After Mugabe’s detention, we’re hoping Zimbabwe’s democracy has been saved

President Robert Mugabe and Grace Mugabe during a solidarity rally in Harare. Photograph: AP

The situation in Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe is said to be under house arrest, is still unclear. But the events of the past 24 hours will have a long-lasting impact on the future of the country.

First, the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, in sending troops on to the streets and detaining the nation’s 93-year-old leader, have stopped the ruinous factional fighting that had virtually halted policymaking within the Zanu-PF government.

The army has also stopped Mugabe from anointing his wife as successor – something most Zimbabweans simply could not accept. Next month Grace Mugabe was set to be appointed deputy to her husband, paving the way for a new dynasty within the ruling party. The president was seemingly happy with this, after she had arm-twisted party chiefs to gain her new position.

Zanu-PF has not had internal democratic processes for a long time, but with Grace Mugabe’s sabre-rattling power politics, even the pretensions that used to exist were thrown out of the window. Whatever she suggested had to become the law.

Essentially the army has intervened to thwart the manipulation of the Zanu-PF Youth League, Women’s League and provincial bodies to promote the ascendancy of Grace Mugabe and put the first family in control of the party.

Alongside this, the Zimbabwe Defence Forces have brought an end to the longstanding dispute over who should guard the ideological legacy of Zanu-PF as a liberation movement. When it suited him in his battles with the opposition Movement for Democracratic Change, Robert Mugabe would promote veterans of the liberation war and have the army declare that only those with war credentials were qualified to lead the nation.

Lately, however, the president sided with his relatively young wife to say that in fact the custodianship of Zanu-PF now belonged to the youth, because they are the future. This he did in an apparent bid to create political relevance for Grace Mugabe. Urged on by her, he expelled scores of war veterans from the party and even tried in vain to expel them from leadership positions in their own unions or associations.

The Zimbabwe Defence Forces still have a sizeable element of war veterans in their ranks, and now it has put surviving pre-independence freedom fighters back in control of the party.

So what happens next? The military’s intention is to restore governance of the country by putting in place a transitional administration that can be inclusive enough to gain investor confidence and to improve international relations. A new transitional body will emerge soon.

Zanu-PF will also be allowed to regroup in the post-Mugabe era so it is in good enough shape to have a democratic appeal. The party will most likely undergo massive reforms. The opposition in Zimbabwe have been little more than spectators, and there is a strong chance that Zanu-PF will remain the dominant party.

And further to this, there will be efforts to restore the status of President Mugabe to that of an international ideological icon who fought and brought an end to colonial injustices. This will work well for the national healing process.

It must be noted that the Zimbabwe Defence Forces will need to convince regional bodies such as the African Union and the Southern African Development Community that a transitional governance structure is the best way forward for Zimbabwe. While the political will to support this initiative might be there among other African countries, the idea of accepting what many consider to be a coup is questionable. South Africa has already expressed a measure of disapproval.

The Zimbabwe Defence Forces’ action will focus on helping the nation develop again, restoring and rescuing Zanu-PF as a liberation movement and winning the hearts of world leaders. For Zimbabwe’s people, the hope will be that this crisis ultimately ushers in a new era of democracy.

Reason Wafawarova is a commentator for the Zimbabwean newspaper the Herald.

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