The rivalry between First Lady Grace Mugabe talks to Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa led to a military intervention in Zimbabwe [Reuters]
Robert Mugabe was born on February 21, 1924 in what was then known as Rhodesia but is now called Zimbabwe.
The former school teacher, with seven university degrees, first came to prominence after waging a bloody guerrilla war against white colonial rulers who jailed him for 10 years over a “subversive speech” he made in 1964.
Soon after his release from jail in 1974, he caused a seismic shift in Rhodesian politics, riding a wave of popular outrage against the colonial establishment.
He fought in Rhodesia’s war for independence and became prime minister in 1980 of the newly independent country born from that conflict, which was renamed Zimbabwe, later assuming the presidency in 1987.
He married his current wife and Zimbabwe’s First Lady, Grace Mugabe, in 1996 after the prime minister’s office was abolished.
Since then, he has won a series of controversial elections marred by accusations of vote rigging, most signifcantly the 2008 vote which he allegedly lost to now Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, sparking political violence that human rights groups say claimed over 200 lives.
While his supporters say he speaks for the poor; his critics say he has become increasingly authoritarian.
Mugabe’s rule has so far culminated in a massive economic crisis in Zimbabwe, once one of Africa’s richest countries.
Born in 23 July 1965 in South Africa, Grace Mugabe has been the first lady of Zimbabwe since she married President Robert Mugabe in 1996.
She is 41 years younger than her husband and was known for her expensive shopping habits and charity work before taking active roles in the country’s ruling party, Zanu-PF, in which she leads the women’s division of the party.
Her extravagant lifestyle has been a source of discomfort in Zimbabwe where many face severe economic hardship.
Grace Mugabe is said to be working to succeed Mugabe and her main rival to the presidency, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa was sacked by the president in November 2017, which led to the army intervention.
She recently sued Zimbabwean newspaper, The Standard, after it published Wikileaks cables, which claimed she took huge kick backs from diamond mines in Zimbabwe.
The University of Zimbabwe awarded her a doctoral degree in Sociology in 2014, two months after she started the course, sparking outrage among academics in the country.
Emmerson Mnangagwa, the former vice president of Zimbabwe, was born in 1946 and went on to become one of the founders of Zanu-PF in the sixties.
He fought in the country’s war of independence and was arrested in 1965. He went to jail for 10 years.
After being freed, he was deported to Zambia. He studied and practiced law there. He also acted as the secretary for Zanu-PF for the Zambia Division in Lusaka.
He became the special assistant to Mugabe in 1977, starting to head both military and civil divisions of the party.
He became first minister for national security in 1980 of the newly independent country. He held various positions during his political career, ending up becoming the vice-president in 2013.
As a war veteran of the 1970s guerilla war and a powerful figure in Zanu-PF, he was seen as the possible successor of Mugabe.
Mnangagwa was removed from Robert Mugabe’s government in November 2017 for allegedly plotting against him. He then fled to South Africa.
He displayed “traits of disloyalty, disrespect, deceitfulness and unreliability” before his removal, according to Information Minister Simon Khaya Moyo.
Mnangagwa was backed by the army and the veterans of the war of independence.
Zimbabwe Defence Forces
The Zimbabwe Defence Forces are made up of the Zimbabwe National Army, the primary branch of the military, and the Air Force of Zimbabwe.
On November 15, the army took over the headquarters of the state broadcaster ZBC and blocked access to government offices, but the army says this is not a military takeover.
The Zimbabwe National Army was formed after the independence of Zimbabwe in 1980, by integrating former Rhodesian army, Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army, Zimbabwe African People’s Union and the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army. The latter three fought the war of independence against the government in 1970s.
The mission statement of the army is “to defend the sovereignty, territorial integrity and national interests of Zimbabwe and to contribute to international peace and security”.
The Zimbabwean government claimed in 2007 that it foiled an alleged coup d’état attempt involving hundreds of soldiers and high-ranking officers.
According to the government, the putsch would have occurred on June 2 or June 15, 2007.
The government said that coup plotters planned to sack Mugabe and replace him with Emmerson Mnangagwa, the rural housing minister of the time, with higher up army members in the government.
Accused alleged coup leaders were arrested and charged with treason.
Veterans of the war of independence
Zimbabwean veterans of the war of independence are highly influential in the army and the ruling party.
Mugabe has regularly removed veterans of the liberation struggle from Zanu-PF posts in recent years, replacing them with officials who did not fight in the war.
As a result, the veterans soured their relations with the president and vowed to form a front in opposition to Mugabe.
They backed Mnangagwa In the power struggle between the vice-president and Grace Mugabe within Zanu-PF.
Before November’s takeover, some army generals publicly said they will not allow someone who did not fight in the independence war to rule the country after Mugabe, apparently referring to Grace Mugabe.
Right after the military intervention, Chris Mutsvangwa, head of war veterans’ group Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA), issued a statement, praising the army for “a bloodless correction of gross abuse of power”. The statement said the army will return Zimbabwe to “genuine democracy”.