Mbeki, African leaders urged to help 'persecuted' Mugabe

It is not clear yet what persecution Mugabe’s allies believe is in process or may be ahead.
Former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe at the 37th Ordinary SADC Summit in 2017.
Former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe at the 37th Ordinary SADC Summit in 2017.
Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters

Robert Mugabe's allies claimed this week that he was being persecuted, and they appealed to former South African president Thabo Mbeki, former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan, and other African leaders to help protect him.

It is not clear yet what persecution Mugabe's allies believe is in process or may be ahead.

"Coup leaders are persecuting your brother. Cde Mugabe. Please check on him" Mugabe's key advisor, Jonathan Moyo, tweeted on Friday night. Moyo is a former cabinet minister and strategist within the former internal Zanu-PF faction, G-40, as it was known before Moyo and others were expelled from the party.

Moyo fled Zimbabwe, after he claimed that he and his family were attacked during the military takeover last November that saw President Emmerson Mnangagwa sworn into office two weeks later.

Moyo did not respond to questions sent to two mobile phone numbers he uses, but one of his and Mugabe's allies, Jealousy Mawarire, said from Harare on Tuesday that the former president's security details, as well as some of his gardeners, were called in for questioning after the "old man" gave interviews to a group of local and foreign journalists in his home earlier this month.

"The journalists had to be careful going in to see the president [Mugabe] and getting out again. They will tell you they were nervous. Later.... the day after the interviews on March 9, some of the security ....and gardeners....employed by the state....were called in to answer questions. They were abducted, taken against their will to army barracks. Why? This was not right." He also said there was a dwindling number of security forces guarding Mugabe, 94, his wife, Grace, 52, and at least two of the former first couple's three adult children.

Jonathan Moyo.
Jonathan Moyo.
Reuters Photographer / Reuters

Mawarire, formerly a member of the ruling Zanu-PF, is one of two known supporters of the new National Patriotic Front party (NPF), which is believed to have its foundations in the remains of the G-40 faction, but says it will fight the next elections which may be held in July.

Others believe that Mugabe is drawing attention to himself to persuade African leaders to shun Mnangagwa ahead of the elections, and is also hoping that residual support for him could mean considerable numbers might abandon Zanu-PF at the polls.

Former industry minister Welshman Ncube, who had much to do with Mugabe during the 2009 - 2013 inclusive government between the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and Zanu-PF, said Mugabe would probably be hoping that voters would not support Mnangagwa in the presidential poll and the simultaneous parliamentary, senate and local government elections.

"[Mugabe] would not worry that either he... or Grace Mugabe would be charged with any crimes by Mnangagwa, because [Mugabe] would know about Mnangagwa's alleged crimes."

He said Mugabe would know much from the massive Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) about Mnangagwa's activities over many years.

The CIO operated without audit under Mugabe's presidential budget and reported directly to him.

Ncube is spokesman of an anti-Zanu-PF bloc for the next elections, the MDC Alliance.

Ncube said it appeared that Mugabe was respected by some African leaders, who would not want him to suffer in any way now that he was out of office.

Veteran Zimbabwe analyst Brian Raftopoulos said he believed the persecution call by Moyo would not have any effect.

"I doubt the A.U. would intervene in any way, so I doubt this strategy would work. We don't know what support Mugabe may still have, and if it will show up in the forthcoming elections. What we have to worry about at the moment is whether the next elections will be free and fair."

Derek Matyszak, Zimbabwe election expert and analyst, said recent allegations about Grace Mugabe's involvement with ivory smuggling were "serious."

He said although he did not expect Mugabe would be arrested, he believed Mnangagwa would be able to justify charges against the former first lady.

"He would be able to explain ... 'How do we ignore this? We have to investigate her. How can we be seen to be protecting her?'"

Domestic newspaper The Daily News headlined the tweet about Mugabe's alleged persecution as "Mugabe allies hit panic button."

Since Mnangagwa was sworn into office on November 24, he repeatedly said that elections would be free and fair, but he has also avoided discussing gross human rights abuses that took place while he was Mugabe's right-hand man after independence in 1980.

Mugabe, encouraged by his wife Grace, sacked Mnangawa as vice-president last October, resulting in the latter fleeing to South Africa.

Mnangagwa returned home after Mugabe resigned when the Zimbabwean parliament began processes to impeach him.

Many celebrated when it became clear Mugabe's rule was over, and a wide range of people – from businesspeople to street vendors – say that Mnangagwa has significantly freed up political space, even though the military takeover was a breach of the 2013 constitution.

Mnangagwa has visited most of the significant heads of state within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) since he was sworn into office.