurface, denouncing him as a “cruel old dictator seeking public sympathy” and the man who “destroyed our lives” and “murdered thousands.” Critics were not happy to see the old monster pop up on foreign television to lob political bombs into Zimbabwe’s turbulent politics—a bubbling cauldron of resentments, vendettas, and power plays that Robert Mugabe has no business stirring.
On the other hand, Reuters notes that Mugabe still gets a lot of attention when he speaks up, he and his wife seem to retain some political influence, and there is a growing sense of disenchantment with Mnangagwa’s administration. “People pretend that they don’t like the old man but the moment he opens his mouth they all want to hear what he is saying. Look, the newspapers are almost sold out,” a magazine vendor remarked.
“The situation has not changed since they removed Mugabe. If anything, we are worse off. (Mugabe) is 100 percent right that this was a military coup, that this country has been turned into a military state—and that this has to be undone,” a Zimbabwean businessman told the UK Guardian.
It might seem unlikely that Zimbabweans would turn for sage advice to the man who utterly destroyed their nation with crackpot Marxism, turning it from the breadbasket of Africa to starvation and poverty, enriching himself and his allies while the national economy became the punchline in a hideous joke. Mugabe had an answer for that in his interview, saying, “My errors weren’t that bad.”
Mugabe has thrown his weight behind a new political party called the National Patriotic Front that presents itself as a youth movement determined to end Mnangagwa’s illegal seizure of power. He probably could not win an election, but he might be able to ensure Mnangagwa loses, or maybe stir things up enough to make sure everyone loses.