The factional struggle to control Zimbabwe’s ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF), culminated over the course of a few days in mid-November when the military placed President Robert Mugabe under house arrest, bringing about regime change.

Newly elected President Emmerson Mnangagwa – a long-standing ZANU-PF heavyweight with strong ties to military structures – emerged victorious. Mnangagwa was dismissed as Vice President the week before, as Mugabe continued to promote his unpopular wife, Grace, and her rival faction of younger ZANU-PF leaders.

This provocation prompted a carefully orchestrated takeover by Mnangagwa and his military allies. Mugabe and Grace loyalists were outmanoeuvred and outnumbered, and the end to Mugabe’s 37 years of rule arrived on 22nd November when, as impeachment proceedings began, the embattled former President reluctantly tended his resignation.

Impact Points

  • Rather than serving as a testament to a democratic transition in Zimbabwe, November’s coup highlighted the strength of the military, in terms of both its close ties with ZANU-PF elites and its potential to exert authority over the State.
  • President Mnangagwa’s promises of economic revival and a new era of democracy must be approached with caution. As one of the leading figures of the Gukurahundi massacres of the 1980s and an architect of ZANU-PF’s violent election campaigning, Mnangagwa does not mark any real break from the past.
  • While Grace’s unpopularity and lack of legitimacy were major factors behind the coup, the scale of Zimbabwe’s economic problems meant that Mugabe’s ability to continue to buy the loyalty of the military was in doubt. When previously challenged, such as at the 2008 elections, Mugabe had already ceded resources and power to the same people who would later overthrow him.