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Mugabe gone but was it a coup or not?

That rather bizarre response from Mugabe – which sprung either from deep pride or perhaps incipient dementia – seemed to neutralise SADC’s attempts to intervene. Mapisa-Nqakula and Bongo had evidently come to Harare with SADC’s rulebook in their back pockets. It demands the suspension of any government that seizes power by unconstitutional means – and military coups very definitely fall into that category.

But as one South African official pertinently asked: ‘How do you say that there has been a coup when the elected head of state himself says he is still in power?’

Good question. But was that just a ruse, an excuse for Pretoria and the region to turn a blind eye to the “coup”? Some officials did admit they were happy to see the back of the ever-troublesome Mugabe. Yet they also insisted that a military coup was not the way to get rid of him because it would create a bad precedent. “What if the Mozambique or Angolan military decide to intervene in support of one side in the ruling party?” one asked pertinently.

Whatever one might think of coups in principle, one would have to concede that this one was artfully contrived and executed. With minimal bloodshed and destruction, it removed a major impediment to Zimbabwe’s development. Mnangagwa and the generals cleverly showed SADC and the world the smiling face of Operation Restore Legacy to avoid regional sanctions, while showing the ruling Zanu-PF the hard reality that power had shifted from the G40 faction to the Lacoste faction headed by Mnangagwa. The G40 faction was planning for Grace Mugabe to succeed her husband.

After that, the generals could really just sit back and watch as the Zanu-PF opportunists stampeded from G40 to Lacoste and then launched an impeachment process. It was only when that impeachment debate was already under way in Parliament that Mugabe tendered his resignation, under section 96 of the constitution.

So in the end the “coup” was given the imprimatur of a constitutional change of power. Zuma and SADC security organ chairperson and Angolan President João Lourenço, who were due in Harare on Wednesday with a SADC mandate to “to assess the situation”, cancelled their visit. There was nothing left to assess.

Operation Restore Legacy had left SADC looking even more helpless and useless than before, as a mere spectator to one of the most historical political events in the region in many years. Most Zimbabweans were happy the two presidents weren’t coming. They feel SADC abandoned them to the mercies of Mugabe for many years and only showed concern when he was being toppled. Zimbabweans feel they got rid of Mugabe on their own and want to continue going it alone from here.

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