IT WAS good that Zimbabweans marked the resignation of their one and only president on Tuesday with dancing. Would that regime-change were always so peaceful and joyful. Sadly, this unanimity was achieved by the last grinding years of Robert Mugabe’s reign, in which the favoured circle grew ever smaller, to the point that even his once-pampered army veterans turned against him. An earlier eviction might have been bloodier, but Zimbabwe might have been spared some elements of its dire economic situation. In many ways, the effects of President Mugabe’s rule were similar to those of a civil war: about one quarter of the population now live in neighbouring South Africa; many of those who remain have been made homeless by insatiable land acquisition; intimidation and violence are widespread; more than a million citizens have been disenfranchised by electoral fraud; nearly three-quarters live below the poverty line; and so on. It is likely that tales will emerge over the next few weeks from Zimbabweans who have been too frightened to speak honestly about conditions in their country.
The question what happens next is paramount. It is premature to talk of regime-change when Mr Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party remains in power, led by people who benefited from his patronage. Elections are next scheduled in the country before September 2018. If wise, his former colleagues will use the intervening time to distance themselves from the excesses of his policies. One urgent matter is the personal wealth of Mr Mugabe and his immediate family, including his unpopular second wife, Grace, fear of whose succession is widely thought to have triggered the army’s move. Unfortunately for those seeking restoration, much of this wealth has been secured overseas — a betrayal of Mr Mugabe’s earlier socialist roots but typical of despots. But the family’s vast land-holdings in Zimbabwe remain.
What has been remarkable, though shaming, is that Mr Mugabe has often had a Nathan to tell him and his entourage about the rich man who, despite the many flocks and herds he already possessed, took and slaughtered the poor farmer’s ewe. It is a sad fact that powerful leaders, however immoral, always seem to find religious figures to support them in their behaviour. Mr Mugabe, though, had to create his own. Nolbert Kunonga appears to have had neither the credentials nor training to become a priest, let alone the Bishop of Harare. He certainly lacked the aptitude, and used his time in office to convert church property into personal wealth. Yet, despite enjoying presidential favour, Mr Kunonga was dispossessed by a partnership of dogged Anglicans and courageous court officials. Courage was shown, too, by others, including the RC Archbishop of Bulawayo, the Most Revd Pius Ncube, until his downfall in 2007. More recently, a Pentecostal leader, Pastor Evan Mawarire, has fought government corruption, and suffered multiple arrests. When Mr Mugabe has ignored such voices for so long, it is small wonder that his departure is so little lamented.