President Robert Mugabe’s endgame in Zimbabwe holds various lessons for his South African counterpart, Jacob Zuma, as the latter too, considers his prospects towards the end of his presidency.
The first, obviously, is that while, from the pinnacle of power, a country’s president may feel the monarch of all he can survey, it is always possible that the blade of the guillotine is just around the corner.
Accordingly, it is always prudent to keep at least two bags packed for a hasty exit: one full of suit, shirts, underwear and socks, another full of foreign currency (preferably dollars or Euros).
You just never know how things might pan out, so it is best to be prepared.
Following the almost-coup, Mugabe has been in a stronger position than many African dictators before him because the African Union has in recent years become a lover of democracy and a hater of coups.
It therefore now demands that changes of leadership must have at least a veneer of constitutionality.
This has always been the Zimbabwean military’s weak point during this past week of flirting with political power.
Hence its insistence that, despite its take-over of the airwaves, State House and parliament, alongside its house-arrest of the president and his family, its actions are not a coup.
In turn, this has provided Mugabe with a considerable degree of wriggle room, which he has sought to exploit to the full.
Indeed, it has remained his key bargaining chip, not least because the African Union does not want to be seen as party to the overthrow of a hero of African liberation.
Zuma will feel confident that whereas in Zimbabwe the army has long been deeply involved in the ruling party’s internal affairs and the wider political arena, the South African National Defence Force is not an explicit political actor.
He stands in no fear of a military coup (or even a Zimbabwe-style non-coup). Yet he does have to worry about what happens within his political party, the African National Congress (ANC).
Even if his favoured candidate, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, were to win the party leadership at the ANC’s December congress, Zuma’s continuing as South African President might be seen as a political embarrassment.
If strong contender Cyril Ramaphosa wins, even more urgent calls will be made from within the ANC for the him to be “recalled” because he will be viewed as an electoral liability.
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