The Foreign Service Journal - March 2018

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MARCH 2018 53 WIKIMEDIACOMMONS/BRAINY263 [CCBY-SA4.0] First Lady Grace Mugabe, seated to her husband’s left, is seen for the first time at a politburo meeting on Sept. 19, 2015. them directly, often for extended periods of time. While the events in Zimbabwe from early November had some of the hallmarks of a traditional military takeover, there were also some uniquely Zimbabwean aspects. First among these was Defense Minister General Con- stantine Chiwenga’s announcement on Nov. 13 that the military would intervene if the expulsion of senior ZANU-PF figures continued. Second was the role of Robert Mugabe’s wife, Grace, whommany Zimbabweans have dubbed “Gucci Grace” because of her profligate shopping habits. Third was the persistent, power- ful role of a generation gap in Zimbabwean politics. Prelude to Disaster The path to the Nov. 15 events actually began in December 2014, when President Mugabe fired then-state vice president and deputy leader of ZANU-PF, Joice Mujuru, a liberation war veteran who had been viewed as his most likely successor. Seven ministers considered loyal to her were also sacked. At the time, this action was widely viewed as clearing the way for Emmerson Mnangagwa, then the defense minister and considered the second-most-likely Mugabe successor, to move up. A former justice minister, the 74-year-old Mnangagwa had served as an intelligence officer during the liberation struggle and had the support of many senior military figures. However, Mujuru’s ouster also coincided with actions by Grace Mugabe to increase her own political profile. In the weeks lead- ing up to the ouster, Grace had attacked Mujuru in public appear- ances and the press on several occasions. She had recently been appointed to the leadership of the ZANU-PF Women’s League; she was awarded an honorary doctorate degree; and she began to be more involved in political affairs. Several commentators remarked at the time that Grace seemed to be positioning herself for a post-Mugabe political berth. But other than a few press reports in the opposition media speculating on this, not much was made of it. With Mujuru gone, and Mnangagwa moved into her party and government positions, it looked like Mugabe was finally doing something he had resisted for decades—making a decision on his successor. Fast forward to 2017. Along with regular reports of Grace Mugabe’s extravagant spending habits, and an incident in South Africa where she assaulted a model she’d found in a roomwith her sons (she escaped punishment for the assault when the South African government allowed her to claim diplomatic immunity), the local and regional media began to focus on Grace’s increas- One of the biggest mistakes I’d made was defining “coup d’état” too narrowly.