13 January 2002

ZIMBABWE: Rumors about Mugabe exit plan

Zimbabwe’s ruling party, ZANU PF, has vehemently denied reports circulated by Zimbabwean, South African and British media concerning a secret deal for Mugabe to quit office in return for immunity from prosecution.

Originally, a Zimbabwe private newspaper reported on Jan 12 that Zimbabwean, South African and British authorities have hatched a plan for embattled President Robert Mugabe to hand power to his chosen successor before the end of his current term in 2006. The Zimbabwe Sunday Mirror run by Ibbo Mandaza, a political scientist and former senior civil servant in Mugabe's administration, said the plan included the appointment of an interim government with the support of the main opposition and the holding of parliamentary and presidential elections in 2005.

"According to a highly impeccable source involved in brokering the deal, Mugabe will relinquish power on the strength of a proposed succession plan that will see Emmerson Mnangagwa, the current Speaker of Parliament and Zanu PF party secretary for administration, taking over as head of state," it said. Mnangagwa, one of Mugabe's closest political confidantes, has over the years been seen as his preferred successor.

In addition to the Sunday Mirror report, Zimbabwe's opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, disclosed that mediators acting for top government officials have floated the idea that President Robert Mugabe would retire in return for immunity from prosecution. Mr Tsvangirai said he had talked with independent mediators on behalf of the house speaker, Emmerson Mnangagwa, and armed forces chief of staff, General Vitalis Zvinavashe. "They wanted my assurance that if Mugabe retired, [the Movement for Democratic Change, Zimbabwe's opposition party] would take part in a transition towards new democratic elections." Gen Zvinavashe and Mr Mnangagwa, seen as Mr Mugabe's heir apparent, are two of the most powerful ruling Zanu PF politicians. Mr Tsvangirai said the approach was made because they said they realise Mr Mugabe "is the main stumbling block". "They said Mugabe must step down before we can find solutions to our economic decline and the hunger, among many other problems." Mr Tsvangirai named retired Zimbabwean army Colonel Lionel Dyke, a close associate of both men, as a mediator.

The mediators said the two Zanu PF leaders would secure Mr Mugabe's retirement to regain some international legitimacy for the country and get renewed aid and investment. Mr Tsvangirai thought that Mr Mnangagwa and Gen Zvinavashe had tried to set up talks because there is no clear Mugabe successor. "Clearly, the succession issue has not been concluded and they were trying to position themselves."

Despite the apparent promise that Mr Mugabe would step down, the opposition leader turned down the mediators' suggestions. "I rejected that exploratory approach because we in Zimbabwe need open, transparent discussions to lead us back to democracy. We cannot accept pre-conditions set up in secret deals," he said. Talks could determine how Mr Mugabe would step down and the establishment of a transitional coalition government leading to free and fair elections. Issues to be considered include whether or not Mr Mugabe would be granted immunity from prosecution for alleged human rights abuses and whether he would be exiled. Mr Tsvangirai has stated many times that any power-sharing government would only be temporary. (SABC News, Guardian / ZWNews)

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