Presidents, Prime Ministers, and the “non-coup” coup.
There is a relationship between these two offices that lies at the heart of the political problems in
Zimbabwe, and is playing out today in a very dangerous fashion.
It is not a new problem, nor one that afflicts Zimbabwe alone. But it is so essentially the problem
today in Zimbabwe that it is fascinating that there is so little discourse about the “deep” problem
and such an enormous focus upon the people and power. Succession, factions, personalities,
historical ownership and, worst of all, ethnic division are at play. All are important, but mere
symptoms of the much deeper problem.
We used to have a system, both pre and post settlerdom, of having a Prime Minister. This system
made the leader of the country a servant of the party. If the Prime Minister lost the support of
Parliament, they could fire him or her.
Simply, Prime Ministers are elected just like every other member of parliament, but chosen by that
party to lead the government: they are the choice of a collective, and a collective that can change its
mind. It might even fire you if you have not behaved badly, but the party in its majority thought that
the Prime Minister was not up to the job any more.
Not so with Presidents. They are elected by the people to lead the government, which is fine if the
President also has a majority in the Parliament. If there is a presidential system, a political party must
nominate one of them to be the candidate, and, if elected, this person owes their mandate only
indirectly to the party that nominated him or her. This is not always the case, as in South Africa, but
there the badly-behaving president remains “supported” by his party.
We have an executive presidential system, and actually one in which the president has immense
powers under the current constitution. The consequence is two-fold.
The first is that the president was directly elected, and thus, as pointed out above, he or she is
responsible to the voters directly, and to the party only indirectly. That has been playing out in the
past week. Mugabe’s party does not want him, and have thrown him out of the party, but he remains
president. This, of course, has always been an option, and, if all these ZANU-PF members were so
unhappy with his performance, they could have done this months and years ago.
And this is what has come to pass. Robert Mugabe was to be impeached by his own party, but only
after a “non-coup” coup. All of this is apparently occasioned by the immense power of the
Executive Presidency, and, as Mugabe asserts today through his refusal to resign, he was elected and
therefore owes his position to the electorate. However, he was still accountable and was going to be
removed through the constitutional mechanism of Section 97 before he resigned.
There are therefore two issues to finally examine.
The first is for the future: will we remove the executive presidency and replace this with a return to
prime ministers? Emmerson Mnangagwa might be implying this with the statement about “servant
leadership”, but then again he might not. This will change the political game in Zimbabwe forever,
and ensure that we have an accountable executive. It will not stop a party behaving badly, but will
ensure that no one person can over-ride his or her party and undermine both the Constitution and
The second is more difficult and should be question on everyone’s lips today. If all it takes is an
impeachment process to finally get rid of Robert Mugabe, why did we need a “non-coup” coup?
This “non-coup” coup has taken the country into the most perilous position, inches away from
becoming sanctioned by SADC, the AU and the rest of the world. As we go forward into whatever
new (and most likely old) political arrangement, the army and ZANU-PF must explain to the nation
the justification for violating the constitution when there was a ready-made constitutional
mechanism already at hand