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Mugabe's Presidential Chapter In Zimbabwe's History Appears To Be Over


It is hard to overstate Robert Mugabe's hold on Zimbabwe.


Thirty-seven years ago - 37 years - the schoolteacher turned revolutionary took over a newly independent state.

MARTIN: No longer would this be a British colony called Rhodesia, and no longer would it be ruled by a white minority. Mugabe acknowledged as much in a speech and promised fairness for all.


PRESIDENT ROBERT MUGABE: There is no intention on our part to use the advantage of the majority we have secured to victimize the minority.

MARTIN: Mugabe never gave up that power, and the decades since, he has been blamed for mismanaging Zimbabwe's economy, rigging elections and human-rights abuses. Now this chapter of Zimbabwe's history may be coming to a close. The military took Robert Mugabe and his wife into custody yesterday in an apparent coup. And we say apparent because the military has yet to say officially whether Mugabe has been removed as president. We're going to turn now to someone who grew up in Zimbabwe under President Mugabe. His name is Peter Godwin. He's a journalist and the author of several books, including "The Fear: Robert Mugabe And The Martyrdom Of Zimbabwe." He joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Godwin.

PETER GODWIN: You're welcome.

MARTIN: As I mentioned, you grew up in Zimbabwe. You lived under Robert Mugabe. How are you absorbing what has happened there?

GODWIN: Well, you know, Zimbabweans are just excited at the prospect of change even though there are many, many question marks still. And some of the people who look to inherit power, you know, it's not that optimistic. But the basic thing is, you know, as you said in your intro, after nearly 40 years of this sort of political stasis with this dead hand of Robert Mugabe smothering the country, people are just delighted that there's the prospect of some sort of change, any sort of change.

MARTIN: Well, let's talk about what that change might be. It appears to be this power struggle over who succeeds Mugabe, right, who is 93, we should say. So on the one hand, as I understand it, there's Mugabe's wife, who wants to take over. On the other, there is Mugabe's former vice president, who was fired recently. Do we know for sure that it's the former vice president who's responsible for putting Robert Mugabe under house arrest?

GODWIN: Yes. I mean, technically it's the general. It's the general in charge the army, General Chiwenga, but he has been working in close cahoots with Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was the vice president you're referring to. Yes. I mean, we're pretty confident of that. What appears to be going on now is negotiations that are happening in the state house to see where this goes next. I mean, there's been some conversation, some debate about whether this could be properly called a coup. But in my book, if you have a man in military uniform taking over the state broadcaster at 4 a.m. and reading a statement, that's pretty much a coup. So whatever the semantics, it's not a sort of, it's not a kind of West African-style coup where there's a general who wants to be in power himself. It's a coup that is being done in a sense to protect the party's old guard from Mugabe's young wife who wanted to take over from him.

MARTIN: So can you lay out the best and worst-case scenarios? I mean, what is - what do you hope comes next? What's the best-case scenario here?

GODWIN: Well, the best-case scenario, I suppose, is that Mugabe will first of all sign off on this, that he'll be persuaded to sort of, you know, take an exit package and sign off on Emmerson Mnangagwa coming back in initially as vice president. And then if Mugabe stands down, Mnangagwa could could go up to be the interim president so that it's all done within the current constitution.

MARTIN: Is there anything in Mugabe's history that leads you to believe he would do that, though?

GODWIN: Nothing. But then Mugabe has never had men with AKs - you know, he's never had the barrel of a gun pointed at him in the way that he has now. You know, we're in completely uncharted territory. Also, remember that, you know, he's 93 now. He's he's increasingly enfeebled. And one of the theories is that, I mean, that he's sort of got almost early dementia in the sense that he zones in and out, and in that state has been completely dominated by his wife and that she was effectively calling the shots. So I think that that's, you know, I think that it's quite possible that he will sign. They're just trying to figure it out. The best-case scenario is that then Mnangagwa would declare some sort of transitional government which would include opposition members in it and that they would then prepare for full national democratic elections, you know, which are free and fair.

MARTIN: Peter Godwin, author of the book "The Fear: Robert Mugabe And The Martyrdom Of Zimbabwe," talking about the political transition underway, that appears to be underway there. Thank you so much for your time.

GODWIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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