A few days after declaring he was removed from power in an illegal coup, Zimbabwe’s former dictator Robert Mugabe expressed a desire to meet with his successor, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, to help him “return to legitimacy.”
Mnangagwa indicated his willingness to meet with Mugabe at roughly the same moment, which is either a coincidence (as New Zimbabwe would have it) or evidence that the two are choreographing some sort of reconciliation.
“I don’t hate Mnangagwa and I want to work with him. But he must be proper to be where he is. He is illegal,” Mugabe said on Thursday. “We must undo this disgrace we have imposed on ourselves. We don’t deserve it. Zimbabwe does not deserve it. We must be constitutional. We have our Constitution and must obey it.”
“I am willing to discuss and I am willing to assist in that process but I must be invited properly. Currently, I am isolated,” the 94-year-old retired tyrant added.
The cynical view of Mugabe’s remarks is that he wants to negotiate an even more lavish severance package than the one he was given, and he is letting Mnangagwa know he is still influential enough to cause plenty of trouble if he does not get it.
A hint in that direction comes from Mugabe implausibly declaring himself broke and living in poverty on Monday, even though he was literally sitting in a mansion when he said it. Mnangagwa’s administration claims that billions of dollars left the country during Mugabe’s reign remain unaccounted for.
Alternately, Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party could be nudging him back into the spotlight in a bid to reclaim its own influence. Zanu-PF leaders say they are considering stripping Mugabe of his party membership “in the fullness of time,” which could arrive a lot sooner if Mnangagwa plays ball with party leaders.
For his part, Mnangagwa said he was willing to meet with Mugabe and nearly did so on the occasion of Mugabe’s birthday, but could not make time because he was busy with affairs of state.
Mnangagwa said that he has “much respect for the former president” and denied he was pushing rumors linking Mugabe to subversive organizations, even though he did exactly that at a meeting of the Zanu-PF youth league less than two weeks ago. He insinuated the Zimbabwean media was unpatriotic for playing up his schism with Mugabe and trying to start a political war.
Responding to Mugabe’s allegations of an illegal coup, Mnangagwa defended his right to “express himself freely as is the case for any private citizen,” but advised Mugabe to accept that Zimbabwe has moved on, and insisted his own political focus is on the 2018 election.
Some members of Mnangagwa’s administration seem especially eager to move on.
“I can’t see how an order which is allegedly unconstitutional gets cleansed by a meeting of two individuals over a cup of coffee,” presidential spokesman George Charamba scoffed.
Charamba effectively challenged Mugabe to put up or shut up, saying his challenge to Mnangagwa’s legitimacy is “really an issue that he should take to the courts for them to determine.”