Was Zimbabwe’s leadership transition in 2017 a classical coup d’état, an unconstitutional change of government or a legal political process? Dr Hlengiwe Portia Dlamini, a postdoctoral Fellow at the University of the Free State’s International Studies Group (ISG), employed this contentious question as the backdrop to her paper titled: “The Paradoxes of Accepting/Rejecting and Constitutionalising/unconstitutionalising the 2017 Zimbabwe coup d’état through the Prism of the Organisation of African Unity and African Union Framework.” She presented her findings at the Stanley Trapido seminar held on 9 April 2018 at the Bloemfontein Campus.
Zimbabwe’s military facilitated the removal of former President Robert Mugabe from power after a 37-year rule. Dr Dlamini’s stance is that the events of 14 November 2017 were a trailblazer for a new form in coup across the globe. In veering from conventional coup elements and adapting alternative terminology in reference to overthrowing Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s military has set the pace for the rest of the world as far as the intertwining of military and politics is concerned.
Remembering 14 November
On the evening of 14 November 2017 the Zimbabwe defence force gathered around the country’s capital, Harare, and seized control of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and other key areas of the city. A day later the situation escalated when military spokesman Major General Sibusiso Moyo addressed the citizens via television assuring them there was no military takeover of the government.
Mugabe’s resignation was announced on 24 November 2017 following a motion of impeachment and a vote of no confidence reinforced by a joint session of parliament and the senate as well as the ruling Zanu–PF party.
Military and politics intersections
According to Dr Dlamini, Zimbabwe High Court Judge, retired Brigadier General George Chiweshe, justified the military intervention in November 2017 as legal, thereby setting a dangerous precedent for political change in Africa.
Prompted by the premise that the military overthrow of governments is no longer treated as a domestic issue in the post-cold war era, Dr Dlamini argues that it has become the business of the African Union and donor organisations to intervene and stop coups when they threaten. This explains why, according to Dr Dlamini, the Zimbabwe military establishment struggled to conceal the removal of Robert Mugabe from power as a coup for fear of attracting the wrath of the African Union and other organisations.
Whether Zimbabwe’s crisis was merely a military response to a popular call by disgruntled citizens or a coup is left to contextual interpretation.