Opinion

Coup de Grace: was the idea of a Madame President the last straw?

Bambina Olivares ponders if it was the thought of a woman in power - or a particular woman - that soured President Robert Mugabe's relationship with the Zimbabwe military

20 November 2017 - 12:36 By BAMBINA OLIVARES
President Robert Mugabe listens to his wife, Grace Mugabe, at a rally of his ruling Zanu-PF in Harare.
President Robert Mugabe listens to his wife, Grace Mugabe, at a rally of his ruling Zanu-PF in Harare.
Image: Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters

Just when you thought coups had fallen out of favour, here comes a good old-fashioned African coup, with generals in fatigues once again, tanks rolling in the streets, journalists being kicked out of the country and dictators being held under house arrest.

Old Bob must have started to think that at 93 he was invincible. He'd successfully marginalised any opposition, even if Morgan Tsvangirai did eventually end up prime minister for six years, though he'd been roughed up quite badly a few times before that grudging power share took place.

Mugabe also ruthlessly drove his countrymen to poverty and starvation while he and his merry band of cronies followed the despot's playbook and bled the country's coffers dry.

So what took the generals so long? For unyielding autocrats like Mugabe, keeping the military happy is key.

But it's a mistake to think that the only way to do so is by dispensing largesse here and there. Sometimes they sense the winds of change and change allegiances as a result.

Sometimes they just can't stand the person anointed to take charge upon a dictator's death.

Normally, the idea of a woman rising to power to rule a nation is cause for celebration - that is, until the regret sets in

Normally, the idea of a woman rising to power to rule a nation is cause for celebration - that is, until the regret sets in.

I'm talking about you, Aung Sang Su Kyi. And you, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. You too, Benazir Bhutto. Evita Peron. Cristina Kirchner. Dilma Rousseff. The list goes on and on.

But rumours of Grace Mugabe consolidating power in preparation for her takeover once her husband went were not received with much grace.

It's unlikely that the generals took kindly to the prospect of taking orders from Madame Mugabe, she with the short fuse and rather feudalistic tendencies when it comes to striking out against those who offend her.

After all, Grace is the lady who kept her diamond-encrusted rings on when she punched a photographer in Hong Kong not once, but 10 times, in the face and head.

And good old Grace hit her son's girlfriend with an extension cord, aiming the plug at the model's face.

Sorry Sheryl Sandberg and your utopian vision of the solidarity of women, but Grace ain't no lean-in type of woman. Girlfriend's all about the power and the glory (and the money). But maybe Zimbabwe's just had enough of the Mugabes.

This article was originally published in The Times.

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